Opportunities abound for making change in the food system here in Washtenaw County
Photo | Rebecca Sunde
April has been kind this year, the lilacs are blooming early and it's been an encouraging whirlwind month in food, from beginning to end. With events like the HomeGrown Local Food Summit (along with tours and film screening) at the beginning of the month, the Slow Food National Congress in Louisville, the National Good Food Network's Food Hub Conference in Chicago, Joel Salatin's appearances in town last week, new farmers' markets opening, farms and businesses starting up, I'm encouraged by the momentum.
The number of events and people is increasing, even if media coverage and critical mass of the mainstream public has not caught up yet. It feels like big things are happening all over, made possible by small, individual, and everyday choices and actions to care for our place and for each other.
On April 23, Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, poet and prophet whom Mark Bittman calls "the soul of the real food movement" received the National Endowment for the Humanities' highest honor, delivering the 2012 Jefferson Lecture, titled "It All Turns on Affection."
In this meditation on the ethics of making home, and the effects of large-scale industrialization and power he says:
"By now all thoughtful people have begun to feel our eligibility to be instructed by ecological disaster and mortal need. But we endangered ourselves first of all by dismissing affection as an honorable and necessary motive. Our decision in the middle of the last century to reduce the farm population, eliminating the allegedly 'inefficient' small farmers, was enabled by the discounting of affection.
"As a result, we now have barely enough farmers to keep the land in production, with the help of increasingly expensive industrial technology and at an increasing ecological and social cost. Far from the plain citizens and members of the land-community, as Aldo Leopold wished them to be, farmers are now too likely to be merely the land’s exploiters."
Wendell Berry points out, "We need not wait, as we are doing, to be taught the absolute value of land and of land health by hunger and disease. Affection can teach us, and soon enough, if we grant appropriate standing to affection. For this we must look to the stickers, who 'love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.'"
"Change," Mark Bittman writes, "is going to come from 'people at the bottom' doing things differently... [N]o great feat is going to happen to change all this; you’re going to have to humble yourself to be willing to do it one little bit at a time. You can’t make people do this. What you have to do is notice that they’re already doing it.”
And we're already doing it. Right here, right now. This month.
Thanks to the leadership of organizations like the Food System Economic Partnership and Washtenaw County Public Health, we now have a Washtenaw Food Policy Council to "support local small and mid-sized farmers by fostering policies that encourage local food purchasing and production."
In addition, the Council may "recommend policy changes at the local, state and national levels; provide a forum for discussing food issues; encourage coordination among different sectors of the local food system; evaluate, educate, and influence policy; and launch or support programs and services that address local food needs."
We have active county-level farmland preservation.
And on April 24, the People's Food Coop arranged appearances by Joel Salatin at the Washtenaw Food Hub and the Michigan Theater. Close to 1,000 people showed up to hear Salatin speak at the Michigan Theater, and they couldn't stop clapping for the things he was saying, like "The bigger issue here is, to me, that when we can't access our neighbors with food, then farming just dries up. The fact is that all these hurdles that prohibit local food commerce keep what would be millions of dollars circulating in the rural local economy are therefore denied to the local economy. So farmers go out of business and sell to developers."
And what future do we want then? The fourth annual Washtenaw Local Food Summit brought together some 300 food system stakeholders on April 2 for a day-long conference at Washtenaw Community College to think about a good food future. One of the most popular parts of the summit program this year was the "Local Food Victories of the Future."
During this segment that combined the Gong Show with speed dating, 18 people (me included) were motivated enough to stand on the auditorium stage to give one-minute pitches to form working groups for the change we want to happen in our food system over the next year.
Summit organizers are offering $500 mini-grants to "task force" groups that have enough momentum to meet at least 3 times, put together a realistic plan for how to make their goal happen, and report out at next year's Summit. The application for these mini-grants will be available soon at: http://localfoodsummit.org
Everyone who wants positive change in the food system is invited to participate in these Local Food Victories of the Future:
Slow Money in Michigan (learning how to invest as if food, farms, and fertility matter)
Description: Among the first tasks in setting up a Slow Money Chapter are researching, consolidating, and making available in plain English the governing laws of Michigan pertinent to the formation of investment clubs using Slow Money principles.
The initial phase is intended to be short, with clear and attainable results. Once this goal has been met, other goals may involve making presentations to interested groups, establishing relationships with existing organizations that assist small businesses, coordinating exchange of information between Slow Money investor clubs of Michigan, and interacting with Slow Money National.
Contact: M. Salomon Jost: email@example.com
Next meeting: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Location: TBD - in greater Ann Arbor
Protecting the right to raise heritage hogs in Michigan
Description: On April 1, the Michigan DNR invoked the Invasive Species Order (ISO) to prohibit certain types of pigs, which the Michigan Pork Producers group claims is necessary combat feral hogs (which I understand can already be shot on sight). The DNR's Declaratory Ruling describes prohibited pigs based on their physical characteristics, rather than whether or not they are under the supervision and care of a farmer.
As a result, this order threatens farmers who are raising heritage pigs who have the described characteristics. Physical attributes evaluated include: bristle-tip coloration, dark "point" coloration, coat coloration, underfur, tail structure, and ear structure.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund says "swine which are identified by such ubiquitous characteristics that most any swine, especially heritage breeds raised on family farms, are unjustly threatened with eradication." As a result of this order, DNR inspectors have the authority to come onto private property and destroy privately owned pigs meeting their description. This working group will engage citizens and lawmakers to repeal this ruling and to protect the rights of property owners and farmers.
Creating Affordable Healthcare for Farmers
Description: One of the assets most important to a farmer is his or her health. We aim to make healthcare affordable and relevant to young and to established farmers through a cooperative healthcare system featuring a clinic, or wellness home, tailored to fit the needs and desires of the cooperative. We are looking at options for incorporating alternative and holistic approaches along with traditional group insurance.
Next meeting: Tentative meeting date: June 1, 2012
Farm for Food Gatherers with the Mindful Eating Coalition
Description: We're trying to help save a source of 1,200 pounds of fresh produce that Food Gatherers relies on annually. The farmer who owns the property has health issues and needs assistance with all phases, from prep work to planting, tending, watering and harvesting. The Mindful Eating Coalition is gearing up to work the garden, located on Maple Road between Ann Arbor-Saline and Ellsworth, but we're understaffed, and could use some expertise.
Contact: Colleen Crawley
Next meeting: Sunday, May 27, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Starting up the co-farming model of farmland development
Description: Co-farming will become a cost effective way of generating dozens of new farms in and around Washtenaw County. The model builds off of existing programs such as development easements and co-housing projects. Farmers will be able to buy homes that are clustered together in farm communities allowing efficiency and cooperative possibility. And more fun!
The group seeks a team leader to coordinate next steps. About a dozen individuals with expertise in land preservation, architecture, farming, finance, law and organizational development have expressed interest in this project.
Contact: Jeff McCabe or 734-845-0079
Next meeting: TBD
University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program and Campus Farm
Description: We are in the process of developing a U of M Sustainable Food Program that will house all local/sustainable food initiatives on campus. One of those initiatives is the implementation of a campus farm, for which we have all start-up costs ($42,000), but we cannot access this money until we secure funding for a full-time farm manager. The mission of the farm is to educate (formally and informally), to build community (through events and working a physical space together), and to produce food (for dining halls, unions, and students primarily). We hope to reach beyond disciplinary, faculty/staff/student, and University/community boundaries with this project.
Contact: Lindsey MacDonald
Next meeting: Stay tuned.
Health Insurance Wellness Rebates for Participation in a CSA
Description: In Wisconsin, four insurance companies have partnered with the Fairshare CSA Coalition to give $100 "wellness" rebates to insured members toward their fruit and vegetable CSA shares. As a result, the Coalition has seen CSA shares sold increase from 275 to more than 9,000. In addition, the CSA Coalition offers "Partner Shares" - subsidized CSA shares for low-income members. This task force is researching how to bring a similar program to Michigan, to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables we consume, to improve our health and provide healthy food access, support local farmers, and stimulate economic and environmental benefits.
Contact: Kim Bayer
Next meeting: Thursday, May 3 from 5-7 p.m.
Rap For Food
Description: To create a support network between the local music and local food communities in order to run and support events that promote localization, sustainable food systems, or youth gardening. This includes creating a musical program that promotes community gardening at the elementary, intermediate, and high school levels.
Contact: Lucas DiGia
Mass Meeting: Monday, May 14th at 7:00pm (location TBD)
Maker Machines (new working title is EduShed A2)
Description: We aim to serve as catalyst for the shift of small manufacturing enterprises into community enabling economies. We’ll partner with other maker and educational institutions to achieve a culture of craftsmanship, innovation, authenticity and mentorship.
This maker culture will educate and uplift individuals and communities by designing, optimizing, building and selling high quality DIY machines and tools that enable sustainable communities.
Contact: Adam Jurevicius
To sign up for email updates:http://www.jurevicius.com/blog/edusheda2-mission-statement
We're selecting a date and time for our first meeting: http://www.doodle.com/k5mwhw3fy2xu4m8v
WCC Farm Management Degree Proposal
At Washtenaw Community College, a team of faculty, staff and administrators has been looking into the development of a small farm management degree program. In order to move forward the team needs to present a proposal to the Board of Trustees. To aid in the development of a robust program they would like input from the food and farming community.
This survey should take approximately 10 minutes to complete. As you complete the survey please keep in mind these assumptions regarding this program:
- There is a need for training and education in small-scale farming in southeast Michigan.
- Training and education must have a distinct focus on business development.
- Training and education will focus on organic growing practices.
- Emphasis is on small-scale diversified crops, including season extension.
- The program will include an option of a one-year certificate that can become an associate degree (2-year) if added to general education requirements.
- A one- or two-year program cannot teach everything there is to know about farming or growing. The program will provide a foundation and a plan for acquiring additional knowledge.
- Potential job areas include: assistant farm manager, farm manager, institutional farm manager, starting own farm.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.