Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the road

After I left Bristol it was rain, rain, rain. I put my Virginia Roots Music CD in the player and sang my way down the road.  Spent the night in Jackson, TN; about 100 miles west of Nashville and today head down to Oxford, MS for the Southern Foodways Alliance Conference. Yum!! Three day of talking about food, eating food, and, oh yeh, talking about food!   The weather gods may be on my side today; clouds but no more rain for a few days.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The continuing conversation about the 'food desert'

Further thoughts re the generous and thoughtful responses to my ‘food desert’ post. 

I do very much understand that individuals have little/no control over headers, headlines, or photos used in media.  As a performer for many years I became used to being misquoted in even the simplest interview!  My sending my remarks directly to Common Good City Farm was not to find fault in any way with their work or the gardener being profiled.  I wanted to share my response to the article in general and let them know where I felt ‘flavor mag’ had miss-stepped with their introductory header.  
That being said I still have strong feelings about the term ‘food desert’ and a wish that we continue to search for a less problematic phrase.  I come at these feelings from a long life of interest in food.  For over 40 years I have gardened and taught home cooking.  During one decade my husband and I farmed 160 acres of South Dakota homestead land growing organic pinto beans and cultivating a 3 acre market garden. So I’ve raised a great deal of food, sold a lot of food, given away a lot of food, and even counseled WIC mothers on prenatal and breast feeding nutrition.  I really care about food. 
These days I supply eggs from our small flock of Buff Orpingtons to a micro-enterprise run by members of the Quality Community Counsel in Charlottesville. ( ) When I am wearing my historian’s hat I talk about the history of African American foodways, American culinary and agricultural history and, more and more, how those histories tie in to contemporary health issues in the African American community.  Over and over I have opportunity to talk to other black women who are active in this battle for food justice and I find I am not alone in my misgivings about the term ‘food desert.’  I think we are made uncomfortable by the almost flip way it rolls off the tongue.  Please understand, I am not accusing any one of actually being flip – it’s just that easy phrases sometimes have a way of sounding flip when such an interpretation is least meant.  The words have a pejorative ring to it them, and while meant to implicate and castigate the grocers and outside entities who ignore the urban poor, seems to include the urban poor in its sweep.  There’s just something bleak and discouraging about it.  On top of which it is not the dirt under the finger nails activists (black, white, urban, rural) who typically use this phrase.  Instead it is becoming easy media header language when addressing issues of food justice. Now if we do need a quick inclusive phrase to head an article, I personally would not be at all uncomfortable with ‘urban greedy bastard syndrome.’    But that’s just me.

Email Oct 22
Common Good City Farm
Hi Leni,
Thanks for your email.  I agree. I
'm not sure how much you have worked with
publications, but we don
't get to choose titles and headlines often, so
that part what not up to us.  Not that I am giving you an excuse, but we
't even get to choose the photos they use (or take).
Sounds like you have some interesting thoughts and passions.  I hope you
are involved or will get involved with the inner-city food communities
wherever you are. People need inspiration to continue the work they do.
They need neighbors and words of encouragement and positivity. If we spend
time nit picking terms people use, we are spending energy that could be
well spent making construction impact to people
's lives.  I agree with your
statements about the article, but nonetheless, it
's an article in a
publication that is being read by many people-far and wide in this
region-from all walks of life. If articles like this even spur a tiny new
thought of recognition to our cities less advantaged people, to changing
our industrialized food systems so they can be more equal and enable access
for all and support our small farms, then they are worthwhile.  We can find
wrong in everything.  And we can find right in most of those things as
well. We are feeding people who don
't have access to fresh food easily.  We
are teaching kids how tomatoes grow and teaching adults how to cook with
chard.  We are facilitating communication between kids and adults who share
stories and pass on culture.  Whether we are a "food dessert or not, the
nearest grocery store is almost a half mile away.  And the closest and most
convenient place for food is a corner store, without produce for sale.  We
have a long way to go to continue to improve the work we do and influence
it, but nonetheless, I believe we are making at least a tiny difference.
And that to me, is inspirational and worth waking up for.  The child who
planted a tree yesterday came back today to make sure it was alive and had
water.  Yesterday, she didn
't know trees needed water.

Warm regards for a brighter and healthier future for all,

RE: Email Oct 22
The FLAVOR editor sent me a very detailed and interesting article that will appear in their fall issue; it also contains a sidebar on the origins/uses of the term ‘food deserts.’   
I recommend it.
Flavor Magazine, oct./nov. 2009 •
A Desert in Our Midst - September was National Food Desert Awareness Month.
So just what is a food desert?
Zora Margolis
Zora Margolis has lived in Washington, D.C., since 1996. She wrote about the Dupont
Circle farmers market in the Aug./Sept. issue of Flavor and co-hosts the farmers market forum on, D.C.’s popular food lovers’ discussion site.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rejecting the 'food desert' concept

In response to FLAVOR MAGAZINE, June/July 2009 article titled Not Quite What I Was Looking For under the page header 'in the food desert." 

Paul Ryan's description of his personal journey from home gardener to community gardener was timely.  It was good to follow one man's path to urban farming. 

It is the header "in the food desert" I find problematical. Food justice is among the most troublesome in the modern repetory of social issues.  The communities of which Ryan speaks are not 'deserts.' They are neighborhoods full of people, with desires, ambitions, energy, and, yes, poverty.  But they are not the empty wasteland implied by the word 'desert.'  They are deserts only in the lack of enough grocery stores, too many fast food joints, and disgusting school food furnished via putatively 'free lunch systems."   It is only a desert in that folks outside the community tend not to see the residents within; and having made their pronouncements can then feel generous, or not, as the mood strikes them, while ignoring the grassroots efforts of the inhabitants of that 'desert.'  It is a desert because Food Lion or Giant, or Kroger can't be persuaded or shamed to build there even though there are often small Mom and Pop establishments carrying the full weight of the whole community's needs.   It is a desert because the zoning restrictions often put insurmountable barriers to alternative uses of empty lots or other abandoned spaces perfect for gardens or community gathering places.  In these 'deserts' most of the residents are working poor and lower middle class people of color.

Nothing about Ryan's article describes finding a desert; his first search for a community garden finds one quickly but it is one with a long waiting list - evidence of interest, I'd say.  He didn't invent the 7th Street Garden; there they were, waiting for him to join them.  Poor inner-city folks aren't sitting waiting for the foodies to come save them.  They are already organizing to take back their city spaces and use them for the good of their elders, their youth, and their families.  Not a desert at all.  Ryan's experience with an activist community garden could be replicated all over the country; in Charlottesville, Virginia with the Quality Community Council or with Chicago's Graffetti and Grits urban food cooperative/garden initiative, just to name two.  

So I would suggest we seek to find a more humane vocabulary; perhaps the header could have been "seeking food justice"  or "finding an inner-city food community."    


Monday, October 12, 2009

The bounty of fall greens

This past weekend I was the recipient of a bounty of fresh fall
collards; broad flat deep green collards. Let's hear it for the QCC
(Charlottesville's Quality Community Council)!!
Today I prepared the collards for the freezer; 15 min cutting out the
stems, 5 minutes cutting the leaves in julliene strips; 5 minutes
sauteeing the onion in olive oil and 45 minutes cooking the collards
to perfection.
Yes, I could have used bacon or smoked pork hock but I may want to
serve these collards to my vegetarian daughter-in-law.
Yum! Four quart freezer bags of luscious greens.
And our lovely flock of hens will love the stems for a treat tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Best Cow and Calf

AS you can see Cello was a beautiful animal.  Her temperament was gentle and she stood to be hand milked with never a twitch!  She was a Guernsey and her milk was so rich that by the time I would get the bucket into the house the yellow cream would have already begun to rise! 
The little heifer at her side was our first female calf after a run of six bull calves in a row over the previous two years (we were milking four cows at the time).  She had all the lovely qualities of her mother.