Monday, June 12, 2017

Farm to table, food for thought

Today's local weather has been about as nice as yesterday's and Saturday's weren't. Skies are darkening to the southwest, so we reserve the right to revise this assessment at any time. Anyhow, the chance of thunderstorms occurs again tomorrow and Wednesday, and maybe this afternoon. After a turbulent seasonal transition, we may be settling into a "typical" Summer pattern. Growing season is here.

Women's Environmental Institute CSA local pickup sheds
Women's Environmental Institute CSA local pickup sheds
Photo by J. Harrington

We're back trying a share in the Women's Environmental Institute [WEI] Community Supported Agriculture [CSA] program again this year. I'll pick up the first flex box this Friday. We're going for a 3/4 share every other week and see if that works for us. Past years, no matter whose farm or what size share we tried, we were overwhelmed by the amount of vegetables to be eaten. I'm glad WEI has come up with the flex box alternative (shares are still available until June 14) because I like participating in the local food system but don't like composting the weekly leftovers we didn't get to.

I'd also like to learn more about our local food "system," including sources for meat, poultry and other food items. It may just be me, but someone recently called my attention to the National Farmers Union, of which there's a Minnesota chapter. Browsing and searching through their web site yielded no information on local food systems associated with the MFU. Through a series of replies to the Tweets that started me looking at the MFU web site, I learned that Minnesota Cooks is an educational outreach program of Minnesota Farmers Union that celebrates Minnesota's dedicated family farmers and the talented local foods-minded chefs and restaurant owners who work tirelessly to highlight delicious farm-fresh foods on their menus." Women's Environmental Institute is a member farm of Minnesota Cooks / Minnesota Grown, but that information isn't readily availalbe on the WEI web site, although WEI does list their membership in the Minnesota Environmental Fund.

local farmers market selection
local farmers market selection
Photo by J. Harrington

If there's one thing I learned during the years I was active in the green building community, it's that we need to get a lot better at building and promoting partnerships. I think the same can be said about our local food systems, although recent experiences indicate the emphasis maybe should be on promoting, the building partnerships seems to be coming along. Remember the philosophical question about "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" If a local food system develops and few can readily find its members, who benefits, other than the big box stores? Would something like a local foods checkoff help?

Minnesota is fortunate to have many, or most, or all of the pieces for a number of local food systems which are serving a variety of food sheds. On the other hand, an abundance of information lacks the coherence and convenience that can be found in a local food coop or grocery store. Perhaps that's as it should be but, from a systems perspective, successfully growing local food systems will, I believe, need to somehow match the equivalent ease of readily findable sources such as sections for produce, dairy, meat, etc. if local foods are to become the bridge they could be over a growing urban/rural divide. Local food systems seem to have gone from providing data to sharing information. Now we need to transform information into knowledge and wisdom for producers, processors, consumers and marketers if we want the future to be local as well as global.

Peaches


A crate of peaches straight from the farm
has to be maintained, or eaten in days.
Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,
I never saw the mess that punishes delay.

I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,
stored it in the coolest part of the house,
then devoured it before any could rot.
I’m from the Peach State, and to those

who ask But where are you from originally,
I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,
but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.
In truth, the reason we bought so much 
did have to do with being Chinese—at least
Chinese in that part of America, both strangers
and natives on a lonely, beautiful street
where food came in stackable containers 
and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive
to the source, where the same money landed
a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.
You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded 
by land enough to grow your own, if lawns
hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare
into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains
of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate, 
mysterious packets brought by house guests
from New York Chinatown, to be transformed
by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,
enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,

provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice
could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,
but so was everything else my parents did.
Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids, 
who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,
to become typical immigrants’ children,
taller than their parents and unaware of hunger
except when asked the odd, perplexing question.


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