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Posted on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 11 a.m.

Rap For Food team creates "harvest-by-bike" for this year's EcoRide on June 24

By Kim Bayer


This year's EcoRide on June 24 stops at the Washtenaw Food Hub, Leslie Science Center's Project Grow Garden, and a special "harvest-by-bike" at the Tilian Farm Development Center.

Photo | Ecology Center's EcoRide Brochure

On June 24, the Ecology Center's EcoRide is making a comeback after a two-year hiatus, this year with a focus on local, sustainable food. Lucas DiGia, 27 year old founder of Rap For Food, is putting together a Rap For Food EcoTour team for the EcoRide fundraiser that will stop at the Washtenaw Food Hub and Leslie Science Center's Project Grow Garden and bring in a "harvest by bike" from Tilian Farm for a special batch of "single-origin" kimchi fermented by The Brinery.

DiGia's fun (kid-friendly) and high energy Rap for Food performances (most recently featured at the Michigan Good Food Summit) are infused with his enthusiasm for hip-hop and local food, and his goal to "support localization, sustainable food systems, and youth gardening through the arts." Among the songs he's been performing locally are "Try My Tomato" and "The Farmer's Anthem."

DiGia calls the harvest-by-bike "proof of concept for a single-day carbon 'less' supply chain" to demonstrate just how close by growing, distributing and preserving food can be when we have farmland near population centers. DiGia says he wanted to do the harvest-by-bike at the Tilian Farm Development Center because "it's one thing to see your local food system, but to actually participate creates a sense of ownership and a powerful sense of agency."

Tilian Program Manager Andrea Ridgard says cyclists who visit the Tilian Farm Incubator can expect to see "six farms, each with a slightly different business model, that demonstrate how diverse farming really is even on a small scale. EcoTour riders will be able to talk to young farmers about what it took to get there." She exclaims, "I don't know many places where you could see six farms all in one spot!"

As for what the harvest experience might be like, Ridgard observes, "Something really happens when you are out there, working side by side with the farmer who's been there 12 or 14 hours every day… If you're actually there you understand what's going on in a different way, it changes something emotionally and shifts how you think about your food."

She says she thinks about how self-powered transportation and moving your body is an aspect of health just as much as putting vegetables into it.

Farmer Jill Sweetman, 23, (with her partner Nate Lada) started Green Things Farm two years ago as part of Tilian's first group of incubator farms, growing some 60 different crops for their year-round CSA membership farm. They will be providing bok choy, turnips and possibly some cabbage for the EcoTour's harvest-by-bike kimchi.

The couple was recently able to purchase 60 acres of land for their forever farm less than a mile away from their tiny starter farm at Tilian. Sweetman says, "We're really excited to be super close to Ann Arbor. Our business has a vegetable CSA, and it's important for community members who support us to be able to come to our farm. It's close enough to bike or walk if you're ambitious — and we're only two blocks from a subdivision. For Nate and I, it's exciting that we can have both a city life and country life. And there's a really vibrant farming community on the north side of town."

She explains: "Our farm is less than five miles from the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market. There aren't many people who realize there are all these small vegetable farms on that side of town; most of them have only popped up in the last three or four years."

And what has made that possible? Sweetman gives credit to support from Ann Arbor Township, saying, "Their PDR (purchase of development rights) program and Ann Arbor's Greenbelt has made land ownership more accessible to young farmers — it's priced at an agricultural value instead of at the full development value. And also because Ann Arbor is a supportive local food community that can support many new farms." The Tilian project is also supported by Selma Cafe and the Food System Economic Partnership.

Once the vegetables are harvested, they'll be making a trip to The Brinery, the fermentation brainchild and business of David Klingenberger, who calls himself a "bacteria shepherd" with a mission to "stimulate your inner economy." It will take two weeks for the lacto-fermentation process to transform the fresh bok choy into what Klingenberger calls a "splendid spring kimchi."

He says, "I love the alchemy of transforming their fresh produce through billions of bacteria, creating this micro ecosystem. We're shepherds of the bacteria, which create a way to take the fresh vegetables to an alive food that is preserved for months."

Klingenberger says he sees his fermentation business as "fundamentally, a way to preserve the local harvest and pay the farmer the real cost of what it takes to grow." Last year Green Things grew six varieties of cabbage for the Brinery, which Klingenberger preserved in a Green Things single-farm special sauerkraut.

Global foodies and connoisseurs have long sought out single origin coffees, estate grown wines, and bean-to-bar chocolates for their distinctive "taste of place," or terroir. But does Michigan have terroir, and is a humble kimchi deserving of the high falutin' term?

Klingenberger says, "For coffee or grapes, the single origin is part of a complex package of the soil and climate of that region…but these kimchi ingredients will all come from this one farm, the same square footage and it's taking the idea of eating locally even farther when all the ingredients are from the same location."

Certainly there are reasons beyond the "single origin" and even taste for knowing where your food comes from, and the Brinery's "field-to-jar" pedal-powered kimchi will be demonstrate the possibility for a supply chain linked by relationships within the community.

Klingenberger wants to work with more farms to preserve what they are growing, because, he says, "I'm excited with the momentum of the Brinery to begin to affect what is grown in Michigan and how and where it grows." With clients like Zingerman's, which recently started using the Brinery's sauerkraut on their quintessential Reuben sandwich, it seems within the realm of possibility.

The Ecology Center's event coordinator, Ken Kozora, describes the pedal-powered harvest as a "component of EcoRide meant to stimulate conversation and add to all the creative thoughts and discussions already taking place on local food distribution systems." And furthermore, the awareness of sustainability in food is "very important as our communities work toward re-inventing how and where food is grown and how it is distributed…It's nothing short of amazing all the creative ideas, energy and synergy that is bubbling up throughout the region to address all the growing concerns."

There is still time to sign up for EcoRide routes from two to 55 miles (for kids, families, walkers and roller bladers!). Choices include:

Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.