Tennesseetransitions


Eating Locally

On this snowy day, I’m recalling some recent conversations with friends asking what exactly am I eating that is fresh and local in this kind of weather? So, I made a list. I consider food that I grew last summer and preserved in some way fair game when making such a list but italicized them below so  you can tell what’s ‘fresh’ and what’s ‘preserved’. All grown or available right.here. 

Here’s what we’re eating these days: corn and corn meal, cilantro, tomatoes-yes, we’re still enjoying fresh Longkeeper tomatoes harvested in October-cabbage, broccoli, beets, parsnips, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, green beans, kale, parsley, herbs, butternut and spaghetti squash, pesto, salsa, dried beans, jams, V-8 and grape juices, peas, edamame, jams and jellies, honey, teas, hot sauces, salsa, flour and corn tortillas, corn bread and yeast bread, apple sauce, carrots, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, onions and garlic, molasses, and peppers and occasionally eggs, goat’s milk or goat cheese are given to me by friends. We also had fresh lettuce until just recently but the cold finally did it in, mostly due to our failure to protect it well. We enjoy stir fries, soups, pasta sauces, and one pot meals most of the time, occasionally splurging on a pizza from Main Street Pizza since they grow their own toppings on their nearby farm. There are lots of other local foods available that we occasionally enjoy but don’t grow ourselves-from  wheat for grinding into flour, to pumpkins, meats, cheeses, apples, pears and other fruits. I suppose most any food you might want can be found locally at some time of the year anyway! (OK, oranges and seafood excluded, but certainly some kinds of fish are available.) Rice, olive oil and spices are my main import exceptions, although rice is being grown in South Carolina now and I hope to buy from there this year. How far does ‘local’ go? That’s for you to define. Some say 100 miles, others feel 250 is still local. And why does eating local foods matter so much to me?

  1. Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
  2. Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
  3. Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
  4. Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
  5. More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore, loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
  6. New and better flavors: When you commit to buy more local food, you’ll discover interesting new foods, tasty new ways to prepare food and a new appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
  7. Good for the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture—single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
  8. Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agritourism—farmers’ markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
  9. Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
  10. Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers.

So, I’ve told  you what I’m eating these days and why. Now I’ll leave you with a little pictorial  of what we’ve been enjoying at my house…are  you eating any local foods that aren’t pictured here? Am I missing anything? 

 

 

 

 



Loco for Local

 Locavore. Local Food. Local Economy. Local Business. There’s that ‘local’ word again. I sometimes become discouraged at the apathy shown by our government and by consumers over the fragility and quality of our food supply. But Saturday offered a ray of hope here in my town. A local non-profit group, ‘Build It Up East Tennessee’ had announced a community meeting to discuss the particulars of a grant they’ve received that will help 10-15 local residents set  up their own ‘market garden’. I attended the meeting simply because I was curious about the program. But there were about 100 others there, and it seemed as though most of them were there because they really wanted to be a part of this initiative to ‘Grow Appalachia’. The stipulations for the growers-to-be were not overwhelming, but firm and fair, specifically designed to get more local foods into our stores and markets, while offering the growers tools, instruction and cash for their crops. The funding is only available for this year, but I think the turnout was a good indicator of how much interest there is in growing and eating local food.

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This only shows about a fourth of the people that were at the community meeting

Now, all that said, let’s discuss what this means. Granted, some of the folks are attracted to the idea of making money for doing something they love anyway, (smells like a j.o.b. to me) but several I spoke with seemed drawn to the idea simply because they too, want to see our local food system become sustainable, providing jobs and the freshest food possible. When food grows, families and communities grow too. Growing food also empowers us to live healthy, productive lives. The link is indisputable.

Another personal indicator that the demand is growing, lies in the the number of community garden applications I’ve already received for the 2015 growing season. More than ever, folks that have no place to grow are wanting a plot as well as some direction and community. I’m thinking it’s time to consider (yet) another community garden in another part of town. I’m also noticing more area restaurants touting ‘locally grown’ on everything from pizza toppings to salads to craft beers. Grocers and markets are showcasing ‘locally grown’ produce and products by using specially marked areas and signs in their stores, and our city has begun the process of building a brand new downtown farmer’s market to accommodate the ‘growing’ numbers of vendors that this demand for local foods has created.

So, what’s all this got to do with transitioning? I know that I’m often preaching to the choir here, but just in case  you haven’t been indoctrinated yet, our very future lies in being localized. We can no longer safely depend on imports of far-away foods and fuels. The low gas prices here in the US are inadvertently causing serious economic problems in other parts of the world…those places that depend on higher priced oil exports to other first world countries to keep their economies afloat. They are quickly reaching the break even point on their oil drilling enterprises. When they do, will they continue to export oils and fuels to the rest of the world? Do we want to wait to find out if that happens before we DO something? And here’s where the apathy I mentioned sets in. Is setting up a plan for community food security such an outrageous thing to do, even if the exports of cheap goods and food continue to flow into our country? Is wanting the best-tasting, freshest, most nutritious and secure food system we can possibly produce crazy-talk?

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I see so many opportunities for local food purveyors to start new businesses, develop new value-added products, and earn a decent income too. We are lucky enough to live in an area with adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures that allow us to grow practically year round. From apple juice to peanut butter, we can ‘make it local’. I’m going to leave you with a cool little app that makes this point. It’s not a download…simply click on the blue link and watch for a few seconds. “Sometimes it only takes a little to change big things”



The Tipping Point
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“Tenacity”…as seen on my daily walk

I started the following post BEFORE Tuesday’s elections, and almost deleted it as being too ‘Pollyana-ish’ when I came back to it last night. After a lot of thought, I realized it is still relevant. Perhaps more than ever for those of us that are feeling defeated and hopeless about our collective future in this country (and in this state!).  I believe if we want to see the changes that are important to us that we have to approach them in a grass roots manner, rather than depending on our government and elected officials . There are tons of quotes about this kind of action, but here are my favorites:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” ~Mahatma Gandhi
And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post…

tilt a whirl

Remember riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair? When everyone on board would shift their weight to the same side, the round tub would spin dizzily in that direction. It was the shifting together that tilted the thing. We may have lost some momentum Tuesday, but we certainly haven’t left the fair yet! There’s still lots to see and do and experience, under our own terms. We aren’t beholden to donors or voters and we have no term limits.

As I have traveled my path towards personal sustainability and economic well-being, I’ve come to realize that many others are on the same path with me. We may not all call it that, or even realize consciously that that’s what we’re doing, but I’m happy for the company and am feeling pretty confident that we are close to reaching a ‘tipping point’; that is, “the event of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common.” We’ve reached a critical mass and I think this election will eventually result in reaching that tipping point because the corporate-run government system that remains in power today is flatly incapable of solving our problems. Climate change, global viral pandemics and super bugs, water aquifiers drying up, the coming food collapse and runaway debt aren’t going to be resolved by Republicans or Democrats, since neither party has a real plan for dealing with them. Many folks will realize that soon enough, and will begin looking for other solutions, adding to the shift.

I’ve listened to strangers and friends (and even elected officials) have discussions about backyard chickens and urban beekeeping, community gardens, farmers’ markets, biking and hiking trails, green spaces, local foods, sustainability, walkability scores, alternative energies and more. I’ve read countless newspaper op-eds, books, magazine and internet articles about the efforts individuals and sometimes entire cities are making to transition to a better way of living. I’ve personally witnessed a surge of interest in historical preservation and Livable Community Initiatives, downtown revitalization projects, rails-to-trails conversions, and soon- a downtown observation bee hive and a meadow on the front lawn of the public library-right here in my town! It seems we are redefining the good life for our own selves, in our own localities, in our own terms. In other words, we’re edging closer to that tipping point.

It seems many of us want to move to a different way of eating too. My local food shed is growing: incubator  kitchens and community canneries are on the drawing board, two edible Food Forests have been planted and a food coop is being discussed, community gardens are expanding,the needed money has finally been earmarked now for a permanent Farmer’s Market location, and a non profit organization has just opened a year-round local foods grocery! All this in my midsized town of 65,000 people! From small towns to large cities, foodscapes are changing. Schools, prisons and hospitals are offering healthier, locally-grown choices via on-site gardens and networks of local growers. Farmers are working around the inane requirements of the USDA’s “certified organic” and moving to a more inclusive “sustainably grown” label. Small farms are coming back and restaurants are proud to add  their ‘locally sourced’ goods to their menus. Friends are milking goats and making cheese, baking their own breads and making beer. We’re tipping all the while.

I’m not going to let the disappointing election results dissuade me in my quest for living a better life on less. It will have the opposite affect in fact, pushing me to work even harder towards finding local, sustainable solutions to the real life problems we all face. I’ve reached my tipping point. Have you?

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Growing Community (in Our Gardens)

I’ve only lived in this urban area for a bit over two years, but I’m definitely feeling the connections again that I once had with our land at our previous home, which was out in the country. But out there, I only felt a connection with our couple of acres, since there were few personal relationships with others in the area. It seemed to me that those ‘country folks’ that had been a part of that rural area for decades…attending their churches and schools, naming the roads after themselves (true, that), working their land and raising their horses… just weren’t much interested in interacting with ‘new folks’ like us.

After rather unsuccessfully trying to be a part of that community for over ten years, we decided that we might find more of what we were looking for by living in town, so here we are. It’s been a transition for sure-I’m still shocked when an ambulance or fire truck goes wailing by- but overall it’s been a positive experience for us. As I’ve worked these last few weeks in my raised beds in the backyard, and in my plot at the nearby community garden, preparing them for the inevitable sleep that’s soon to come, I’m feeling a sense of belonging again, and a sense of place. I like that feeling of connection and I hold it sacred. Now here’s the thing that’s been going through my mind as I work: A sacred way of life connects us to the people and places around us. That means that a sacred economy must be in large part a local economy, in which we have multidimensional, personal relationships with the land and people who meet our needs, and whose needs are met in turn.

Gardening is like my own personal local economy, employing the same give and take techniques I use with my neighbors and community. I give the soil what it needs to produce, then take what I need for sustenance. After feeding us so well, beginning with fresh peas in April clear through to the  almost-ready beds of plump cabbages and jeweled greens that are growing there now, I feel compelled to give back somehow.

To that end, I spent last Saturday with community gardeners planting a mini fruit orchard. Together we planted cherry, plum and apple trees, along with blueberries and grapes. The work was hard but we’ll all be rewarded with abundant organic fruit eventually. And while those trees grow, we’re growing our community too…

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I think it’s an act of courage to plant a fruit tree…essentially you’re saying to the Universe that you intend to be around to take care of it for years to come. After the weekend of communal spirit, I have lovingly planted blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and Japanese maples in my own yard this week, and can’t wait to see them grow and prosper. Yes, lovingly. I fed my now-depleted soils with well-aged compost that we’ve been tending all summer, and amended that with a truckload of alpaca manure…

20141028_141359[1] …then planted a green manure cover crop to the raised beds..

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and carefully tucked the new trees and berries in for winter with a quilt of pine straw…

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Everyone contributed to my little personal place: the Earth, with her natural abundance of grass clippings, leaves and trees, a friend that was happy to see the pine straw raked off her grass, the funny and furry alpacas that unknowingly contributed their poops- even the city crews that deliver shredded leaves to my yard!  So, my garden has become a community effort.  In turn, I share my garden abundance with my daughter, who lives on disability and is  always ‘food insecure’, and my community.  It’s local. It’s shared. It’s sacred. Just sayin’…

 

 




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