Yesterday, I went with Mark to the Northeastern Organic Farmer’s Association (NOFA) annual meeting at Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ. I wasn’t going to go. I love farmer’s as much as the next foodie, but I had a perfectly good Saturday to stay home and read/knit/sleep/cook/eat/whatever. I realized though that Mark would be taking the car, which means I’d be homebound and I recently joined a gym. Having a whole Saturday with nothing to do and no activity at all would not be so good for my psyche.
So, I decided to go. I got away with paying the student rate (not a big feat, as I am student, albeit a “non-traditional” one) and as it turns out, lots of the sessions were about food. Some were about raising goats, or soil fertility testing, or how to garden without weeds, but I went to “Examining the Regional Food System,” “Strengthening the Local Food System,” “The Herbal First Aid Kit” and “Nutrition: The Vitality of Organic Food.”
I learned some tangible things and some not so tangible. I learned that distribution of food is one of the stumbling blocks of getting locally raised food on tables. Mikey Azzara created a company called Zone 7 (website forthcoming) that was born after trying to get farmers and chefs to work directly together failed. Armed with a refrigerated truck and a lot of patience and persistence, Zone 7 now gets availability of produce from farmers and calls up chefs and sells what the farmers have, and provides the distribution channel allowing the farmers to farm and the chefs to cook.
I learned that there is an office called the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council that hired a woman named Alison Hastings, to plan the transportation of locally grown food to Philadelphia from a 100-mile distance. A government office! How cool is that??
I met lots of other cool people with lots of interesting things to say, including Top Chef alum Andrea Beaman, who spoke about healing her body though the food choices she makes. She still eats Superbowl snacks at her dad’s house but corrected a debilitating thyroid condition by cutting the crap out of her daily life.
I learned that while produce grown abroad can be labeled “organic” and grown organically, once it hits our borders it is irradiated and dunked in petrochemical-based pesticides, before getting its organic sticker. Hm.
I learned that genetically modified food has been banned in Europe, but is sold here and is not required to be labeled. Moreover, meat labeled “organic” may have been fed GM food and you the consumer, won’t know, unless you ask the farmer.
I also learned that President Obama appointed this guy as Secretary of Agriculture, who supports GM food, factory farming and giant agribusiness over the small farmer. A very disappointing choice.
So what does this all me? The survey at the end asked “What are you going to do with the information you learned today? (Be Specific.)” I realize that I can’t subsist exclusively on apples and ice cream. But I walked away from the conference more excited about taking care of my body. And that taking care of what I eat in turn will take care of the planet, even if only in a little, tiny way. I’m looking forward to ordering my beef, pork, and spring lamb from farmers who will tell me exactly what the little ones ate in life. I’m evermore grateful to my family for raising chickens so that I don’t even have to ask what they ate. I fed them myself.
Also I am cultivating a big idea. A huge idea actually, so if anyone know anything about any of the following, please let me know:
1. Running a farmer’s market
2. Federally-protected historic structures
3. Pike Place in Seattle
4. Essex Street Market or Chelsea Market in New York
5. Any other public market