Why Farm to Table Movement is Crucial for Georiga
By Michael Wall
Going green is one of the hottest trends in Georgia these days. But one of the largest components of a green lifestyle is being overlooked.
People are now buying green SUVs, green homes, and clean water in carcinogenic-free types of plastic bottles. Governments and businesses are buying recycled copy paper, constructing green buildings, spending millions on green car fleets, and getting rid of styrofoam coffee cups in their kitchenettes.
But most, if not all, are buying food made in unsustainable ways from far off places. Georgia is caught up in concerning paradox. We produce plenty of food – the state is No. 1 for chicken production, and 6th for overall vegetable production.
Yet, of the $20 billion Georgians spend on food each year, $16 billion is going to out of state producers. Huge industrialized agricultural operations and global food distributions systems dominate the physical and political landscape of Georgia. 1,465 farms have disappeared in Georgia Since 2002.
The large-scale operations strain local economies, especially in rural Georgia, keeping state poverty rates near the nation’s lowest. And the poverty, in turn, perpetuates an unhealthy diet dependent on cheap, processed food.
We’re not talking about changing America’s food system overnight. And of course some people will always prefer McDonald’s over Whole Foods – that’s just the reality.
But we do know that there are a lot of people who like to know where there food came from, who believe in their community, and who want to protect their own bodies and the land from harmful chemicals.
The economic benefits of shopping locally are huge. We know that when you spend $100 at a typical chain grocery store, about $125 makes it into the local economy. When you spend $100 at a farmers’ market, $175 makes it into the local economy.
There are environmental reasons to eat from nearby farms, too.
In Georgia, agriculture is the number one source of run-off water pollution. Globally, agriculture accounts for 33 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Conventional agriculture relies on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which are all made with fossil fuels. And the process to make them is also very energy intensive.
If every U.S. citizen ate one local meal a week, America’s oil consumption would be reduced by 1.1million barrels of oil per week.
It’d be great if everybody ate from a nearby farm. In fact, a strong contingent of urbanites are so into the good food movement that they beat farmers’ to the farmers markets.
But the harsh reality is that there is much more demand than supply. As a state, we are far behind our neighbors when it comes to the amount of land that’s farmed organically. Here, it’s less than 1 percent.
Consumers and chefs are just dying to get their hands on local and organic food. Increasing demand is our biggest hurdle now. The solution is that we must grow more growers, and convert those who farm in ways that are not sustainable.
The key is that we must move Georgia from a commodity-based system to a community-based system, and you do simply that by starting with the food on your plate.
For more about Georgia Organics, visit www.GeorgiaOrganics.org.
By Judith Winfrey
Love is Love Farm
The night the floods came, we knew we’d had a bad storm. Joe and I were up most of the night, in our tiny on-farm camper, awakened by the bone-shaking thunder.
The air around us was charged – literally electrified by all the lightening. A strange weather event was occurring for sure. Birds were crying out in the middle of the night. The dogs fled the house in the pouring rain. Lightening struck nearby, and our once-dead smoke detector came back to life, its battery suddenly recharged.
At that time, we had no idea that the dawn would reveal something far more incomprehensible: a farm almost completely under water.
The realization of the extent of our loss came in stages, moderated by improbable optimism: maybe the water will recede quickly; maybe some of the plants will make it; maybe there won’t be extensive damage and topsoil loss; maybe FEMA or some other agency will offer assistance.
As long as our fields were submerged under 10 feet of water, we could only speculate as to what might be below the surface. The waters stayed for several days, and when they finally receded, another incomprehensible fact was revealed. Everything was gone.
Our fall crops were completely dead. The smallest seedlings just dissolved. Beets, beans, cabbages, collard greens, carrots, endive, chard, lettuce, each precious crop representing weeks of work, plus material costs: seeds, compost, nutrients – everything was washed away. Worse still, so was our topsoil.
On a farm that’s been in organic cultivation for 25 years, it is impossible to quantify what the loss of topsoil represents. How many hours over those 100 seasons had hands and backs carried loads of leaves, compost and mulch to nourish that soil? How many mesofauna, protozoa and other organisms keeping the earth alive had simply washed away? How many micronutrients, carefully added year after year, were now completely inaccessible? How can those losses be calculated? Other costs are easier to tally: a pump, irrigation lines, failed crops, employees without work.
During the days when the water was coursing through the farm, our first responders came from some unexpected places. The people who knew we were in trouble before we did included fellow-farmers, chefs and restaurateurs, and our own farmers’ market. All called and volunteered help before we even knew we needed it.
Kevin Gillespie and Bernard Moussa from Woodfire Grill called before the waters had even receded. Gina Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene and Angie Mosier from the Southern Foodways Alliance, along with Jim N’ Nick’s BBQ had a fundraiser organized at the Peachtree Road Farmers’ Market in a few days. Ryan Turner from Muss N’ Turners wanted to know right away, “How can we help.” Kimberly and John Conner, from the Fairywood Thicket came by on the very first day, just to check on us. Alex and Jonathan from A&J Farms got their church involved right away. Julie Shaffer, the Slow Food USA regional governor for the Southeast, stepped up immediately (while others were still suggesting FEMA and the USDA) to establish a flooded farms relief fund – and not just for us, as these floods affected many other small farmers.
Georgia Organics estimates these floods have impacted around 14 farms in the metro Atlanta area. There are many other businesses and individuals that have risen to the occasion, including restaurants, spas, CSA members, market customers, fellow-vendors and growers, filmmakers, journalists, and neighbors that have all reached out to offer encouragement in the ways that they can. The truth is that we’ve experienced two floods this fall: one of destruction and one of support. Both are humbling. The latter is uplifting, as well, and has taught me a huge lesson.
In a consumerist world gone mad, we small farmers are doing more than growing and selling food; more than nurturing the soil, plants and animals. We are fostering and holding community for those around us.
It is a vital part of our jobs: providing meaning and connection to place through food. And this is the hidden beauty in this tragedy: a vision of a functioning local food economy. It works because it’s about more than producing and purchasing food close to home. It’s about valuing place and people and creating vibrant, resilient communities that can never wash away.
For more information on Slow Food Atlanta’s Flooded Farms Relief Fund, visit www.slowfoodatlanta.org.
By Michael Wall
Over the summer, headlines from across the state echoed the results of a recent report by the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: obesity rates are rising, Americans are getting larger, healthcare costs continue to soar, and Georgia is among the most affected.
One part of the problem is that federal policy dictates the quality of food served to school children, and whether those children are learning to establish life-long healthy eating habits.
There are many other factors, too, of course, such as exercise and even genetics plays a role. But, it’s fair to say the strongest message to come out of the obesity report is that current health and wellness programs are utterly failing, and Americans are paying the price for it in dollars, amputated limbs and early deaths.
The scale and impact of the obesity epidemic is a key motivator for one of Georgia Organics’ newest and most empowering programs.
Farm to school efforts are making historic inroads that could prove to be a major step in addressing the health and eating habits of Georgia’s children. In a nutshell, farm to school programs connect schools with local farms, allowing schools to serve healthy meals in school cafeterias, support local farmers and provide nutrition education experiences that can improve long-term eating habits.
Farm to school programs are based on the premise that students will choose healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables, if they are fresh, locally grown, and picked at the peak of their flavor and if those choices are reinforced with educational activities.
A typical program will include an edible school garden, planted and maintained by students, teachers, parents, school staff and community members. They also include an integrated standard-based curriculum focused on nutrition, science, literature, math and local community history.
Students take field trips to farms, and explore the holistic connection that links food, health, the environment and local economies.
A handful of top chefs regularly volunteer to lead classrooms through cooking demonstrations and taste-testings. Cathy Conway of Avalon Catering, Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, Seth Freedman with the Mendez Foundation’s Seeds of Nutrition program, and Christy Nolton of the Graveyard Tavern are regular donors of their time, passions, and expertise.
Each time the chefs prepare a meal for a class, dozens of students experience fresh, tasty food and learn the benefits of nutritious eating.
“Finally, many people are taking a common-sense perspective and seeing that health has something to do with food, where it comes from, and how it’s raised or grown,” said Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls. “It’s time people asked why schoolchildren are served Washington apples, and not Georgia apples. Or why they aren’t given Georgia watermelon in September.”