Tennesseetransitions


What a Waste!

I’ve spent this summer reading “American Wasteland”, a tome by Jonathon Bloom about the reasons so many American children are going hungry. My mother’s admonishments about how I shouldn’t leave food on my plate because of the “starving ‘negra’ children” had an impact on me. I’ve always quietly prided myself for paying my daily dues so that I could be a member of the “clean plate club”. Fast forward 60 years and into our current-day ‘disposable’ society. On one hand our country is blessed to have so much, but the easy availability of everything from food to plastic water bottles has also devalued much of what we have. So much so that a tremendous amount is simply wasted. There’s an old saying, that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. That’s what Mr. Bloom writes about so compellingly. I like my new saying much better: “There is no ‘away’, as in, ‘throw it away‘ “.

Turns out, there is tremendous food waste in this country especially, but also in developed countries all over the world: from farm to table to landfill, every step of the way there is unbelievable waste, with home plate waste being less problematic than my mom led me to believe. I’ve spent much of my adult life patting myself on the back for cleaning my plate, planning and preparing meals based on what I have on hand, then feeding chickens, dogs and soil with the rest. I tend to feel that I have the most control over things that can be handled at the personal level, and that it’s more difficult to control food waste at any other level, but it’s certainly not impossible.

This is where WE come in: I am certain that, just like with any other ‘movement’, this problem of so much food waste can be greatly reduced, as long as there are enough blogs, letters and emails written, enough news reports spread and petitions signed, enough Facebook pages created and enough folks like you and me to care enough to “Do Something!”  beyond cleaning our plates every night.

According to Mr. Bloom’s research, the number one source of food waste is right in the  fields and orchards, where growth begins and ends. Many issues come into play at that level, from crop price (sometimes it’s not even profitable for a farmer to pay a crew to harvest the crop so it is left to rot in the field), to consumer demand for perfect looking-stunningly perfect looking-fruits and vegetables. Anything less than perfect is discarded, or in a best case scenario is sent to a cannery. 30-50% of each and every crop goes unharvested for that reason alone. Then, when the produce department employee culls out the tomato that’s developed a tiny blemish ( and I do mean tiny) or the pepper that shows a slight wrinkle, it’s tossed. Food rescue groups have surged in larger metro areas, sometimes picking up 1000 lbs of edible, good food a day, from a single grocery chain. CASES of farm fresh vegetables, boxes of fruits, bags and bags of greens and salads, potatoes, carrots and onions are dumped each and every day. That’s just at the store level.

Restaurants and cafes-especially buffets- schools, work place cafeterias, dairies, canneries, convenience stores and bakeries all contribute to food waste because not only do we expect to see fully loaded bins or steam tables 5 minutes before a food retailer closes, the practice of ‘keeping it full’ forces them to throw away prepared foods due to the threat of it going bad faster…

Overconsumption…

While the over consumption of high calorie foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle are important contributors to many people’s struggle with weight, the UCLA researchers stress, “food consumption is only one of many environmental factors that affect obesity.”

BOGO offers that tempt us to buy more than we can use… 

and refrigerators that are too large…

all contribute to this problem. Easy ‘out of sight, out of mind’ disposal methods add to our tendency to waste food. In many parts of Europe, large disposal fees have been imposed, cutting down on waste and prompting the building and use of local digesters that use anaerobic decomposition to break down the waste in an environmentally friendly way, producing enough renewable energy to power small towns or villages.

  

Why bother with all of this? As part of our transition efforts to re-create our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, ‘thou shalt not waste anything’ should be our first commandment.

So what can we do at a level that would truly ‘make a difference’? Consider these actions:

* Buying and eating local and regional foods will ensure that they weren’t shipped from across the country or from the other side of the world. Shorter shipping distances means the food is much much fresher when you do buy it.

* Consider growing some of your own food. Trust me, if you’re growing it, you will not let a single thing go to waste! Not a single morsel.

* Start a local gleaning group in your community or join one that’s already established. The practice of gleaning a farmer’s fields was first mentioned in the Bible, making it an especially acceptable practice if you live in the Bible Belt like I do. It also happens that many crops are grown in this belt. Jesus would approve I’m sure.

* Encourage through your buying choices and via letters or personal requests that food manufacturers and retailers offer more items in resealable packaging and smaller quantities (half loafs of bread to better serve smaller households, for example).

* Push for local, or better yet, STATE,  landfill food-waste bans would  prompt innovation and help us develop environmentally friendly ways to process food waste. You didn’t hear it from me, but I’ve heard our city is poised to begin a commercial food-waste composting facility in the near future, and if landfill operations could no longer undercut them on price, it will help ensure their success.

*If total bans are not in the making, making waste disposal more expensive or charging by the ton would have a ripple effect through the food chain, likely causing a bubble up effect of food conservation from a more conscientious public

* Encourage farmers to donate excess food-form a database or a Craigslist for food in your community

* Use inmate labor to harness already-harvested crops from growers and packers. Thousands of pounds per day are tilled under or discarded because this produce doesn’t meet market specifications

* Bring urban food-bank clients  to excess farm food, encouraging self reliance and fostering food appreciation in the process. If transportation is a problem, pair clients with urban or community garden programs.

* Reconsider what foods the government funds-subsidizing commodity crops makes those crops artificially cheap, encouraging waste. Let your elected officials and the USDA know that you want the next Farm Aid bill to be for eaters, not just growers!

* Plan your meals and menus ahead, using what you have on hand before buying more. FIFO is an effective inventory system that retailers use: First In, First Out.

*Get more restaurants to offer smaller portions for smaller prices. A ‘smart sizing’ campaign could even reverse the negative effect of ‘super sizing’.

The future of food is important and implementing regional food systems, with the use of hoop houses to grow warm weather crops year round, along with a return to more seasonal eating would also lessen food waste. “Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall” the old song goes… don’t let that sage advice go to waste!

Advertisements


A Livable Community

Back in 2011 my city held an ‘Economic Summit’ that had great speakers and breakout sessions, while offering lots of info for anyone that wanted to know the state of the city. It was there that the attendees were given a survey to answer the question, “What would make our city more livable?”. The answers were then compiled and developed into a Stategic Plan for the the members of the Community Partnerships group to use as as a guiding light, if you will. Several subgroups were formed as a result of that survey, and even though the Livable Communities group has been meeting for about a decade or more, it was first introduced to me during that summit. Today I serve as chairperson of the group because it’s purpose and function integrated so seamlessly with my own values for transitioning to a lifestyle that is based on  localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, that I knew I wanted to be a part of it. 

The current Livable Communities group serves as a sort of advisory group to the city, yet remains autonomous enough to implement plans and ideas of our own. As our community has built resilient “amenities,” such as community gardens, green spaces, a more walkable business district, farmers markets and bike paths, we have certainly become a more desirable place to live- and invest in, it seems. The survey results have served us well in acting as our guide.

The good news is, we have pretty much managed to see implementation of many of the things the survey results revealed. One remaining ‘wish list’ item from the survey is to ”Improve public transportation using the Complete Streets model with a schedule to accommodate working people.” 

bus_stop

We’re not there yet folks, but I’ve recently discovered some incredible online resources to begin this next phase of our efforts to improve our bus transit system. Stay tuned here for updates on that process, as our current system really does leave a lot to be desired…

Camel1

But first things first; our committee is planning to partner with other nonprofits to man a table during the upcoming Blue Plum music festival, being held in downtown Johnson City on June 5-7th. We’ll share the space with Build It Up E. TN, Grow Appalachia!, Insight Alliance,  the JC Public Library, and Appalachian Resource Council and we’ll have various items to attract passersby to the table. Maps, Quilt Trail Guides, Local Food Guides and even some locally produced food products will be for sale, along with library resources and much more. The spot we’ll hold down is THE BEST spot in town for this, underneath the wide overhang of the Insight Alliance offices, located at 207 E Main St. It’s a half block from the main stage, with bathrooms and a water fountain just inside. I’m looking for folks to join us at the festival and hope that you’ll  attend our planning session next Tuesday, May 19th at 5:30 at the same location. Our main message this year is simply ‘all things local’. If you have any ideas for making that message more attention getting, I’d love to hear from you!

IMG_0581

2014 Blue Plum Table



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.

20150131_133931

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?

local

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”



Transition Matters

I’ll immediately apologize to my readers that don’t live in my town, for this post is strictly about events and groups that are inherently ‘local’. Feel free to move on, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway- I’ve tried to make it interesting to everyone, really.  Remember, that the modern industrial capitalist economic and social system, based upon cheap oil and resources, is unsustainable, making a major restructuring of economy and society imperative, and inevitable. Transition contends that citizens and communities need to act proactively and positively at the local scale, in a process of ‘Transition’ and ‘powerdown’ to build localized and resilient communities in terms of food, energy, work and waste. Hence the blog name, Tennessee Transitions.

1. Shopping for Christmas? Check out these products, from Naked Bee! They’re affordable, all natural personal care products AND they’re made right here in our fair city! They produce hair care products, lotions, soaps, lip balms and candles and you can find a store nearby by clicking on this link. If you’re going to buy Christmas gifts, please try to support local businesses. If you  buy these products, you’ll be supporting both the manufacturer AND the retailer. Not to mention the gift recipient. Win-Win-Win

creme20140911_144709

2. Tuesday, November 18th, is the date for the bimonthly Livable Communities group meeting. We’ll be meeting at the downtown offices of Insight Alliance, located at 207 E Main St at 5:30 PM. A report has been prepared for us with the final results of the survey that was used to gather information concerning the possibility of a natural foods store in Johnson City. That alone is worth coming to hear about. We’ll also move forward in our plans for continuing the work begun by the Southside Neighborhood Organization (SNO) in placing Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods across town and fill you in on other positive things that are happening in our region.

LFL

3. Another meeting? I know, I know, but this one is so important to our current and future abilities to provide food for ourselves. C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property) will hold a short meeting Thursday Nov. 20, 5pm at Willow Tree Coffeehouse (216 E Main Street) to discuss what our next steps should be to stop updates that are being made to the RESIDENTIAL zoning codes – which right now say “no ‘farm animals’ permitted” but are legally trumped by the city codes for animal control which ALLOW for chickens. Honeybees and backyard hens have now been lumped together as ‘farm animals’. This issue concerns any and all who believe in pet rights, self-sufficiency, and food justice.

COOP logo

4.  I believe medicinal herbs could regain the prominence and importance they once held in our home medicine chests and first aid kits as we transition to more localized lives. After all, many prescription drugs originated from chemicals found in plants. Bring your brown bag lunch at noon on Tuesday, November 18th, to the Johnson City public library to attend a free presentation :”Herbs and the Natural World.” The presenter will discuss medicinal and culinary herbs and their uses and will offer samples of herbal teas for your tasting pleasure.

tea-438480_640



Just Getting Started

This is my 200th post on this blog but I feel like I’m just getting started. Some of those posts may have you rolling your eyes by now (growing food, building community and frugality are my personal favorites) but today’s post covers all of those topics in one! I am a recently elected co-chair of the local Livable Communities Group, a group that’s been meeting for about ten years, but has recently partnered with Community Partnerships, another group that was originally established under the direction of the Washington County Economic Development Council. Recently we’ve become re-energized by all the good things that are happening in our town and have adopted a long range plan to address some of the issues that Johnson Citians that attended the Economic Summit in 2011 felt were key in making our community more livable and lovable. Not surprisingly, green spaces, hiking and biking trails, public safety, expanded public transportation options, community gardens, farmer’s markets and a more localized economy topped the list. One answer that stood out in the survey was to “grow and connect to our local foodshed”, and that drumbeat seems to be growing louder and louder.

Farmer

It was announced in the local newspaper last week that the city doesn’t have the funds available to do the site preparation work for the long-promised new Farmer’s Market, and conversations that I’ve had recently with the market manager (he’s also the market board president-isn’t that a conflict of interest???) lead me to believe that if we really want to ‘grow and connect with our local foodshed’  the time has come to consider other options. And THAT is what the Livable Communities meeting being held tomorrow morning at the One Acre Cafe will be about. We’ve invited the director of Appalachian Sustainable Development to speak with us about the possibility of forming a food co-op; a worker-owned, community-based cooperative effort to help our residents be able to make that connection. I’ve been told that if our current Farmer’s Market vendors had a venue for selling their stuff during the colder months, that they’d be more willing to extend their growing seasons. This sounds like it might be a doable solution for that problem, allowing the summer-time market vendors to have a year-round income while allowing us eaters to have AFFORDABLE fresh locally-grown produce in addition to meats, cheeses, kitchen staples, home brews, and canned and baked goods, all in one location, all the time. If you eat, you’re part of this conversation.

I’ve been a member of two different food co-ops. The first was in the late 70’s.  I joined a worker-owned co-op that operated a store front which became like a second home and provided me with affordable, healthy foods like natural peanut butter and rice cakes, whole grain flours, eggs, oil, honey, cheeses and so much more. Four kids can go through a lot of that stuff you know. By paying an annual membership fee you got the food at a reduced price, but if you volunteered to work in the store a couple hours a month, you got an even larger reduction! Everything was ordered in bulk then divided up once it was delivered to the store. Our family refilled the same peanut butter and honey jars and Tupperware containers (remember Tupperware?) over and over and over, keeping endless amounts of trash from the landfill in the process. This was before curbside recycling was available-hell, this was before bottled water! Which makes me wonder if the ease of recycling now is truly progressive or simply relieves our conscience? But I digress…

The second coop I belonged to never had a store front, so the food was delivered to a remote parking lot, and was then taken home by members to divvy it up before it landed in the proper kitchen. The truck was always late, the orders always had something missing, and it was not ideal by any means. I don’t want to do that anymore.

After the ASD presentation of different co-op models, we’ll break for lunch at the cafe, then our group will be taking a tour of a possible location for such a store, right downtown, just a couple of blocks from the not-gonna-happen ‘new’ Farmer’s Market. If this is something  you’re truly interested in, feel free to join our group at 10 AM Monday, June 9th for this information gathering meeting. 

Last, but not least, keep in mind that I write this blog to offer you what I hope are resilient and creative, if not challenging, solutions for living well while transitioning to a world that holds the triple threats of climate change, energy and resource depletion and the ever-growing income inequity in the US and our globalized world.  But after 200 posts, I’m just getting started!

localbiz1




%d bloggers like this: