Recent Articles About Local Eats

Detroit: Land Grab or City Revival?

On December 11, the Detroit City Council approved the sale of public land to the controversial Hantz Farms, now called Hantz Woodlands urban forestry project, in Detroit’s eastside neighborhood. The deal confirms the sale of 140 acres of public land at the extraordinarily cheap price of eight cents per square foot ($300 per lot).  The land sold at below market price at a time when Detroit is desperate for revitalization and business investment. This is one of the largest urban land acquisitions in the history of any U.S. city.

Meager conditions on the sale require that John Hantz, a financial services entrepreneur and the private developer behind Hantz Farms, improve the underutilized land by demolishing 50 derelict buildings (some of which are inhabited), clean up and mow overgrown lots, and plant 15,000 hardwood trees. Other cities may not have gone down this route, but in a place like Detroit, where finances are beyond tight, “money talks,” says Rob Anderson, Director of Detroit’s Planning and Development. As a result, many have dubbed the deal between Hantz and the city a “land grab.” Read more

What the Food System Needs Now Is More Infrastructure

While the rejection of Prop 37 in California has been held by some as proof of the food movement’s immaturity, a lack of rhetorical and ideological cohesion is not necessarily the food movement’s biggest problem. Grassroots efforts across the country have successfully bolstered independent sections of the food system, from small farm incubators to mobile farm stands, but there’s one piece that still remains glaringly absent: infrastructure. Without well-developed and well-financed networks and institutions to build upon, advocates for strong local and regional food systems find it difficult to connect from one end of the supply chain to the other.

That’s where local governments can come in. Small business owners, farmers, distributors, restaurateurs, and eaters develop innovative strategies to strengthen their respective segments of the local food chain, and municipalities can support this process by creating links down the line and increasing opportunities for food system purveyors to work together.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has developed a comprehensive regional plan that includes resources and tools for local governments to support local food. Hot on the heels of the plan’s adoption, CMAP is eager to make the case that a strong local food system benefits all residents in the seven-county area, particularly from an economic perspective. They are currently in the process of helping governments develop food system-friendly codes and ordinances in order to enable more momentum in the public sector. Read more

Athens’ Market Garden

Much like the rest of the country, community gardens in Athens, Georgia sprouted up everywhere in the last decade, some with iffy hopes of survival.

Successes here include: a beautiful edible landscape around a resource center for the elderly; an abandoned lot in an African American neighborhood where a grey-haired gardener scares off drug dealers with collard plants; and a resident-run garden in a hip neighborhood where homemade tomato cages poke up on public land.

In one low-income Hispanic neighborhood in a culturally segregated trailer park outside of town, a garden put in place by horticulture student volunteers from the University of Georgia didn’t fare as well, at least in its first seasons. As a newspaper reporter and farming enthusiast, I watched this garden’s early growth with both hope and worry. Many of my friends who lived in this mobile home park had worked hard to drum up awareness of it in the neighborhood, and initial interest looked promising. Read more

Choosing the Lowcountry: Eating and Buying Local in South Carolina

Residents of South Carolina’s Lowcountry know that the area’s vibrant culture and scenic beauty constitute something special, something that represents more than the group of counties contained within its geographic perimeter.

Jamee Haley, executive director of Lowcountry Local First (LLF), recognizes that the unique character of the state’s southernmost region depends as much on the health of the economy as it does on the creative pursuits and hard work of the people who live there. Whether in the world of agriculture or business, she works to inspire those who share her appreciation for and dedication to their local communities to make a simple decision: “Choose the Lowcountry.”

From this request stem the organizations two primary initiatives, Eat Local and Buy Local. Read more

All Praise the Civics of Food Hubs

Just a few years ago there were but a smattering of “networks that allow regional growers to collaborate on marketing and distribution,” as Grist writer Claire Thompson observed, “networks that include a broad range of operations, from multi-farm CSAs to Craigslist-like virtual markets where buyers and producers can connect.”

Today, news stories about such food hubs are as frequent as a retweeted Mark Bittman article. With a big-tent definition, the USDA lists over 160 in operation from non-profits to private for-profit models. The East Coast is in the vanguard; New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Vermont host the most. More remarkable than their media-worthy increase in numbers, is that food hubs are a wonderful example of the best face of the food movement’s transition beyond an earlier focus on labeling, markets, and matters of quantity, toward broader cultural issues of justice, sovereignty, and community. Read more

From Backyard Farmer to Community Visionary in Oakland

Abeni Ramsey started growing food in her West Oakland backyard when she was a college-aged single mom who wanted her kids to eat better food than what they could afford. Some seven years later, she’s well known among the Bay Area food community, selling produce from her business, City Girl Farms, to local restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Now she plans to open an urban farm store and restaurant in Oakland, and is working with a partner to start farming on 220 acres about an hour outside the Bay Area. I caught up with Ramsey recently to learn more about her involvement in the local food movement and her plans for the future. Read more

Farmer Knows Best: How Mentoring Programs Can Help the Next Generation of Farmers Land on Their Feet

As our ailing agricultural landscape continues to face pressure from man and nature alike, the learning curve to figure out how to take care of the country’s farmland is steep. For the youngest generation of farmers, many of whom are stepping foot in the field for the first time, the risks of the agriculture industry, from drought to debt, can easily spell failure for their emerging operations.

Georgia Organics, a non-profit with over 1,200 community members dedicated to promoting sustainable agricultural practices in the state, offers a wide array of services to support the often-tumultuous transition to farm life. The organization’s farmer-to-farmer mentoring program provides new and emerging farmers with the opportunity to learn how to tackle uncertainty and challenges from the people who understand the business best–other farmers. By providing a resource that allows information to flow from one generation of farmers to the next, Georgia Organics helps newer farmers grow while letting older farmers give back. Read more

Ben Taylor: Roots and Rhythms

Ben Taylor, son of legends James Taylor and Carly Simon, has roots as deep in the soil as he does in music, and he uses the stage as a way to spread awareness about local agriculture. He is an avid supporter of the Island Grown Initiative, a multi-faceted project based in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts that sponsors its own farm-to-school program, organizes a cadre of volunteer gleaners to harvest crops that would otherwise go to waste, educates beekeepers, and provides processing facilities for local poultry farmers.

Having heard about the program from his cousin Noli Taylor, Island Grown Schools’ Program Coordinator, Ben noted that the organization “tickled his fancy” for promoting a strong sense of connectedness within the community to the place they call home. Civil Eats recently spoke to Ben about his involvement in good food issues.

As a musician, how did you become involved with issues regarding food and agriculture?

Before I wanted to be a musician, I was looking for anything else that I could do. I’d been on a lot of wilderness excursions and I loved being in nature. When I first moved out of my home as a teenager, I went to New Mexico and worked on an organic farm out on San Juan Pueblo and that was just really cool. The guy that I worked for was this incredible natural mystic and I developed a profound respect [for him] and a different idea of what it meant to be a gardener. Read more

FoodHub Uses Online Social Networking to Get Farm-fresh Food to School Cafeterias

Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you. For many individuals and institutions, the problem with switching to local food purchases isn’t that people are unwilling or unenthusiastic, it’s that many just don’t know where to look. With our daily lives moving at breakneck speed amidst a flurry of tweets, emails, and texts, we often find ourselves paying more attention to the screens in front of us than the world in which we live. Organizations around the country are taking advantage of this period of technological innovation by developing virtual tools to help open our eyes to the bounty of our local food systems.

One such organization is Ecotrust based in Portland, Ore. Two years ago, they launched FoodHub, a social networking tool that revitalizes regional agriculture by helping farmers and buyers find one another online, often in a matter of minutes. Read more

Cultivating A Movement: A Living History In Santa Cruz

Oral history is a tool for conveying first-hand experience and sharing knowledge. It also provides a medium to weave experiences together, crafting a whole patchwork of personal stories into a larger history. The 29 oral history excerpts in the recently released, Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming & Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast, capture the integral 40-year history of the organic movement in Santa Cruz and its rippling effect onto the rest of the world. As part of the Regional History Project set in motion by the University of California, Santa Cruz, this curated anthology defines an organic food revolution. And according to forward, written by Linda L. Ivey, Ph.D., the organic movement is indeed a revolution: “a historic shift in the way a society operates within its natural environment.” Twenty-nine voices attest to the large-scale shifts in cultural, economic, societal, and environmental practices by explaining their strategies for navigating a sustainable way of life.

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