Tag Archives: Sustainable

Challenges in Expanding Regional Food Ventures

Note: This summary is from my newest post on The Snap Blog, where I will be blogging going forward.

When I blur my eyes, I see sustainable food on every kitchen table. The ramifications of this vision are tremendous, which is why pursing it is not for the faint of heart or timid. The obstacles are equally substantial, starting with an entrenched and massive industrial food system.

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Introducing The Snap Blog…Our New Home!

Hello Readers,

I’m guessing by now that at least some of you may have thought I fell off the face of the earth. Close.

Instead, about six months ago I jumped feet first into my own ProFood venture – Sugarsnap located in Burlington, Vermont’s Intervale. Candidly, I had no idea how consuming this transition was going to be and expected to continue writing on a regular basis.

Well, after putting together a comprehensive business plan and private placement memorandum, I am happy to report that we have nearly completed our initial fund raising, and will soon accelerate our expansion plans. These changes are allowing me to start breathing again about the critical issues addressed at Every Kitchen Table.

The exciting part is that I am now partnering with some great people that have their own stories to tell. So, with this post I am formally merging Every Kitchen Table into The Snap Blog, the official blog of Sugarsnap.

You will once again see me posting on a regular basis, and will get the added benefit of reading the well-informed thoughts of my Sugarsnap partners. It may take us a couple months to hit our stride, but rest assured we will and the content will be great.

See you on The Snap Blog!

Cheers,

Rob Smart (a.k.a., @Jambutter)

P.S. You can also follow Sugarsnap on Twitter and Facebook.

12 Things Kids Should Learn on their Own about Food

Guest Blogger: Orren Fox is 12 years old and lives in NoBo (North of Boston). He goes to school where there is a greenhouse and a bee hive! Orren has 24 chickens and four ducks (three Call Ducks and one beautiful Mandarin). He is really interested in farming and the ethical treatment of animals. Orren would love to change the way egg layers and meat birds are raised. He says he has a lot to learn. He blogs and tweets about these issues.

There are all sorts of really interesting things to learn about food, actually I imagine you might not have really THOUGHT about food. Maybe someone hasn’t taught you about food. Most kids would rather think about other stuff.

But just for a minute, right now, stop and ask yourself – What did I have for breakfast? Ok now, think – Where did all those ingredients come from? Who made that bagel? What time did they have to get up? Where did that egg come from? Where did the chicken live and how did it live? If you knew the animal was poorly treated would that make a difference? Or not? Where did the orange juice travel from? Florida? California? Have you ever traveled to those states? Is it a long way from California or Florida to your house? How much gas did it use to ship the OJ that far?

All really interesting questions I think.

1.  Vegetables taste great with butter and cheese

Honestly, what doesn’t. Even asparagus, really even asparagus. I know there are some people who will say butter and cheese aren’t healthy, but hey I’m a kid and actually I think these are true foods or “real foods.” They aren’t chemically made in a laboratory. They come from recipes not chemical compounds or lab experiments. Maybe that is too harsh. But I understand eggs and cheese, I know where they come from. I don’t know what SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE is, so I Googled it (here is what Wikipedia says – Polyphosphates are moderately irritating to skin and mucous membrane because of their alkalinity). Hmm. Not really interested in eating that.

Actually most veggies that you grow yourself or that come from your neighborhood farm taste completely different than those from the buckets in the supermarket. I actually think the veggies in the supermarket don’t really taste  like much. A carrot that was harvested yesterday tastes very different from one that was harvested a few weeks ago, then spent the next few days on a truck, then the  next few days sitting in the supermarket. I think the flavor must just drain out of everything as time passes. Also in the supermarket there are very few types of veggies or fruits. Very rarely would you see a Green Zebra or a Brandywine, and those are just tomato variations! Each of these variations tastes completely different, we are only really offered one or two types of tomatoes at the supermarket. These two types of tomatoes are the kinds that travel well and that are easiest to ripen or harvest. I actually don’t like the kind in the supermarket, I like Brandywines. They are sweeter.

I think kids might like veggies if they could choose the varieties they like, but they can’t because the choice is so small. I wouldn’t eat tomatoes if I could only eat the kind in the supermarket.

2. Food taste better when you grow it yourself

Food tastes better because your work is in it. I am an impatient gardener, so for me the food tastes great because I have had to wait for it to go from seeds to seedlings to flowers to fruit to ripe fruit. Somehow that makes it taste like you did it. So i guess there is a little bit of pride in those vegetables.

3. Growing food is hard work, a real accomplishment, and really satisfying

I drowned the first tomatoes I tried to grow. I just kept watering them. They didn’t stand a chance. I just couldn’t believe that dry soil was very good for the plants, so I kept watering them. Of course they never grew. It actually made me really sad and I felt as if I would never be a farmer.  I learned and the next year I didn’t drown them, I was a little more patient. Just a little, actually. I also talked to anyone who would talk to me about growing tomatoes.

I started them in little peat pots at home in a sunny window, then slowly put them outside each day to “harden them off”, at this point I almost froze the seedlings to death. I forgot to bring them in one night because I was so distracted by playing basketball, I completely forgot them. I was lucky, it didn’t get too cold that night. Once they were sturdy enough to plant into the ground I dug little nests into the ground and put them in. I practically expected to come back the next day and have ripe tomatoes. At this point the garden looked so tidy and organized. All the plants in their nests all in a row. Wow. Gradually the weeds invaded. I have to say, I like weeds. I would pull them up and give them to my hens. The hens loved them. Sometimes I would take a few of my hens into the garden with me. They were great helpers, until one day they discovered the green tomatoes. One tomato gone..after all of that work and tending! As it turned out we had a very very wet June and a tomato blight so only a few of my 8 tomato plants produced fruit. The ones that did were fantastic. I think they tasted especially good because I know how much work went into caring for them. They really did taste different!

4. Being adventurous with food is a great way to get good attention from adults.

Oddly some adults are surprised when kids eat vegetables. Eat a bowl of spinach or asparagus and see the reaction you get! Adults are stunned. I have this bad habit of grabbing a handful of spinach and jamming it into my mouth, people are astonished. Selfishly it feels good to have people pay attention to you.

5. Farmers are really inventors and are happy to tell you what they know.

I am friends with my local farmer, Matt. I went to visit him at his greenhouses. He had a problem. It cost a lot to heat the greenhouse during the winter to grow greens. So what did he do? he figured out a way to lower the ceiling so that he was only heating about 9 inches off the ground. This way he was able to keep the amount of fuel he used way way down and therefore the greens were affordable. Very inventive!

6. Keeping a compost bucket near the sink is a great way to use food you don’t eat – my hens love my leftovers.

Food is hard to grow, it seems ridiculous to throw it out. Uneaten food has so many uses. I actually feed most of it to my hens, they love it. In fact the other day I took my leftover burrito out to them and they went crazy! I am about to learn about worms and am probably going to get a worm farm so that we can take all of our newspapers and food waste and “feed” it to the worms to make delicious soil. Obviously healthy food comes from healthy soil, so I am going to employ some worms to do some work. They are going to be my farm workers. I actually think I might make a t-shirt that says “I (heart) worms”!

7. Good food comes from healthy soil, so don’t throw your trash out the window.

I am amazed when I see trash on the side of the road, or the other day someone threw their cigarette on the ground. Woah. I guess this just doesn’t make sense to me. Right now I don’t know that much about soil, it seems like there is TONS to learn. I’m going to start with my farm workers the worms and begin to learn more. What I do know is that garbage doesn’t help our soil, our earth. Basically the soil = the earth. So farmers are really the most important people when it comes to taking care of the planet. I read somewhere that someone said “Farmers are stewards of the earth”, I think that is really true.

8. Cooking is really fun. Think about it fire, knives, and lots of people telling you that your are amazing.

The thing about cooking is that most people don’t think kids can do it, because of the knives and fire. Actually we can. We know it is dangerous and that we need to be careful, but if a kid doesn’t learn how to cook how can they possibly feed themselves when they become an adult? Imagine not knowing how to cook for yourself. What would you do? You become completely dependent on someone else feeding you. I think that probably means eating fast food or food that is already prepared. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that is the most healthy food. I think the goal of that food is sit on a shelf for a long time and not go bad. Also it is amazing the kind of praise and attention you get when adults know you can cook.

9. Eating a strawberry, an apple, a pear, a peach, blueberries straight from the plant is surprisingly awesome.

Hard to believe a dusty warm strawberry tastes so great but it does. It really does taste dramatically different from the ones you buy in the store. The one in the field tastes juicy and sweet. The texture seems right for a strawberry, kind of prickly with the seeds and gentle with the fruit. A ripe strawberry sort of melts, in fact I don’t think you even need to chew. I think because it is so ripe and because you found it, is part of the reason it tastes so great.  This may sound funny but picking fruit or veggies yourself is kind of like treasure hunting. It is really satisfying to find a ripe strawberry, or a homegrown green bean. It feels like finding buried treasure. Even if you are picking an entire garden of green beans it is hard work but really rewarding.

10. Food should be a school subject – Food is biology, history, art, chemistry, PE, drama, Spanish and Latin all in one.

The thing about food is it teaches a lot of different subjects all in one. Obviously it is covers material in biology – photosynthesis, species classification,  ecosystems, and causality. It is also history because the place where your garden is being planted probably has a growing history and it would makes sense to understand it before jumping in. For example, what was growing here before my garden, is the soil clean as a result of what was here before me, what have other gardeners/farmers planted here before and had success with? It is definitely PE because it is so physical! Growing food also requires Latin because many of the seed names are in Latin. And I think it is art because in a lot of ways growing a garden meets the definition of art “the products of human creativity, the creation of beautiful significant things”.

Actually what is more significant than growing food? Maybe most importantly it is math. Think about it, schedules, costs of seeds, how much space is needed. It all involves math, many, many calculations. Like  my farmer friend Matt realizing he could grow greens during the winter if a head of lettuce was going to cost 7$, but no one would by it. Most of that 7$ was the cost of heating the greenhouse, so he figured out how to lower the ceiling in his greenhouse and heat a very little bit of the greenhouse, making his greens affordable.

11. You can have a big impact on the environment, depending on what you choose to eat.

I have been reading a lot lately that eating meat isn’t great for the environment. Obviously people have different opinions about this, but from what I have read factory farms are not good for the environment.  Also if we choose to eat more of our food from things that are raised and grown nearby, that food doesn’t have to be shipped all over the place and therefore doesn’t use up a lot of gas to move it around. Maybe we could eliminate some traffic jams by eating local. I’m not sure we can eat everything from nearby, but just making the effort to buy more of our food from local farmers we automatically reduce the amount of food that has to be trucked around. This just logically makes sense to me.

12. That chicken your eating is a really cool animal.

I am reading JSFoer’s new book Eating Animals and he talks about the time his babysitter said “You know that chicken is chicken, right?” I’m afraid most people know that but don’t really want to think about it. It is hard to imagine. Many people have never “met” a chicken before and this is what makes it possible to eat chicken. When you do meet this interesting animal, it is hard not to realize they are very much like other animals. Maybe even like animals you love. They have personalities, likes and dislikes. Do you know any other animals like that? Do any live with you? Maybe I’ve said enough. If you are going to eat chicken, I would encourage you to consider how that animals was raised and slaughtered for you to be eat. If it were tortured would you still want to eat it?

10 Things We Should Teach Every Kid about Food

Food is essential to our survival. It impacts our health and wellbeing. It has the power to bring people together.

Food can be manipulated in many ways, from cooking to processing to using it as fuel. It provides tremendous opportunities to create value, and, as such, food is big business.

Much of the food we eat starts as a simple seed, or one that has been genetically manipulated to achieve some desired objective. From there, food can be growing in any number of ways, from conventional to organic and beyond, before it finds its way to our plates.

Food touches nearly every aspect of live, so it is essential that we understand it in the fullest context possible to ensure we, as consumers, make well-informed, everyday decisions. Unfortunately, for many of us our days of being educated and/or changing our ways are mostly behind us.

That is why we must focus on our children by finding creative ways to reintroduce food in its broadest sense into their everyday activities, starting with school, in order to close the knowledge gap between farm and plate.

Here are the 10 things I would integrate into our children’s educational curriculum to give them a fighting chance at making the joys of sustainable food central in their lives.

  1. The Food We Eat – Since most kids have little knowledge of where the food they eat comes from, we start with an understanding of what we eat as a society. Showing them a simple breakdown of consumer food expenditures, e.g., 25% on fast food, will give them a sense of our food priorities. As kids mature, discussions about how our food choices impact other thing would evolve into a new Sustainable Economics (SE) track in middle and high schools. Sustainable Economics, in my mind, is the replacement for the traditional Home Economics, which carries too much baggage. As you will read below, SE shows up in a number of places.
  2. Farming in America & Abroad – If you are active in discussions regarding sustainable food, you have repeatedly heard about the knowledge gap that has grown over the years between consumers and where their food comes from. Ideally, kids at a young age should take field trips to diverse, working farms to see first-hand what goes on day after day on a farm. From there the discussion should turn to the history of farming in America, current trends, how farms are financed, what they grow/raise and so on. Along the way, kids should also be introduced to the idea of farming as a career, something that I can never recall hearing during my childhood.
  3. Plant Biology – Since kids love getting dirty, this might be one of the more popular topics during the elementary school years – playing in the dirt (soil). In addition to studying soil and its different compositions, every kid should witness firsthand the magic contained within a simple seed. Watching seeds germinate and grow into plants, bear fruit, die and return to the soil will help them understand one of the more important circles of life. With more basic science under their belts, attention can be turned to heirloom, hybrid and genetically modified seeds to expand their understanding of ways man manipulates seeds and why, as well as fertilizers and pesticides and their impacts on the water we drink, air we breathe and food we eat.
  4. Gardening – While understanding larger-scale farming operations is important, kids should also be taught the possibilities of human-scale gardening, something they can practice throughout their lives. This topic represents a cornerstone of my proposed Sustainable Economics curriculum since it gives kids the power to control where some of their food comes from, whether that food is used at school or taken home.
  5. Cooking – Another cornerstone of Sustainable Economics would be instruction on cooking, something that should be required just like physical education given the importance it plays in our health and wellbeing. Topics that can be superficially explored at the younger ages before more in-depth dives in middle and high schools might include techniques, tools, recipes, flavors, sensory experiences, chemistry, seasonal menus and more.
  6. Composting – Food waste is created throughout the food cycle, so teaching kids about the importance of composting is a final cornerstone of Sustainable Economics. Using Will Allen of Growing Power as an example, kids should be encouraged to embrace composting soil, dig their hands in it and get to know worms and other creatures working hard to break down our food waste. They should also learn the proper ways to use compost to help nourish the soil and help certain plants grow stronger and produce more tasty food.
  7. Industrial Food System – Moving into middle school, the emphasis on getting their hands dirty and familiarizing themselves with kitchens and cooking should be gradually replaced with expanding their understanding of food systems, i.e., how food is grown, processed and delivered to consumers. America’s industrialized food system could be nicely integrated into macro and micro economic studies, covering such topics as economies of scale, regional to global economies, industry consolidation, monopolies, process uniformity, etc. Kids should also be taught to contrast this dominate food system with historic systems, as well as (re)emerging regional food economies.
  8. Food Advertising – The food industry spends tens of billions of dollars every year promoting its food products. The level of sophistication used in food advertisements and marketing methodologies cannot be understated. Nor can its effectiveness at influencing choices people make about what, when and where they eat. Developing classroom exercises to help kids understand advertising techniques would go a long way toward ensuring that this highly targeted demographic learns to read between the lines.
  9. Government Programs – While it may seem a little dry on the surface, studying the changing role of our government in the food system could be turned into some pretty entertaining and impactful materials. Just look at some of the more popular food documentaries that have come out in the last couple of years, especially ones like King Corn. It may be difficult for kids to think about ways to influence government programs, but without a base of knowledge they won’t even bother trying.
  10. Food Entrepreneurship – When it comes to innovations in food, especially with regard to sustainable food, I have a strong bias toward teaching kids about the Pro Food framework I developed. Pro Food focuses primarily on regional food economies, so kids should also be exposed to entrepreneurs that are working to change the larger industrial food system mentioned above, since it will likely continue to be the primary source of food during their lifetimes. Like farming, there are many career opportunities in and around the food we eat, so it is important that we encourage young people to consider careers in sustainable food.

In the end, knowledge is power, and giving successive generations the power to demand fresh, environmentally sustainable and tasty food offers a glimmer of hope for the many advocates in the trenches today working to revolutionize our food systems.

Of course, like so many other things, getting sustainable food into school curriculums may be very difficult given many entrenched and powerful interests. The good news is that everything on this list can be adapted to our home lives. It will take a commitment of time, energy and probably a little money, but the results will be priceless.

Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and The Kathleen Show’s Prevention not Prescription initiatives.

What the Heck is ProFood Anyway?

Guest Blogger: Orren Fox is 12 years old and lives in NoBo (North of Boston). He goes to school where there is a greenhouse and a bee hive! Orren has 24 chickens and four ducks (three Call Ducks and one beautiful Mandarin). He is really interested in farming and the ethical treatment of animals. Orren would love to change the way egg layers and meat birds are raised. He says he has a lot to learn. He blogs and tweets about these issues.

Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays.

ProFood is two words smushed together. They were smushed together by people who were trying to get across a new idea. That idea was trying to get people to think about the food we eat in a different way. Right now there is a lot of “food” in the supermarket, but not much of it is PROfood.

So, what is ProFood?

“Pro” means you are “FOR” something. For example, I am pro ethical eating. That means I support it. I believe in raising animals in a way that is humane and respectful. I’m a humane-itarian. To be ProFood means you are FOR food. That sounds funny, but what I mean is that you think about food, you care about food and you will make an effort for good food. I am also Pro chocolate and Pro Red Sox.

Also, “Pro” means professional, to be a pro at something you are the best. I am really into Pro Sports and the people who participate at the Pro level are PROfessional. They have spent a lot of time working at their sport to the point where they are the best. I’d like to be a Pro Basketball player and play for the Celtics.

To me ProFood is both of these ideas. ProFood is the very best food and ProFood is a way of thinking and acting that is “For Food”: it supports and respects the farmer who grows it, the person who picks it, the land it is grown on, the person who cooks it and the people who eat it.

Right now it doesn’t seem as if America is very ProFood.

People don’t really think about food, we expect it to taste good, be available all the time, be convenient, be safe to eat and I guess not cost too much. People don’t value good food. It seems as if people are always trying to find the cheapest food, not the best food. I think people might care more about the quality of the gas they put into their car than they do about what ingredients they put into their body. I don’t think most people would say they are ProFood.

If America were ProFood we wouldn’t accept food with dangerous ingredients in it. Unfortunately there are chemicals in our food that aren’t good for us kids. My mom just finished a book called The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien, and she told me about the problem with artificial colors and artificial growth hormones. Think about it. We are kids and are still growing, think what happens when we drink milk or eat meat where the cow has been given artificial growth hormones. What do you think it does to kids’ bodies? I’m sure someone would tell me “Oh don’t worry about it, it won’t get into your body.” I don’t believe that. It just doesn’t make sense. If you feed it to the cow, and I drink the milk or eat the meat, you’re feeding it to me. I don’t want it. I’ll grow on my own.

Why do I think someone will tell me not to worry about it?

I think because everyone expects that the food we eat won’t be bad for them. We expect all food to be safe and maybe even good for us. Did you see the article on the front of the New York Times on October 4, 2009? Woah. A girl named Stephanie was paralyzed from eating meat that was considered safe. Why would a company make something that is so dangerous? Think about all the chemicals in some candy. It isn’t good for us. I imagine it is hard work to make everything safe all the time, but it seems as if this should be the top priority of a food producing company.

How can we make America or even just your own home or school ProFood?

  • Choose pesticide free, hormone free, and artificial color free foods
  • Drink water instead of high fructose corn syrup sweetened drinks
  • Eat fresh foods like an apple or sliced red pepper rather than foods that never rot.
  • Ask where your food comes from and how it was raised
  • Plant some seeds in the spring in a little pot and if you grow too much share it with a neighbor
  • Respect the farmer, rancher, farm workers, animals (they are farm workers too) and the planet. (Some of these ideas come from Food, Inc.)

I hope in the future we might see more small growers, farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, in our neighborhoods.  Obviously not everything we eat can come from right down the street, but if there were more, we would know how the food was raised and we would be able to support our neighbors. Having little farms throughout neighborhoods would really help people be ProFood. You can even do it in cities, just look at Will Allen and Novella Carpenter ( I’m reading her book now called Farm City) This obviously won’t solve everything but it is a start. I think at some point the big companies need to think in a way that is more ProFood than promoney. I’m sure people will say I’m naive. They are right. I have a lot to learn. But, hey it’s a start.

Right now we have about five new small organic farms that have popped up in our area, so we can go by and pick up fruits and vegetables that were picked that day. These farms are also canning some of their crops so they will be available through the winter. One local farmer, Matt, showed me how he has invented a drop ceiling for his greenhouse, so when it begins to get cold he can continue to grow greens without having to heat the entire greenhouse. He is doing this so the cost of the greens are not too expensive.

I am doing what I can to help my friends to be ProFood – I am hoping to start a Farm Club at school! Right now I’m struggling a bit, trying to figure out what subjects to cover. Someone on Twitter suggested start with soil. I think that is a good idea.

Mr. Smith Plays the Farm Card

Picture an angry young man with a sign. He appears to be agitated, holding a sign that condemns what his opponent stands for. There’s a chain link fence behind him.

Take a second to capture how you feel about those three sentences. Has your heart rate jumped? Do you associate with the protester? Do you want to get in his face?

Whatever your reaction, that is the first impression you get when reading The 10 Reasons They Hate You So, a clearly provocative post on the site Truth in Food.

With your blood now pumping, the author, Mike Smith, takes you through the first five parts of “his” defense of industrialized food (his agenda is clearly bigger than his own). Had he not presented the image I mentioned above or used words like “hate” in his title, the piece would have likely slipped under the radar. My guess is he knew exactly what he was doing.

Right from the start, Mr. Smith works hard to make “good food” advocates out to be a powerful force hellbent on destroying our abundant food system. He goes so far as to refer to these people as the “food-consumer-activist complex.” It’s laughable to pit citizens against the real force in our food system – the Food-Pharma-Health Complex, especially when you consider how unchecked these industries have become in the U.S. economy.

Now on to Mr. Smith’s Top 10:

#1:  They hate you because you trust in science.

Science is Mr. Smith’s answer to the world’s problems. The advancement of science has always offered tremendous power in improving our well-being. But when it becomes entirely controlled by for-profit entities that leverage it for the sole purpose of making money, all bets are off. You see, our democratically-elected government has been giving capitalism a free ride for decades, allowing near-monopolistic industries to hide behind science. Consumer health be damned, we’ve got to feed the world (and our shareholders) with calories (and cash), regardless of the side effects.  I’m fairly certain that most serious sustainable food advocates don’t question the value of science. What we do question is the application of scientific discovery, which has been concentrated in the hands of a handful of corporate giants through invention or acquisition with a single bottom line in mind – money.

#2: They hate you because you’re messing with their kids.

I’m not a highly educated woman, but I am the father of four kids. Does that mean I can’t be against industrialized food? Is it out of the question that I am concerned for more than my own family? It would seem that being concerned about the welfare of children equates to being a “new-age anti-tech advocate.” How does Mr. Smith rationalize such an absurd claim? He bashes leading sustainable food voices that have extensive knowledge backed by equally extensive research to back up their claims. Mr. Smith, I’m starting to believe you don’t like women; or kids for that matter.

#3: They hate you in order to fight the power.

What is science other than man’s way of trying to make sense of (and control in many cases) what is an otherwise complex world? I would never suggest that such a quest is without merit, but to put it ahead of the human spirit is what bothers many who push back against science-driven industry’s onslaught to reshape the natural world. Apparently, Mr. Smith believes that man has the potential to do this without harm. I wonder if he stopped to think that all of that is based on “belief.” On a related note, after bashing academically inclined thinkers several times by this point in his post, Mr. Smith is starting to appear very academic to me with his citing of Gandhi, Foucault, Borlaug, Berry and others. I wonder if he realizes that he may just be one of “us”.

#4. They hate you because you’re white.

Minority ownership of U.S. farms is concentrated in small, barely-getting-by farms, not the heavily subsidized, monoculture crop farms that feed our industrial food system. Stop playing the “Farm Card” Mr. Smith. It is without merit. I’d also recommend you stop acting like an academic with phrases like “today’s postmodern critics of food production deal in symbol and metaphor.” Letting your true colors show through like this can’t be good for your reputation in the non-foodie, profit-at-any-cost industrial food space.

#5: They hate you because you’re male.

Again, Mr. Smith plays the Farm Card, this time with regard to gender. He tries to make it sound as if all those women working on farms are on par with the male-dominated, monoculture, heavily subsidized farm operations that dominate farming acres and revenues. You miss again, Mr. Smith. The problem is that after making such an argument, first on race, then on gender, you give the reader such a clear indication of your bias. Did you intend to do that? Did you intend to convince those opposed to your position to convert? In either case, I must say your tactics lack sophistication and will have little impact other than to further polarize the debate. Well played. Not.

With that, I can hardly wait for Mr. Smith’s next five hateful reasons to further polarize the knowledge gap between farmers and eaters. I’m especially excited to read how he invokes Norman Rockwell and Ronald Reagan to make his points. Reagan is a no brainer, but Rockwell intrigues me.

Yipee!

5 Ways to a Better Eat Local Challenge

Like any good entrepreneur, I believe there are always better ways to do something. In this particular case, I have identified five ways to improve Eat Local Challenges to ensure they best achieve their desired objectives. Before sharing those suggestions, let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding why such challenges exist in the first place.

Ask 10 people why they eat local and you’re bound to get 10 or more different answers. In Burlington, Vermont, where my family just completed its weeklong “eating local” adventure, the reason for the challenge was loosely described as:

“Help keep your community thriving by being becoming a Localvore! We love Vermont and want to keep as much business as possible in our wonderful home! Anytime you buy locally grown or produced products, you keep money and jobs in Vermont.”

In the Mad River Valley of Vermont, where its localvore chapter is well known, its Eat Local Challenge the week before Burlington’s had the following objective:

“The Eat Local Challenge is an event where participants pledge to eat only locally grown and produced foods.  Participants will have the option of choosing to pledge by the meal (one or more meals), by the day (one or more days), or for the entire week.”

Notice a pattern?

Perhaps it’s unique to Vermont, but it seems that the primary reason for participating in an Eat Local Challenge is because it’s a good thing or the right thing to do for your community and the regional economy. Not bad, but after spending a week in the trenches with my family, I’m convinced we need a better objective. Here’s my suggestion:

To fundamentally change the region’s food system – from seed to plate – to ensure locally grown, raised and processed food is widely available and easy for consumers to find and purchase from regionally-owned retailers.

Think about that for a minute.

Rather than simply joining a challenge to feel good, shouldn’t we be doing so with the intent of demanding change and reinforcing those demands with our actions and dollars?  If everyone involved, from the farmer to the processor to the family of six is thinking “fundamental change”, then that is what they will be talking about, brainstorming about and working toward.

With that objective in mind, here are the five things I believe must change or be improved to make every Eat Local Challenge successful in driving permanent change in our regional food systems.

  1. Season-Long Challenge – In today’s hectic, go-go world, people need time to ease into new ideas. That is why I’m recommending that Eat Local Challenges begin when school gets out and go through the autumn harvest. Giving people the chance to get their feet wet, try new foods, try growing and preserving their own food, etc. will go a long way in winning their hearts, minds, pocketbooks and, most important, ongoing commitment to local foods.
  2. Food System Coordination – With a longer window to positively impact behaviors, it will be critical that more food chain businesses participate and promote the Challenge to keep in front and center in people’s minds. Farmers markets and CSA programs are two great places to reinforce the Challenge, as are restaurants and food retailers (thinking weekly Challenge Specials). The point is that by aligning the Challenge with most of the growing season, we make eating local a bigger, more visible part of everyday life.
  3. Shades of Local Labeling – Possibly my biggest frustration with eating local is finding local food, beyond produce, which at times can be a little challenging as well. My suggestion is to develop a Challenge labeling structure that allows farms, processors and retailers to help direct consumers to foods containing all or some local ingredients that were partially or completely processed within the Challenge radius (typically 100 miles). The highest marks and “most attractive” label would go to products that were 100 percent grown/raised and processed (if applicable) in the region and sold by a retailer that is 100 percent regionally owned. You could throw “organic” or some other sustainable criteria on top for good measure. You would also provide labels for “Shades of Local,” which would allow products with greater than 50 percent local traits to be considered the next best alternative.
  4. Peak Week Celebrations – Rather than have the Challenge be a single week, where by the time it is over most people are just getting their legs under them, why not have the season-long challenge culminate in a Peak (Harvest) Week celebration? Participating consumers would go for the 100 percent local diet during this week, which they would hit in stride, with the added bonus of people coming together to celebrate the Challenge, food producers, retailers and each other.
  5. School District Involvement – Given our kids will likely be back in school when the Peak Week hits, and given my kids first-hand experience with school lunch hours, it will be ideal to have the region’s school dialed in on the challenge. While they may not be able to alter their lunch menus much, they like retailers could draw attention to the “localness” of menu items. In addition, they could actively promote the Challenge and encourage teachers and students to do their part to raise awareness and increase consumption of local foods.

Now imagine this happening every year and capturing more participants from all walks each time around. The real, measurable impact in every region employing such an approach will make it all worthwhile, especially as permanent, year-round, regional food options become more available. Think of it as an upwardly spiraling regional food economy. Get the picture?

Of course there is one problem my regions will face in trying to implement these suggestions – lack of resources.

That is why I am recommending that local food retailers drive this more advanced version of Eat Local Challenges based on its potential to serve their bottom line interests, while equally benefiting the regional food economy.

To be clear, when I say “local food retailers” I’m talking about locally-owned stores, not your “friendly” national-owned, 50,000-square-foot, 45,000-item supermarket just around the corner. Such businesses need not apply.

Now who’s with me?

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