J500 Media and the Environment


When local isn’t close by by jmuselmann
Source: sustainable-gardening-tips.com

When Mom decided to splurge, everyone was always thankful. As kids, the best barometer for us was a Boboli pizza crust sticking out of the grocery bags she brought home. Don’t ask me why, but we loved it. It must have been something about assembling it at home — I will always remember waxing on the pouched sauce with a wooden spoon. And then there were the times without, the times when Mom prudently decided to go somewhere else for groceries, somewhere the Boboli wasn’t. I never asked why, but I always assumed it was something related to money — or lack thereof — one of those things my kiddie-brain had just enough suspicious grasp of to know not to ask. The point is, I appreciated her going out of her way, for whatever reason, for good food (hey, I was 7).

There has been some flack given to people who drive long distances to support their local farmers markets. The carbon footprint created, they say, makes your good intentions go up in smoke as you tut across the highway. But there’s more to consider than arriving from point a to b, a new billow of fumes, and that foregone picturesque stroll to the village market.

1. Everyone has the right to make choices about their personal nutrition. Locally grown and produced foods generally have less additives, preservatives, and other-worldly chemicals that extend shelf life. And it’s almost conventional knowledge that the taste of fresh local produce is superior to far-away alternatives (which basically get a spray-and-dye job at the salon). And who knows — that could be the only reason some buy local foods. And it’s just as valid a reason as any other.

2. Now more than ever, dollar votes matter for the food industry. We are in the midst of a pivotal time for the food sector right now: Huge companies are seeking to monopolize the food they grow, own the technology they use to do it, and manipulate the people involved all to get the cheapest cost, in what has warped into a hell-bent fervor to undercut everyone else and an insatiable lust for making money. Local food systems need our help. Why should it matter who buys it?

3. Finally, with a greater pull, farmers markets can have a farther-reaching influence on their communities. Let’s stop and think for a moment. Suburbs are notorious for being insular, and yet when suburbanites branch out,  they are often greeted with the same attitude and a bitter smile. Food and the environmental issues do not belong to one particular group of people or party, and if we are really sincere about the cause, we will encourage their support, as annoying as their cars or kids might be.

Lawrence has addressed this issue and is making it easier for west Lawrence beginning May 6 (the other two, which fall on Saturday and Tuesday, remain near downtown). Though the market has made strides in making local food more accessible, Lawrence — any community — can always do more (just look at the comments in the links). We as individuals have to do our part to facilitate openness and community. After all, supporting movements, making a change and doing what’s right always involve going out of one’s way, and that’s exactly what many are trying to do. So let’s support them.

—Jacob Muselmann



‘Eat your lawn’ by Lauren Cunningham

I continually see it pop up in my News Feed on Facebook: “______ found some rare eggs to share with their friends!” or ” ______  just harvested their chicken coop. ”

Those aren’t my friends’ status updates. They’re recent actions in a game made popular by Facebook called FarmVille.

In FarmVille, there's always enough land to grow food, and usually all, if not most, of it is used. (Photo from flickr.com)

Basically FarmVille allows people to grow and harvest crops, raise animals and keep gardens on a farm. I often wonder how much the game has inspired its players to start growing food in real life.

In the game, players usually use every plot of land they have for something — growing, raising animals or building sheds, barns, etc.  I think this part of the game actually can translate well to a recent food movement: eat your lawn or food, not lawns.

No, this isn’t to suggest we all graze like cows in our neighborhoods, but it does question our society’s obsession with having nice lawns and using resources to grow grass when those resources could be used to grow food.

The movement came after Heather C. Flores wrote Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. The book reflects Heather’s idea that people could connect to each other and to their community through growing food together.

Most gardens I’ve seen at friends’ or family’s homes take up a small section of the backyard, which is nice for growing a few vegetables. But for someone who values variety and having plenty to eat, I can understand why people would want to actually use their lawns for more than just decorative purposes.

Plus, there are benefits to growing a garden (not a digital garden on Farmville. It can be cheaper to grow produce than to buy it from a store. It releases stress and improves muscle tone.

One family in Lawrence, Jeremy and Amber Lehrman, started their own version of “food, not lawns” about four years ago and to both use and sell what they grow. Amber said when she and her husband started to expand their garden to cover more of their yard, it was because they wanted locally-grown food rather than because they had heard about the “food, not lawns” idea. They also realized they could help lessen the impact of food that travels hundreds of miles.

“We wanted to eat farmers’ market food but couldn’t afford farmers’ market food,” she said.

The Lehrmans started with a 4-by-12-foot garden. Amber said each year the garden seemed to double. Now they’re out of room to keep expanding. For the last two years, Jeremy and Amber’s garden has produced more than 1,400 pounds each year. They’re hoping for 2,000 pounds this year.

I can only imagine what would be possible if more Lawrencians caught on to the movement. There might be more of a selection at the farmers’ market, there would be more locally-grown produce restaurants could use and more people in Lawrence could engage with their community. I think the most rewarding aspect behind “food, not lawns” isn’t  the food. People in communities are given a common interest and have common activities, like seed exchanges, in which they can interact with each other.

It’s easy to say, “If only Lawrence had an infinite amount of land.” But maybe we do have enough land here to grow as much of what we want. We’re just not seeing what is really right in front of us.

— Lauren Cunningham



Loco for Locavore? by KaylaReg
February 5, 2010, 4:59 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 3 | Tags: , , , , ,

By definition, I am not a locavore, the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2007 word of the year.  Depending on the source, a ‘locavore,’ (noun, pronounced ˈˈlō-kə-ˌvȯr) is someone who exclusively or primarily eats food that is locally grown or produced (typically within a 100 to 250 mile radius).

I’d like to wake up in time for a Saturday morning farmer’s market, but I just can’t sacrifice the only day I can sleep in (I love sleeping) for food. Although I prefer shopping at stores with a wider organic or local selection, I rationalize that I’m reducing my carbon footprint by driving to closer chain supermarkets. I do make it a priority to save money so I can spend some extra cash on local fresh produce, but I still crave and buy tomatoes every month of the year.

Two of the four items shown are considered local – the honey (made and manufactured in Belton, MO, about 50 miles from Lawrence) and my semi-surviving cilantro plant. Check the Lawrence Farmer’s Market (which is closed in the winter) to see what local produce is in season.

To me, going ’ locavore’ doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Instead, it’s about finding a balance between the things you want, the things you can afford, and the things that are available.

With the “Iron Chef” White House garden episode, the popular Academy Award nominated documentary “Food, Inc.”, Michelle Obama promoting garden vegetables on “Sesame Street” and countless other examples of media attention, the ‘locavore’ message is indeed more accessible than ever. For $2.99, there’s even an app for that. Locavore, the iPhone application, shows what produce items are in season near you and what farmer’s markets carry them, apparently making buying local easier than ever.

According to the market research firm Packaged Facts, more and more people seem to be  finding their own ‘locavore’ balance. Their latest polling found that 54 percent of respondents favored supporting local farmers, a marked increase from 28 percent in 2006. Local food sales rose from for $4 billion in 2002 to $5 billion in 2007, and are predicted to reach $7 billion in 2011.

Representatives from Lawrence supermarkets such as Sheila Lowrie, Dillons spokesperson, Mike Smith, Checkers store director, and Brett Hansen, assistant manager of Hy-Vee all said they were carrying more locally grown and manufactured products, and demand for those items was increasing. Megan Dudley, manager of natural food store The Community Mercantile, also reported that business was especially good and getting better.

Many feel eating locally is simply a trend that’s popular now, but will soon die down. Locavore was listed in Time Magazine’s 2009 Top 10 iPhone applications , but now, it’s not even in the top 100 most downloaded apps. “Iron Chef” didn’t end up using the produce items they picked from the White House garden, and media outlets from the left and right have deduced eating habits to a subject of political debate. Here in Lawrence, the owners of The Casbah, a locally owned and operated organic market and café, recently announced their doors would soon close.

This Google Trend graph suggests that people were eating locally long before locavore was the word of the year or they saw Michelle Obama on TV. Despite the dips and spikes in the search volume and media tags, public interest in eating locally continues to increase.

Even after the spotlight on local eating turns off, people will, at the very least, remember its message. When society is a pendulum that swings both ways, it’s all a matter of finding your own balance.

-Kayla Regan



Growing Plants and Relationships: Katherine Kelly at KCCUA by brennad87

Katherine in the leafy greenhouse at KCCUA.

Katherine Kelly in the leafy greenhouse at KCCUA.

Katherine chats with each customer at the spring transplant sale.

Katherine chats with each customer at the spring transplant sale.

From our perch on top of a stack of soggy hay bales, six-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth and I can see the entirety of the farm that is her stomping ground. Beyond the curved hoophouses and stillbarren fields, lie ranch style houses, a school, and the buzzing freeway. The farm is smack in the center of an urban environment.

Six-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, daughter of KCCUA farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth.

Six-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, daughter of KCCUA farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth, makes the farm her playground.

Evangeline, daughter of farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth, explains to me the workings of the urban farm where she is growing up.

“Well,” she says, “Katherine is kind of the boss around here.”

From our high position, we can see the woman herself, framed in the doorway of the greenhouse. Katherine Kelly is the co-founder, executive director and soul of Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture—a working farm and community center. She stands in her characteristic position, one leg up as she talks to folks milling around the spring transplant sale. With the farm’s responsibility on her shoulders, Katherine is busy. But she has time for a chat with everyone this busy Saturday afternoon– the farm crew, her customers, the refugee women she teaches to farm for a living.

“Have you ever had a boss who hugs you and you cry on?” asks Evangeline’s mom, farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth. “I see Katherine hug ten people a day.”

Katherine kindles the community spirit of the farm. She originally founded the farm to satisfy her own desire to live in the city and farm at the same time. However, her history as a community organizer kicked in as soon as she began to meet other farmers. In talking, she heard a common theme: “It used to be, if you were a farmer, you had grown up in it,” she said. “There is no longer the experience base or industrial infrastructure that there used to be.”

With Katherine’s hard work, development and apprenticeship programs strengthening local agricultural infrastructure sprung up around KCCUA. One project is the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, where local farmers helps refugee woman negotiate the challenges of starting an urban farm.

“They are all about relationships,” Katherine said. “Farmers are not classroom people. We all learn really well by thinking problems out loud with each other.”

From policymakers to religious leaders, Katherine speaks with everyone about the growing movement supporting local food, a movement she fully believes in.

“Agriculture is a connecting activity,” she said. “We are the very immediate part of people’s decision to be healthy and to live well and to take care of their family and friends.”

Katherine Kelly points a customer to fresh, home-grown greens at the spring transplant sale.

Katherine points a customer to fresh, home-grown greens at the spring transplant sale.

KCCUA’s many programs mean that Katherine spends an equal amount of time in the office organizing as actually in the dirt. Sometimes it’s a hard balance. Katherine worries about her produce until the Saturday morning market. As she walked quickly through the greenhouse with me on a Friday afternoon, I complimented her on what looked to me like Eden: rows of leafy greens and blooming flowers.

“Oh, I see a lot of problems out there,” she said with a wry smile.

Only the next morning in the pre-dawn chill, as the farm crew packed the vegetables for market, did she finally relax.

Katherine Kelly listens to the questions of a fellow farmer.

Katherine listens to the questions of a fellow farmer.

“I think things are going to be all right,” she said.

Katherine’s customers know the care she takes with her produce. KCCUA’s fresh-tasting tomatoes have the farm’s own guarantee, a guarantee customers value after recent salmonella outbreaks in food produced by large corporations. Even organic labels do not have that personal guarantee: according to a New York Times article, large corporations produce 25% of organic foods. At the Saturday morning farmers market, Katherine meets customers who have raised their children on her produce. She supports people, she feeds them. It is one and the same.

Plants grow and relationships grow together at this farm. Back in the greenhouse, a Hmong woman, Kim, solemnly waters her budding greens. Angela, a cheerful woman who runs a church youth garden, trims plants with two young girls. The girls are timidly friendly, telling me shyly that they love harvest time. Angela prepares the food that they’ve grown into such delicacies as red cabbage with apple. She is proud to be teaching these young girls about farming. Everyone is sharing stories, asking advice, and learning. At the heart is Katherine. She is the go-to person for everything.

“She is my best farming friend,” says Angela.

“You do this because it suits you,” Katherine said. “It fits what you want to create in the world.”

— Brenna Daldorph



Food for Everyone by marybethw

There are as many different types of consumers of local food as there are different types of urban farmers and different types of food grown. Consumers with different needs can all benefit from urban farming. Three farms on the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture farm tour explain this perfectly. Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes, J-14 Agricultural Enterprises and the Troostwood Youth Garden and provide food for many different kinds of people. 

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Kurlbaum’s heirloom tomatoes are sold locally at McGonigal’s, Brookside Market, and many Kansas City restaurants including Michael Smith’s in the crossroads, Café Trio in midtown and Webster House downtown. By selling to many different places Co-owner Liz Kurlbaum can have better control over the price and feed a larger group of people.  While this urban farmer chooses to sell their product mostly to restaurants, Joe Jennings at J-14 Agricultural Enterprises has a different approach.

Jennings has developed a community based CSA where potential customers can pay 300$ for up to 500 pounds of produce. Extra food is taken to elderly community members, including some in nursing homes. Jennings also uses some of the food grown for his family.

The Troostwood Youth Garden is the only place that fresh vegetables are available in the busy Paseo Blvd. neighborhood in Kansas City.  This local produce can be bought there Monday through Saturday before dark. Troostwood feeds the community as well as educates them about the importance of eating healthy and knowing where food really comes from.

These different urban farms show that everyone can eat well with the help of urban farmers. Whether someone is eating at a restaurant, buying a large supply of food for their family, or trying to find something fresh in a busy neighborhood, urban farming is helping people enjoy food that is local, healthy and delicious.

~ Tyler Waugh, Group 4 blog post

Farmer’s market photo credit.



the carrot is mightier than the sword by mackenzies09

Working with the KCCUA has been a real eye-opener for me. Honestly, I was pretty ignorant of the whole urban agriculture movement. Once upon a time, I read somewhere about some good people growing good food in a city. It didn’t seem to resonate with me then. But visiting these farms and talking with those involved has changed that.

Yum

Yum

I had no idea there are so many different types of urban farms, so many cultivation techniques, and so many people benefiting from this congregation of growers. Urban farming isn’t just about “some good people growing good food in a city.” It’s people rising above the set standard for decent living, it’s people going beyond the average perception of responsibility. Urban farmers are stewards to the earth and their community. They feed, heal, educate and lift up those around them. And they work incredibly hard.

On any given day there are countless elements working against the urban farmer. April snow showers, toxic neighbors, ravenous deer, politics, a lack of funding, resources and land, to name just a few. The farmer must adapt, constantly evolve, to suit present conditions.

I’ve also learned that access to fresh foods can change people’s lives. There are kids living in the Midwest who have never eaten a fresh carrot. There are whole neighborhoods that must shop for groceries in gas stations. And thanks to the agrarian warriors of the KCCUA there are now kids who love to grow and eat produce of every variety, spirited markets held in a church parking lot, and an influx of satisfied appetites in the neediest of neighborhoods.

-Mackenzie

photo cred



Better Eating through Sustainability by marybethw

earthapple What does it mean to live sustainably? When it comes to food, many often only think of production — was this lettuce grown organically? how far did it travel to get to my kitchen? With the growth of such food venues as farmers markets and CSAs, more people now have more access to sustainable options than in the recent past. (I put it like that since, not so long ago, when humans lived closer to the land and we didn’t rely on “better [eating] through chemistry,” sustainably produced food was more often the norm.)

While food production is an important aspect, it is also important to keep in mind the other aspects of maintaining a sustainable lifestyle in today’s society. For example, even if that onion was farmed organically by a farmer, say, 20 miles from you, what was it’s environmental impact? True, produce grown under the above conditions do not have the same impact as produce grown across the country (even if grown organically). The impact is even worse when you turn to meat production. The true cost might shock you.

Judy Wicks points out that another important facet of living sustainably is the human facet. Did the workers/producers get fair, living wage for their product? Or were they treated little better than drones? As Wicks points out, looking for products that have been fair trade certified helps create a strong and stable community.

By this point, you may be thinking, “My god! I’m hungry! I just want to eat!” And it is true that, with so much to think about, organic, sustainable, fair trade, humane, etc, it may seem just too daunting; it’s much easier to not think about our meal’s pedigree. But, our current, mainstream food lifestyle is not sustainable and we are already feeling the impact (e.g. global warming, health problems, etc). So, while it may be easier to close our eyes now, it will only be harder to explain to the next generation why we did not try to better their environment, why you just had to have that out of season, conventionally grown kiwi.

~Mary Beth

Image from: worldwatch.org