By Hilary Sutton
Full disclosure: Before being tapped to write about the local food movement, my knowledge regarding sustainable farming pretty much began and ended with that cute Chipotle commercial (yes, the one they aired during the Super Bowl with the little computerized pigs).
I knew that organic food was good and that buying local food was better for the environment than food transported to me from China or New Zealand. I also knew that if Chick-fil-A and Kroger happened to shut their doors for good tomorrow, I would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
In today’s world, with more options than you could ever sample and an entitled expectation of instant gratification, many of us do not know how to meet one of man’s most basic needs: how to grow our own food from the earth.
Getting Back to Our Roots
Jason Fowler, a transplant from Northern Virginia, along with his wife, Pam, was vexed by a similar theme. Over the years, the couple grew stronger in their conviction to become self-reliant.
“We just started with a garden,” Jason remembered. The Fowlers consider themselves a part of a post-consumerism movement. “Consumerism cannot continue forever,” Jason pointed out.
They also felt a spiritual conviction to conduct their lives in a way that fosters intentional community.
“In Northern Virginia life was very disintegrated and disjointed. There was an absence of community,” Jason said.
So after migrating south and living in Lynchburg for a bit, the couple, along with their children became homesteaders on the Village Farm in Bedford, Virginia, owned by Joe and Teresa Dittrich.
There on a wildly picturesque spread complete with a flowing stream and incredibly cute lambs, Jason and Pam tend to chickens, sheep and cows. Lucy, the dairy cow, is milked daily in a late afternoon ritual.
“I grew up in the ‘burbs. Interacting with a cow … has been a learning experience,” Jason said with a gleam in his eye.
Jason points out how much most of us rely on industrial farms to get meat, vegetables and grains. Skills like milking a cow are hard to come by these days.
“These are skills we all knew a couple of generations ago,” Jason reasoned.
The Land and Table Movement
It’s not just learning how to milk that gets Jason zealous. He has been an integral part of a local food movement occurring in Lynchburg and the surrounding areas. Through an initiative called “Land and Table,” people who care about sustainable agriculture and the local food movement gather once a month to network, discuss local issues and most importantly, eat together.
Fowler wears two hats. As a member of the Region 2000 Technology Council and a local homesteader, he serves as a liaison between farmers and regional leaders.
According to Fowler, the intention behind creating “Land and Table” was “to seek the shalom of our community, to seek the renewal of our local economy, the land and our bodies. We are asking ourselves, ‘How can we help grow the local food movement and sustainable agriculture in our regional foodshed?’”
Danielle Hunter of Spring Mill Farm, along with her husband, HB, are part of the core “Land and Table” team as well and provide artisan meats and cheeses locally. They sell their cheese at the Lynchburg Community Market, the Forest Farmer’s Market and will soon be selling at the new Campbell County Farmer’s Market. Their pork and eggs are available at the Lynchburg Community Market and their cheeses are sold at the Bedford Avenue Meat Shop and seasonally at the Farm Basket. Their cheeses can also be found at dish, Mangia, Rivermont Pizza, Bull Branch and Isabella’s. In addition, their pork is used in dishes at Bull Branch, Rivermont Pizza and Isabella’s.
According to Danielle, “’Land and Table’ has provided fellowship with other farmers who share a similar interest in being a part of the local food scene, and for those who share an interest in sustainable farming. We appreciate connecting with farmers who offer similar products so that we can network and help each other out with maintaining a constant supply of goods to our customers.”
“Land and Table,” she added, is open to the community “with the purpose of establishing a local food forum from which a larger foodshed renewal movement can grow.”
A “Sustainable” Education
A farm is considered “sustainable” if its methods and ways of interacting with the land don’t involve chemicals.
According to Fowler, there are two parts to sustainable living. First, as consumers, to be “sustainable” a person must learn and understand where their food comes from. Second, they must determine ways in which they will commit to being self-reliant. That may be by planting an herb garden, some potted vegetables or committing to buy local poultry.
For Fowler, the goal of sustainability is to “live in a way that we are not diminishing the land, resources, or community. [We] respect the land and animals.”
A number of local farms are springing up who are committed to producing food that is superior in quality to commercially produced food. Lucy Overstreet of IdleWild Farm explains the conditions of their livestock.
“We strongly believe that raising pigs and chickens in open air systems where they can forage in the healthy woods and forests for portions of their diet is the best way for the animals to obtain nutrients that we, in turn, consume when we eat the animals,” Overstreet said.
As for the diets of their animals, Overstreet said, “We supplement our pigs’ and chickens’ foraging efforts with grain that is custom milled locally in Stuart’s Draft, Virginia, that contain no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). We feel strongly about not feeding our animals any grain that is grown from genetically modified seeds.”
The Sedalia Center plans to use their 17-acre campus to host a festival in late summer or early fall to continue educating the local community about sustainability. According to Doris McCabe, director of the Sedalia Center, people can expect “demonstrations of renewable energy technologies and [to learn] ways for people to use their land to reduce spending and become more self-reliant.”
Fowler points out the importance of awareness.
“People should know where their food comes from, what it does to the body and what has happened to the land,” he said.
Benefits of Buying Local
Buying food directly from farmers at community and farmer’s markets are incredibly productive ways of putting money right back into the local economy. According to sustainabletable.org, “buying direct from a farmer sends 90 percent of food dollars back to the farm.”
The Forest Farmer’s Market, which was founded just last year by Dorothy McIntyre, is unique in the area in that it requires all participating farmers to be producer only. Phyllis Wilson who wrote the book “Eating Locally in Virginia—from Farm to Family,” explains, “This means that all produce and all meats must be grown or raised on local farms and the farmer must have a clear understanding of the way each item was produced as well as to be able to relay this information correctly to the consumer.”
Many of the farmers at the Forest Farmer’s Market bring freshly picked produce to sell.
“Many of the farmers pick their produce in the wee hours of the morning of the market and bring exceptionally fresh produce to the consumer,” Wilson said. “This opens up a whole new possibility for foods that many not have a long season or the ability to stay for a long time but is more in line with the way people used to eat.”
And the success of the farmer’s market is inspiring others to try their hands at gardening.
“Because of the success of the Forest Farmer’s Market, many farmers or folks with a few extra acres have been encouraged to try their hand at producing new crops and heirloom vegetables,” Wilson explained.
According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, small farms with gross incomes of $100,000 or less made almost 95 percent of farm-related expenditures within their local community. Farmers put money back into the local economy by buying feed, seed and other materials from local businesses. Other studies have shown that small local farms do good for the local economy. According to a study conducted by Iowa State University, “for every dollar a farm spends, a percentage remains in the local economy, contributing to the economic health of the community.”
Statistics released by the Commonwealth of Virginia estimate that if each Virginia household spent $10 a week on locally raised food, the total impact on the state would be $1.65 billion a year.
Author, philosopher and farmer Wendell Berry said, “A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.”
The Forest Farmer’s Market is open now and will run through October 27. They will also be hosting holiday markets on November 22 and December 17. To learn more about “Land and Table,” visit www.LandandTable.com.
Beginner’s Guide to Eating Local
by Jason Fowler and Hilary Sutton
1) Get Educated. Start by reading books like “Fast Food Nation” and non-fiction by Wendell Berry. Documentaries such as “Fresh” and “Food, Inc.” will help you learn how economic, ecological, social and personal health issues intersect with your dinner table.
2) Grow something. Growing a tomato plant in a pot is possible virtually anywhere. You can even begin with a small garden. The surest and quickest way to eat local and even somewhat organic is to grow it yourself. Choosing to be a producer and not just a consumer is the first place to begin. If you are really adventurous, you can keep a few chickens (yes, even in the city).
3) Buy together. There are times when buying as a group can really save you a lot of money. For instance, if you are interested in buying local, grass-fed beef it would be most economical to go in with a few other families to buy a whole cow rather than buy particular cuts a little at a time. Start by identifying what you are interested in and ask the farmer or food producer about starting a buyer’s club.
4) Support sustainable producers. Whenever possible, support farmers who are committed to methods and means of farming that do not harm the land. The local food movement is integrally linked with sustainable agricultural practices. Sustainable agriculture involves growing food and raising animals in a way that continually restores the land and respects the animals. Using toxic pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers is destructive over the long-term and does not build the health of the soil. Also, raising animals in confined feeding operations raises the risk for disease.
5) Decide what you value. Figure out what eating local means for you. Is it a 100-mile radius? Is it only eating food grown within your state? Region? Decide what matters to you and, more importantly, why. Begin small. Decide what is important to you and begin to take steps toward your new priorities.
6) Seek the source. Always inquire about where food comes from. Check with your seller to see where and how it has actually been raised or grown. Eating local is about restoring our relationship with the food, the land and those who grow and produce it. Build relationships with the farmers and it will change the way you eat. As farmer, philosopher and writer Wendell Berry has said, “Eating is an agricultural act.”
7) Pick five foods that you can buy local. Rather than trying to buy all your food locally at once, choose five foods that you regularly purchase and decide to only buy them locally. Apples, lettuce, tomatoes, meat, poultry, eggs and cheese are among some of your options.
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