Local Food III

Now that it is almost time for the second Local Food Summit (March 2, 2010; click here to register), it’s a good moment for another recap of the subject.  “Local food” isn’t just a tag, it is an entire set of philosophical concepts and world view.  It is also a powerful community builder; there is scarcely anything more fundamental than sharing food.  Individuals come to it from different directions.  Some focus on the healthfulness of fresh food, grown where you “know your farmer”  (thanks, Shannon Brines, though I don’t think you originated the phrase).  Some have invested personally in the concept of sustainability, as exemplified by the new permaculture blog hosted by AnnArbor.com.  Me, I’m a worrier and though those other things are important to me, I’m thinking about long-term community food security.  Yet I also rejoice in the beauty of freshly grown vegetables and fruit and of the home-prepared dishes made from them, as wonderfully expressed by The Farmer’s Marketer blog.  (The latest series on that blog is a very useful review of the consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) opportunities in the Ann Arbor area, required reading for anyone who is trying to source more food locally.  It starts with this overview.)

Kolibri kohlrabi, from the author’s garden. Good storage vegetable.

While buying food at farmers’ markets (or through CSA membership)  is a great way to be introduced to local food (and important in supporting local agriculture), growing one’s own food is a fundamental means for food security. I’m fortunate in being able to grow food in my own backyard (I’ve even committed a gardening blog, Voltaire’s Garden).  But not everyone has the ground, the sun, or the knowledge to grow their own food without assistance. The community gardening movement is essential to making this possible for people at all economic levels.  Ann Arbor’s Project Grow and Growing Hope, based in Ypsilanti, are important resources for this. As I’ve discussed at length earlier, Project Grow is a vital community food security resource for Ann Arbor. Reprehensibly and to their enduring shame, CM Hohnke, CM Greden, CM Derezinski, and Mayor Hieftje  voted against restoring a mere $7,000 to this year’s budget that would have helped Project Grow thrive in the future.  (Two CM were absent and 6 votes were needed to restore funding.  Thanks to CM Higgins, CM Briere, CM Teall, CM Taylor and CM Smith for voting to restore.) Project Grow has gone through some organizational changes.  The long-time director, Melissa Kesterson, resigned and new board members and new bylaws are in the offing.  A recent email from PG indicates that they are cutting the number of paid staff and increasing volunteer participation.  I hope and trust that they will be successful in maintaining community gardening in Ann Arbor despite cutbacks in grants from Washtenaw County and others as well as the city.  (They have a special fundraiser at Seva [314 E. Liberty] on Monday, March 29, from 5:00-9:00 p.m.; 20% of the cost of all meals purchased that night will go to Project Grow.)

Growing Hope is an Ypsilanti-based organization that is all about community food security.  They have a multi-pronged approach that includes promoting community and neighborhood gardens, training gardeners, starting plants for use in community gardens, and full-force support of the Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market (to which lower-income people can get coupons for purchase of fresh locally grown food).

Help in learning to garden and produce food is available elsewhere, too.  The UM Matthei Botanical Garden and Arboretum launched a major initiative last year and continuing it this year, called The Local Table.  They have an exciting class schedule that includes such things as growing mushrooms, keeping chickens and an ongoing support group for beekeepers.  (I’m really, really sorry that I missed the shitake mushroom day.)

Transition Ann Arbor has also taught food production skills at their “Reskilling Workshops”.

Food Gatherers, which is all about food security, started a growing program last year. They have a number of community partners who are growing food to supplement their own diets or the food distribution programs that the organization runs.  Food Gatherers also happily accepts the produce from home gardens.

Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) is a five-county consortium that is focused more on the small local producers and building a food system of producers, distribution, and consumers in Southeast Michigan.  Their annual conference this year is June 24 in Jackson.  Their website also has links to other exciting programs like Ann Arbor Township’s Small Farms Initiative.

Like so many gardeners and would-be gardeners, I’m starting to get out the seed packets and thinking about my planting schedule.  I hope that this spring can bring ever more local food production and a growing (pun intended) energy around this important issue.

UPDATE: I recently learned that Edible Avalon is showing a new spurt of energy.  According to the coordinator, Kris Kaul,  it is being conducted this year in conjunction with Food Gatherers, under a grant (I haven’t been able yet to find out from where).  The idea is to help tenants at Avalon Housing grow their own vegetables.

SECOND UPDATE: Here is a story on Ann Arbor Chronicle about the recent food summit.

THIRD UPDATE: There will be a fundraiser for Edible Avalon at Zingerman’s Roadhouse on April 11.  Here’s what the Zingermans’ newsletter says about it:

Join bestselling author and food visionary, Michael Pollan, at Zingerman’s Roadhouse for an intimate conversation about the revolution in food and farming underway in the United States. He will present a unique personal view of the forces behind the current headlines dealing with food and health. Part of the evening’s conversation will be based on questions from the audience. Proceeds from this fundraiser will support Ann Arbor’s Homegrown Festival and the Edible Avalon Project: a community garden program supporting low income residents in Washtenaw County in growing their own organic food. The event will also support the work of the Center for Economic Security in making “Growing Health,” a film illuminating the connections between healthy living soil and reduction in chronic disease.

Chef Alex Young will prepare a delicious selection of appetizers for the reception, using ingredients from his own Cornman Farms.

$500 – includes private reception with Michael Pollan, conversation & book-signing,
Package of Chris Bedford’s DVDs, and Pollan’s 3 books.  (This is at 5:30.)

$150 – includes the conversation and book-signing (Starts at 6:00)

The newsletter doesn’t give a phone number to call for information; I’d try the Roadhouse.

FOURTH UPDATE: Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) has some great training events going on this fall for people considering getting into growing for the market.  See here.

FIFTH UPDATE: The Spring 2010 Community Observer has a good article (not available online yet, see arborweb in a few weeks): Growing Closer by Michael Betzold.  It is about the efforts to have more small local growers produce food.

SIXTH UPDATE: Hoop, hoop, hooray! A great story about St. Joe’s using its resources to grow food for patients and the community is in the Chronicle (April 14, 2010).

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