You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 8:30 a.m.

Of carrots and creativity in the local food movement

By Kim Bayer


A (delicious!) local food lunch prepared by UM Catering staff for the UM Sustainable Food Program's Student Farm open house at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Kim Bayer | Contributor

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." — Buckminster Fuller

A recent article titled "Carrots are not enough: the limits of the local food movement" by Parke Troutman in La Vida Locavore makes so many good points — for example, that it's simply untrue to think that the local food movement is "re-creating" something from the past that was better. And that focusing on simple access to good food is missing the mark for both obese and impoverished people. And that "localism" is not a historically-proven strategy for success.

It's all true. And yet, as someone who has joined the "local food" bandwagon, I'm not discouraged in the least.

And not because I think community gardens, or making my own sauerkraut, or Farm-to-School programs are going cure this country of epidemic obesity, food insecurity and environmental degradation. Or even that local food will produce a Farm Bill that stops my tax dollars from subsidizing those systemic depredations in our society.

What I do know is that the global food system is not feeding the world now — and it never will. We already have enough food to feed everyone on the planet. We just don't have the will to put the food in the right places.

What I do know is that the profit margins for the global industrial food system are razor thin, maybe 5 percent. So it's not a question of a healthier food system taking over 50 percent or 90 percent of the current food system; it's a question of taking over maybe 6 percent before big changes can happen.

As the quote often attributed to Gandhi goes, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Five years ago there wasn't a local food movement. Now the corporate giants are fighting back.

In part I think the local food movement is beginning to succeed based on the billboard I saw on the way to Thanksgiving at my Mom's house a few days ago. It demonstrated how "local" is being co-opted in the insidious way that "organic" was before a handful of food giants took it over. The billboard I saw had a 14-foot-high photo of a pony-tailed little girl with a glass of milk. And the caption said in huge letters "legendary taste" and "milk is local."

What I have observed in the local food movement is not widespread change in American eating habits so much as widespread creative energy right here right now to do something and to care. Like start a garlic farm, or a Local Food Summit, or a local food bakery, or a SELMA Cafe, or a frozen food CSA, or some backyard chickens, or a sauerkraut company, or a Food Hub, or a campus farm, or a local seed company. Or to supply a restaurant from your own farm.

And that energy and entrepreneurial spirit is contagious. Parents are catching it from their kids and helping their children to buy the farmland they didn't when they were younger. In my mind, "local food" is simply a shorthand way of describing a deeper concept about caring for our place and caring for each other. It's about putting down roots and about claiming a stake for the future of the world as it should be.

As Parke Troutman points out in the last line of the article describing the overwhelming policy obstacles and power structures stacked against the local food movement, "The proper response is not to go plant something but to let the creative juices flow."

I keep thinking about the power of social networks and of the latent creativity that is being unleashed because of them. Back before the internet I read this quote about by Brenda Ueland for the first time: "Why should we all use our creative power?…Because there is nothing that makes people so joyful, generous, lively, bold, and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money."

This is what I have observed about the local food movement that seems powerful to me: It is creative. It is social. It is about fairness for farmers, eaters and workers. I'm not sure that the local food movement is going to vanquish Monsanto, but I don't know if that is what is required. The local food movement is about creating the world as it should be, where health (in all dimensions) is the measure of success.

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


casual observer

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:26 a.m.

Great article and good insights.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.


Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 7:07 p.m.

Apparently we have now reached the time where we can be introspective about what it (the local food movement) all means. Thanks for the link to this rather sour and cynical piece. Coincidentally, I've been working on a series (the latest is here: that seeks to put our very successful local food movement into some sort of perspective. A couple of points I'd like to make in response to this (cited) article: 1. The more I study our local food movement, the more I find to celebrate. Kim Bayer is part of that celebration. You'll find her tracks all over many of the efforts that make up our community thrust toward the ideal of local food. The social networking aspect has been very important, in a traditional sense - many people puttiing faith and effort into work that involves much sharing and giving. I can't say it wouldn't have happened without Kim, but if she didn't exist we would have to invent her. 2. Of course local food doesn't substitute for every type of food in our diet and it won't solve world hunger in a global sense. But every hungry person is in some locality and food solutions are ultimately local as well as global. Furthermore, our building access to local food here means that people have better food and higher-quality diets. 3. The article she cites ignores the effect on local economies. The movement creates jobs and businesses. And it does increase our local self-sufficiency and food security, even if only in part. I have more to say but it'll have to be in my blog.