Local Food Scene (II)
I spent a couple of hours yesterday doing what my father used to call “pearl diving”. Not much at the bottom of that bowl of soapy water but dirty dishes, though. I volunteered to help with the “Friday Mornings@Selma” event that Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe host in their home weekly. As the recent article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle explained, they have regularized their legal position by linking with Slow Food Huron Valley, a 501(c)(3) organization, so can collect donations for the breakfasts they serve to an eager multitude (recent weeks have seen as many as 120 people at their table through the morning).
I’ve sat at that table a couple of times in the past. It is the place to be for meeting people involved in the local food movement. Matt Grocoff, whose main expertise is in green energy for the home, was next to me last time I attended. He has gained some celebrity because of his backyard chickens (he taught a workshop on backyard chickens as part of the Transition Ann Arbor Reskilling Workshop). Kim Bayer, Slow Food officer and food blogger is a regular (she is now doing a podcast). Local food bloggers “rule” at Selma, actually – volunteering as well as eating. Bayer was recently a guest chef and Shana of Gastronomical Three often coordinates volunteers. This week, Jen of A2eatwrite was on the waffle detail. Her Local Love Fridays is now a feature of AnnArbor.com. And the matriarch of local food bloggers – “Mom” of “Mother’s Kitchen” tries never to miss a Friday Mornings@Selma on her way to work. Mom or “MK” is now organizing a canned good production project for Selma. This week I met Jane Pacheco, the director of Chelsea Community Kitchen (a collective effort to have a commercial kitchen where local growers and cooks can make products that can be sold legally). There are others, from neighbors to UM students to organizers of the Homegrown Festival. It is always a lively conversation, and always there is much to be learned.
The kitchen is where most people are seated, with a large overflow table in the dining room. But lots of people sit around the massive wood-topped kitchen island (nearly the size of a small room), while volunteers are working frantically at its other end to send breakfasts out. There is little formal coordination of volunteers; people can sign up on the website, or calls for help go out by email when a need hasn’t been filled. Thus, my encounter with the soapy water. Somehow, it works, like a ballet with people bobbing and weaving as they pass each other on their tasks. (Chefs, sometimes from well-known restaurants, also volunteer their time and there is usually a “special” or two.)
To some extent, Selma is a good metaphor for the whole local food movement, which is, especially from the outside, chaotic and disorganized. It has been a matter of a few dedicated people presenting an opportunity to take part in the vision of clean, healthful food prepared by hand – and persuading others to join them. The movement has bubbled up from the community, rather than coming from institutions. It mirrors and shares in some of the values of “Transition“, which is also a local movement with national and international referents. Competence (learning how to grow and prepare food) and values (making choices to focus on local and “sustainably raised” food) are important in both. Other important concepts are community food security (making sure that people in our community have access to fresh healthful food) and localization (building a strong local economy). But to me the important thing is that it is arising spontaneously and locally, through the actions of individuals and self-assembled groups.
The first event I attended at “Selma” was a fundraiser for Chris Bedford, a filmmaker who specializes in food issues. Now Bedford’s latest film, Coming Home: E.F. Schumacher and the Reinvention of the Local Economy, is showing on September 3 at the Michigan Theater.
The money raised by McCabe and Gottlieb is going to a “Small Farms – Small Farmers” initiative, primarily to buy hoophouses for new ventures. These unheated greenhouses can extend Michigan’s growing season nearly to all year, as has been shown by local hoophouse pioneer Shannon Brines. One of the people I shared my breakfast table with was a young woman who, with her husband, is starting a small organic farm north of Ann Arbor – and building a hoophouse with a grant from Selma’s work. As I hung up my teatowel and left after noon on Friday, Jeff McCabe was working with a new group of volunteers, who will be working today to “raise” a hoophouse near Detroit – purchased in part by another grant from Selma.
Maybe there were pearls in that soapy water, after all.Explore posts in the same categories: Local Food, Trends
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