We’re Emerging!

fall foods

Last week I was part of a panel of local food activists and advocates that were asked to listen to and critique a Milligan College senior that is presenting a paper at the International Food Studies Conference later this month out in Austin TX. It’s an honor for him to have been chosen to present, especially since the other presenters all seem to be authors, professors, and other professionals in the field. I learned a few things during the panel discussion that I wanted to share with you. I have long felt that ‘creating’ a local food economy is the number one thing every city and region in this country could do to protect their citizens and tremendously increase their resilience if times get hard- or even if they don’t. (Of course, times are already hard for many of us-unless  you don’t consider our government being shut down a hardship. And consider the ripple effect this is going to create!) But I digress…

I learned that Johnson City and the rest of the Tri Cities Region  is moving from our former description of ‘rural area’ to what is now considered an ’emerging urban area’. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I rather like the rural feel of our area, but I also enjoy the progress I’ve seen in the last decade. Since I can’t change any of that anyway, I simply say “whatever”. What did excite me though was learning that we also have an “emerging local food economy”.

For generations this area was heavily dependent on tobacco subsidies. The farmers that ‘sold out’ when that ended sold good farmland to housing developers who then built tan cookie-cutter  suburban homes on our hillsides. Many of those that stayed on their land began to raise cattle and corn, the latter being fed to the former, and the former being shipped more and more frequently to foreign countries like China for consumption there.

So, what do we produce right here at home now? It’s a surprisingly long list. Small farmers and growers are producing many of the following food items: Fresh fruits and many of their value-added byproducts, ie: applesauce, juice and butters; jams, jellies, and syrups; vegetables of every imaginable type; Wheat is being grown in nearby Limestone, as is corn for meal, grits and tortillas. Meat animals of all varieties, along with all of their byproducts – from bacon and eggs to cheeses-are being raised in our region. Cane for molasses and grain for sorghum, bees for honey (and pollination), corn for liquor and grapes for wine are all being produced right here too. So, we have meats, eggs, dairy, fruits, grains, sweeteners and libations. Do we need anything more? I’ll admit that rice, chocolate, bananas, olive oil and citrus would be nice for sure, but it’s a well-known fact here in the South that bacon grease can be used as a substitute for a lot of things ;). All joking aside, I believe alternatives and substitutes would be developed, with those ‘must haves from afar’ considered an occasional treat instead of part of our daily caloric intake. The point is our local farmers are already producing everything we need to eat healthy and varied diets. If all we imported to our supper tables were just a few specialty items, all of this former tobacco land could be used to produce enough of the diverse products we need and want. Supplemented with hunting and fishing, foraging and community  gardens, we could be food self-sufficient. If we consumers would vote for these local foods with our forks and our food dollars, small-scale family farms would become an essential part of our lives once again.

vote with your fork

Many jobs could be created if there was enough food produced locally to feed us all, energy costs to produce that food would be lowered since it would no longer need to be shipped from around the world, and WE would have the distinct privilege of being able to enjoy the freshest, tastiest food available! Our personal and communal resilience would increase too, since we wouldn’t be dependent on foreign countries, foreign oil, OR the federal government for our food supply.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Research tells me that powerful and innovative technology called GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is already being used to strengthen our food system and food access work here in NE TN and SW VA.  While that work is progressing, we can make every bite count in the meantime by seeking out whatever local food sources we can. Our demand will eventually create the supply we need to keep us all fed. We are emerging, after all.


3 Comments so far
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I forgot to mention mushrooms. There are several mushroom growers already in this area but I suspect there’s plenty of room for more competition. That would seem to me to be an easy to grow in the shady woods crop for those that don’t have a lot of open sunny space.

Comment by simpleintn

I am ready to move back to East Tennessee already, and this only makes it more keen. Ah, for what feels like home. Thanks, Sam.

Comment by Jennifer

Sorry you’re homesick Jennifer :( Hope things work out for you and your sweet family wherever you end up! PS How come I can’t access your blog?

“Maybe a person’s time would be as well spent raising food as raising money to buy food.”

Comment by simpleintn

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