Picture
Bill Kelly w/ Joel Salatin inside the Growing Dome at the Truckee Community Farm.
Last month, the Tahoe Food Hub had the fortune of co-hosting a lecture with the famed farmer, Joel Salatin. Joel was featured in Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma and in documentaries like FRESH and Food, Inc. Joel came to North Lake Tahoe as part of Squaw Valley Institute's "Uncommon Speaker Series."

Prior to his evening lecture to a SOLD-OUT crowd of 500 people, the Tahoe Food Hub held its first fundraiser with a lunch for 40 people at PlumpJack Cafe in Squaw Valley. I had the honor of getting to introduce Joel. Most everyone in attendance was familiar with Joel's efforts to help people think more clearly about our food system. So a formal introduction was not really necessary. But as I told our guests, "I will probably never going to get a chance like this again to introduce Mr. Salatin so I was going for it." I was pretty happy with how it turned out and thought I would share an excerpt below...

"Joel Salatin is a 3rd generation farmer and self-proclaimed grass farmer meaning Joel works with his livestock, or teammates as he calls them, to build healthy soil which grows nutrient rich grass which feeds the animals. Its the cultivating of the grass which drives the whole orchestra.

Joel hails from Polyface Farms outside Charlottesville, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. Joel is known as much for his sustainable farming practices as his unique mastery of the English language that has captured the ears, minds and hearts of America. When Joel speaks, it's almost like Spoken Word, language-based performance art. He blends honesty & humor for a common sense approach to understanding our agricultural industry and food system. Because Joel realizes that when we are smiling and happy, we are more prone to listen allowing the words to seep deeper and take root. His back porch style breeds an environment of cooperation and collaboration helping unlikely allies realize we all basically want the same thing...a healthy future for our children and our children's children's children! So how are we going to get there? Well Joel is here to tell us how. Please join me in welcoming...Joel Salatin!" (applause)


Joel quotes:
1. "It's all a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models. And it's all aromatically and aesthetically romantic."
2. "Plants and animals should be provided habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig and the chickenness of the chicken is the foundation for societal health."


 
Picture
I attended Nevada County's Sustainable Food & Farm Conference this past weekend in Grass Valley, CA and enjoyed an all-star line-up of keynote speakers...Temra Costa - author of Farmer Jane, Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee, topped of with a little Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, a.k.a. poster boy for sustainable farming practices...otherwise known as the farmer made famous in Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma and the Oscar nominated film, Food, Inc.

Getting to see Joel was just a warm-up for his upcoming lecture at Olympic Valley Lodge in Squaw Valley on Wednesday, February 13th; hosted by Squaw Valley Institute and in support of the Tahoe Food Hub and Slow Food Lake Tahoe. If you live nearby, reserve your tickets today at squawvalleyinstitute.org.

Knowing he was speaking to a choir of sustainable farmers and foodies, Joel handcrafted a new lecture on the fly for his audience of 300. I thought that was pretty thoughtful and it brought everyone to an even more alerted attention when he announced he had new material. He wanted to speak about people's "Fear of Success" and that people are actually less fearful of failure because so many people fail and "what's the harm in trying?" His request was for radical thinkers to take a chance on a passionate idea. As his Dad use to say, "We'll know more in 30-minutes that we do right now." In other words, you won't know if you'll succeed unless you try and trying is the fountain of youth.

Picture
Joel Salatin and his kids: Daniel and Sheri.
Joel outlined the FIVE R's of being an entrepreneur:
1. Risk...gotta be willing to take a chance
2. Renegade...be an original thinker
3. Reliant...reliant on oneself and not dependent
4. Ruckus...get rowdy and stir things up
5. Rigorous...its going to be hard work but stay focused and unwavering.

Putting the "FIVE R's" in the context of agriculture, Joel made it seem pretty cut and dry, "If you want to become a farmer...be a farmer." And proceeded to discuss the 5 WAYS TO SCALE-UP TO SUCCESS and "be a farmer."

1. How do I get land?...Joel expressed there is a lot of land out there and you don't need to necessarily own it encouraging aspiring farmers to approach landowners with farmable land which can be leased. And with 50% of the farmers about to retire, the market is about to become flooded with food producing acres so we need to connect young farmers with aging farmers.

2. Be a people person!...Being a farmer is a pastoral life but it doesn't mean necessarily an introverted, unsocial life. To be a successful farmer, you can't be afraid of people because growing food is about growing community and you need to cultivate the relationships with your neighbors just as much as your crops because they are your market.

3. Management...Not everyone is the best manager but to be successful, you can't be afraid to try. The only way to be successful is to become a manager so you can grow your business but also so you can have a "life" and do other things versus never leaving your farm because you have no one else to do it. Joel's suggestion, "Hire your first person right after you go crazy!" I think we all know what he's talking about there, haha!

4. Regulations!...With success comes regulations whether it be workmen's comp or grower certifications. They can seem daunting but resources are available to make it easier. Don't let regulations be an impediment to success because it's just another hurdle like learning to farm.

5. Business...You're in business to be successful so get set up for success. Have an action plan no matter how simple it is and strive for those goals.

From the mouth of Joel!

 
Picture
Every week, I pretty much, have something that inspires a blog post. It may be a rant, an epiphany, a story, a farmer profile, an update about one of my food projects, etc. This week, not so much. So I visited my favorite web haunts to drum up some ideas. Nothing! I did some online searches about  food. Still nothing! Soon I found myself at Facebook lurking through my news feed and my friend Sarah had posted this quote! Enough said! I absolutely love it! it sums up the ag debate in a nutshell!

What would the "pesticide-laden" produce be called? I may need some help with this one but here are a few stabs...conventional produce, factory produce, synthetic produce, genetically modified produce, chemical produce, not-your-grandmas' produce, gag-me-with-a-spoon produce, don't-buy-me produce, the other produce, enslaved produce, unhappy produce, engineered produce...the list can go on.

I tried to find out more about the person. Ymber Delecto, who coined this saying. But yet again...I came up with nothing. I'm thinking it must be an alias for someone or a fictitious name. So strange! It dilutes the power of the quote not having a personality to attach it too! Or does the mystery of this elusive character make it that much stronger? Hhmm?? I may not have learned more about the author of this quote but I did learn about Handpicked Nation which looks like a rad food site where I might be looking for blog inspiration in the future when I hit a dry-spell or writers block. Check them out!

 
Picture
The Slow Food snail
I pulled out my wooden, travel utensils; opened my reusable container; and began eating my seasonal, organic broccoli and asparagus tossed in pasta and olive oil. Admittedly, I sat smugly enjoying  my pack lunch and the cacophony of crunching that filled my head. When I looked up, my green balloon quickly deflated. The man sitting across from me in the airport waiting area at Gate B16 wore a polo shirt with the Monsanto logo emblazoned in the upper left-hand corner…the enemy! I smirked at the irony. I looked down and admired my version of a happy meal and kept eating. My neighbor to my right was reading a newspaper. The headline read, “Fast Food on the Rise.” I looked to my left thinking I was maybe on candid camera. But instead, I saw a heavyset man hand his overweight mother a large, Ziploc bag full of prescriptions. She was slouched in a wheelchair. Her skin gray and sunken and dark bags hung heavily from her eyes. She fumbled with the bag. With shaky hands, she gave the bag back to her son and in exchange, he gave her a 6-Piece Chicken McNuggets.

She was dressed nicely in blue capris and a tailored, jean jacket. Her red Mary-Jane shoes matched her red cap and her white blouse stood in bright contrast. I lowered my fork and slowed my chewing. They didn’t notice my anthropologetic stare (I made that word up). But the social commentary was flashing in neon lights…Taking pills for the poison she is about to consume. Really?

It is hard to believe she doesn’t see the irony in her actions or make the connection between her health and nutrition. Is it apathy, education, denial, economic status? Comparing her outfit to her health, it is obvious that being treated for a disease seems to be more socially acceptable than not sporting a fashionable style. People will spend $100 for a pair of jeans but spend only $2.22 for a sandwich. Where are the priorities? A healthy meal will help you live a long life, a nice outfit will get you to the next season.

The real irony is…I was headed to the Slow Food National Congress in Louisville, Kentucky (pronounced Loul-ville). It was this past weekend.

Picture
Going through airport security on the way home, this sign made us chuckle.
Slow Food is an international organization which advocates for "good, clean and fair food;" and the systems we need to fulfill that vision. Slow Food celebrates the pleasure of the table, community and the responsibility that comes with being an informed eater. Essentially, it is the opposite of fast food as depicted in the photo to the right. The movement got started in Italy in 1989 when the founder, Carlo Petrini, was appalled to see a McDonald's at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

There are Slow Food chapters in over 150 countries and roughly 2000 members in the United Sates alone. The National Congress is an opportunity for elected delegates from U.S. chapters, typically board members, to gather, share ideas, learn new organizing skills, vote on amendments and pull from our collective power to be successful back at home in our shared pursuits.

Slow Food is seen by many to be an elitist, affluent group of foodies looking more like a scene out of Sunset Magazine than an engaged group of activists seeking fundamental change in the food system. I knew my own chapter was a progressive group of go-getters who saw the potential of a national organization to give a voice to food justice in our small, mountain community. But what I found is that the feeling is mutual and universal among all chapters. I discovered genuine, motivated people inspired by Slow Food's mission to restore the connection we share with our food. The conference reinforced that Slow Food is an organization focused on serious issues aimed at fixing our broken food economy from pushing legislation in the 2012 Farm Bill and protecting SNAP benefits for food insecure populations to petitioning to get GMO foods labeled, educating children about good nutrition and unveiling the true cost of food.

All assembled, there were 150 delegates united and dedicated to making ecologically grown food a right not a privilege. It makes sense that Slow Food is comprised of grassroots activists. Otherwise, we would be just as disconnected from our food system as the ones we hope to transform. Sauteing Swiss chard, having a developed palette and postering over the latest issue of Food & Wine does not make a person better than someone who does not share or know these interests. Having the knowledge is one thing. Doing something with it is another and that is what Slow Food is all about; channeling that passion to make a difference.

Picture
a blurr of swing dancing to Kentucky bluegrass the night of our barn dinner
During closing remarks on the last day, the floor was open to comments. A gal named Eve from Chicago raised her arm and was handed the mic. She stood up and shared a story about meeting the hotel's parking lot attendant earlier that day. The employee asked what conference they were attending. The gave a concise description of Slow Food not expecting it to resonate. Quite the contrary. His eyes lite up and demonstrated that he understood the basic issues, "That's good work! You're helping to make food healthier with less chemical pesticides and fertilizers, right?"

It proved that people get it! They know! They know that much of the food out there is bad for us and the environment. It affirmed the good work they are doing and that all the volunteer hours are worth it because they are fighting for people like that employee of the hotel. Eve finished with this simple and profound statement. I think it is my favorite from the weekend, "Change is hard, but the need is universal!"

Executive Director, Josh Viertel, closed the conference reminding us to celebrate! Celebrate food with music and friends. Without, our work is meaningless! We need both both the pleasure and the responsibility to have balance and be effective.

It reminded me of one of the first potlucks I attended after college. During college I took food for granted and after graduation, I didn't want to spend the money. That all changed the night I was invited to a dinner party by my friend Mel. It was at the house of Byron and Shalley. People I did not know, yet! I was greeted by the wafting smells of salmon being smoked on the back deck as I arrived. The meal was an explosion of flavors I had never tasted. I remember we started calling Byron's food Byranian because it was so unique; a fusion of Asian, Thai and Hawaiian. We still reference that moniker to this day. As the dishes piled up in the sink, an array of instruments started emerging from cases and behind chairs. A 3-hour jam session ensued. I had never experienced anything like it before, twenty or more people making music on the fly just feeding off the energy and direction of their fellow players. I have no musical talent but i played a pretty good set of wood sticks. I struck the wood sticks to the beat smiling from ear to ear. I was so happy to be apart of this gathering, this celebration and new friends! I didn't know it at the time but it was when I first learned about Slow Food!

 
Picture
Lisa's Organics' slogan
I've been back in Tahoe two months now. In the absence of snow, I've been hard at work shaping what will hopefully be a bountiful career in food activism. It is only the beginning but I can feel the momentum gaining.

First up is a philanthropic campaign for Lisa's Organics. Lisa's is based in Lake Tahoe and are producers of organic, frozen vegetables. They are taking their "Eat Your Veggies" slogan and helping schools and hospitals improve their meal programs.

School gardens are sprouting up all over the country,  lunch programs are becoming healthier and more hospitals are sourcing sustainably grown food. Lisa's Organics' "Gardens to Hospitals," hopes to keep that momentum going.
The program’s goal is to bring awareness to the role of nutritious food in raising and nurturing healthy children. The children themselves will help lead the effort advocating for healthier meals both in their schools and in hospitals. Students with a school garden will grow food for children in a hospital. They will come together in a food and information sharing event at the hospital snacking on the food grown. Together, all the kids will gain a better connection to their food and healthy eating habits. In the process, the food buyers at both the school and the hospital will be forced to look into the eyes of the children they are feeding and answer to the choices they are making. 

Institutional food, like at schools and hospitals, represents a significant percentage of the food consumed in the United States. Harnessing the collective buying power of institutions to  purchase more nutritious and ecologically grown food could dramatically alter the US food economy. Their critical mass could provide the organic market the weight necessary to tip the scales away from conventional agriculture.

Picture
The grow dome at what hopes to be Truckee's community farm
Next up, is a farming project in Tahoe. Yes, Tahoe! I will be helping to launch a program to explore mountain farming techniques in a 1000 sq. ft grow dome (geodesic greenhouse). The practices utilized are those perfected by the 4-season, hoop-house, guru, Eliot Coleman. This is my first step in helping my high-elevation community achieve food security. If successful, more grow domes will be built and perhaps even a grants program developed to help citizens acquire smaller, 350 sq. ft. domes for their backyards. My goal...20% of Tahoe using grow domes by 2020.

The grow dome hopes to be an extension of the community garden in Truckee Regional Park. In a demonstration setting, people can get acquainted with agriculture and learn about the growing methods used at the dome. The grow dome(s) would be the community farm growing food not only for schools, hospitals and a CSA program but more importantly the local hunger relief program, Project Mana. The grow dome and the possibility of feeding Tahoe with food grown on its own soil, is the vision and inspiration of local entrepreneurs, Bill and Kevin Kelly.

 
Picture
Food Day was Monday October 24th. Schools, farms, communities and kitchens everywhere celebrated in a feastly fashion to recognize the need for more thoughtful consideration of the nation's food system. One of the founding fathers of the special day, Michael Pollan, was found in Cleveland. He was the special guest of Cuyahoga County Public Library's writers series at Playhouse Square. Interviewer and fellow journalist, Dan Moulthrop, guided the audience on an exploration of Michael's food journey and his current perspective on the food movement.

Opening the conversation, Michael and Dan polled the crowd for how many knew it was Food Day. A paltry number raised their hands but it didn't deny the fact that it was a sold-out crowd of 1000 people. Versus a lecture, the interview format served him well. It reminded the audience that while well-respected for his literary gift to the food movement, Michael does not claim to be a foremost authority on the subject. He isn't a preacher. He is a collector of information and a sharer of knowledge. He started by writing about what he loves, gardening. As depicted in his 1991 book, Second Nature: A Gardner's Education. The unexpected fame of his later books, Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, made him an accidental agtivist. Now a poster child for the food movement, he remains humble in his accomplishments making it easy for people to respect him for his fair, journalistic style. He may be a zealot but he is not an elitist. He's goal has always been to make people marvel at food's wonder and see it in a different light. Michael shared how his literary hero, George Plimpton, made people marvel at football in the book, Paper Lion.

Picture
He's happiest when his writing can give people the tools necessary to make their own decision gleaning from his work what they feel is important and will make a difference. He described the reaction he received after Omnivore's Dilemma's release. Some people approached him saying, "Your book made me become a vegetarian." Others would say, "The book convinced me to start eating meat again." While Michael advocates the ecological importance of livestock to the natural cycles of a diversified farm, he recognizes that our nation's meat consumption is not sustainable. He reflects on a time when meat was a special occasion food not something served three times a day, seven days a week. "It's okay to eat meat, just not as much," he remarks. The less meat we eat, the better the meat can be raised. He reminded the crowd of what cows do for us, "Even though grass is good for humans, we can't eat it. We aren't ruminates. Cows are! They extract the grasses' nutrition and pass it on to us."

It didn't take long for the 2012 Farm Bill to get mentioned. Michael didn't get sidelined on a discussion about the particulars of recent downturns in the bill's construction. He shifted the attention instead to President Obama's failure to take a stand. He complimented the President, however, on his keen ability to connect the dots in any issue. The food issue was no different. Obama is fully aware of our food crisis. Then why is he not doing more? Why is he letting his wife go it alone? Michael Pollan's essay in The Nation's recent food issue summed up his response exactly, "President Obama has determined there is not yet enough political support to take on the hard work of food system reform, and the best thing to do in the meantime is for the first lady to build a broad constituency for change by speaking out about the importance of food."

Picture
Michael's home garden
Needing a stronger movement to pressure Washington, Michael and others created Food Day. Food needed an event like Earth Day. Responding to a question from the audience, "The movement lacks leadership and a national organization." He encouraged supporters to not focus on eradicating conventional agriculture but to minimize it. "Realistically, there will always be two food economies...one that's organic and one that is not." It wasn't exactly the "I have a dream" speech but his pragmatism set targets on achievable goals.

Perhaps it won't be a movement at all that drives government to change the way we grow and distribute food. Michael may have made the flame flicker with his "two economies" comment but he made the fire roar when he pointed the finger at an unlikely ally to lead the charge, the health care industry. Michael Pollan's essay in The Nation again summed it up perfectly, "As soon as the health care industry begins to focus on the fact that the government is subsidizing precisely the sort of meal for which the industry (and the government) will have to pick up the long-term tab, eloquent advocates of food system reform will suddenly appear in the unlikeliest places—like the agriculture committees of Congress." During his interview, he pointed to the writing on the wall, "One in three children are predicted to conduct diabetes in their lifetime, a chronic disease." The choice is ours he continued, "What would you rather have? Expensive food or expensive health care?"

Picture
On Sale Nov. 1, $23.95
Wrapping up, Michael discussed the blatant injustices which should not have to wait for a movement or health care. "90% of Americans polled want food labeled if it contains genetically modified ingredients (GMO). It is clearly undemocratic to deny this right when the public so obviously wants this conveyed." Government says we need more science to prove the negative health impacts but seed giants like Monsanto won't allow their seeds to be tested.

The evening had lots of laughter. Michael joked comfortably throughout the interview. Quoting from his new ,illustrated version of Food Rules, he enlightened the crowd by saying, "If you're not hungry enough for an apple, then you're probably not hungry." And when an audience member asked him the tired question, "What would your last meal be?" He graciously pondered with a smile and replied, "Roasted chicken!"

 
Picture
If you haven't heard, Monday, October 24th is FOOD DAY! Let's get out there and show food how much we appreciate it. It's not a stretch-your-stomach pre-Thanksgivng. It's more of a Stomachs Across America which dovetails perfectly with the Occupy Wall Street campaign...Justice in our food system! Justice in our economic sector! National organizers want to transform the American diet. The more people seeking healthy, quality food, the more that policies will support a system that can supply it in a sustainable and healthy manor. Smell the groundswell!

Poke around your community for an organized event or gather some friends together for a spur of the moment pot luck dinner. The Food Day website can help you locate an event in your area, click here. And if going out on a Monday is too much, you can still participate by signing the petition. I'm a lucky carrot...Michael Pollan is in Cleveland and I get to hear him speak! Check back for the scoop.

 
Picture
Till last week, I'd kept a peripheral view of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. As satellite protests popped up around the country and the world, I began paying closer attention to the declaration of these activists. Having outgrown its address, the movement is now being referred to as the NYC General Assembly. The uprising is on the coat tails of the Tar Sands Action's XL Pipeline protest in Washington D.C. outside the White House. My first thought was, "Could Occupy Wall Street overshadow the Tar Sands Action?" Seemed counter productive to have two, critical movements happening at the same time. Till...they joined forces! Then the food movement jumped on board. All of a sudden, it became clear. The size and scope of the Occupy Wall Street initiative could represent much more than just the 99%. It could become the umbrella for many of the concerns facing our planet, our people and our economy unifying many campaigns in solidarity around the world. Strength in numbers!

Inclusivity is intrinsic to Occupy Wall Street's principles. Unlike a politician who pushes their own agenda. OWS works collaboratively within working groups to come to consensus to build an agenda. Demonstrators in NYC's Zuccotti Park participate in these sessions vetting all the issues presented in order to create an strategic plan of action. By building consensus, the General Assembly can be sure that they are inclusive of everyone's voice. In other words, they are shaping a democracy. Sound familiar? Watch out OWS! History has shown it could be a slippery slope! The movement has received respect for how well it has organized itself but received low marks for not being clear on its demands. There is contention within the OWS on how to reach these demands, straight consensus or 2/3 majority? We'll have to wait and see. Perhaps OWS is slow to deliver because they encompass more than just a few bullet points but rather a new decision making process altogether.

Running parallel to Occupy Wall Street are the injustices in the food system. It is easy to see how the two movements are connected. In drastic comparison to the 1%, are the one in five Americans on food stamps. A few powerful corporations dominate the food industry as wells as the government which is intended to control them. And food is traded on Wall Street as a commodity making it vulnerable to market fluctuations. In recent years, grain prices increased and had a ripple effect around the world. Good for farmers, bad for people. Then when the prices drop, the farmers are the at the other end. Some say that Wall Street is responsible. Looking for a new investments after the housing bubble, financial institutions capitalized on the looser regulations governing the trade of agricultural commodities. Hoping to make a quick buck, Wall Street gambled with our food.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstration has the critical mass to bring the food movement into the social movement spotlight.

 
Picture
I have a new favorite word..."Agtivist!" Saw it on Grist.org the other day. They have a whole series profiling different food activists. If the Oxford Dictionary can select "Unfriend" as the 2009 Word of the Year, then Agtivist must have a chance. Usually you see folks like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters gracing these Top 10 charts but many were people I had never heard of before. Before they became famous, Michael and Alice were once regular people doing great things in their community. Those are the stories we need to celebrate!

Have had food crusaders on the brain lately. One of our very own was recently recognized for his contribution, Maurice Small. He will be awarded the Rodale Institute "Organic Pioneer Award" on September 16th. Maurice, came up with the design of the City Fresh CSA program in Cleveland. The farm I am working on supplies food to City Fresh.  I would love to hear who your favorite foodies are. Could be your mom for what she taught you about food, the guy at the nursery who is loaded with good gardening tips, the produce manager at your grocery store or perhaps your farmer. Whoever he/she is, send a quick comment below with a name and a short reason why. Com'on...Pretty please! Thanks!