FOOD AND FARMING


"A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes."    ~Wendell Berry, "The Pleasures of Eating"

Through the food we eat, whether it is from the local farmers market, the grocery store, prepared by chefs or picked from our own garden, each of us has the opportunity to nourish our bodies, our communities and our environment. In this section we will explore the role of food and farming and learn about opportunities to link directly with high quality, locally grown foods.

AGRARIAN VOICES

David Walbert: David Walbert, writer and "aspiring" farmer, describes what he calls The New Agrarianism as a way of life that embraces both rural and urban communities. "New Agrarianism," he writes, "is about more than agriculture. It is about a search for sustainable community, sustainable culture, sustainable life....New Agrarianism is about deep, broad, long-term change....New Agrarianism, creatively interpreted, could apply equally well to life in the city-to any life, in fact, that values connections with nature, with place, and with community."

Wendell Berry: One of our country's most articulate agrarian voices is Kentucky farmer, writer and poet Wendell Berry. At symposium in Spokane, Washington, on agriculture and the environment in 1974, Berry spoke eloquently about the loss of the traditional farm economy and the destruction of rural communities. He was blunt in detailing what he foresaw as the impending collapse of rural America, and he linked the "drastic decline in the farm population" with "the growth of a vast, uprooted, dependent and unhappy urban population."

"Our urban and rural problems have largely caused each other," he said. "My point is that food is a cultural, not a technological product. A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its destruction invites calamity."

Berry's Spokane speech was the catalyst for his seminal work, The Unsettling of America, which inspired much of the sustainable agriculture movement both in the Pacific Northwest and around the country. In it Berry argued that the current agricultural and ecological crises reflect a fundamental crisis in modern culture. Much of Berry's work focuses on re-building local food economies as the foundation for sustainable communities. For a comprehensive collection of his writings, see The Art of the Commonplace, The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

Fred Kirschenman: Fred Kirschenmann, Director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, has written extensively about what he calls the "disappearance of the middle," or the loss of traditional family farms. In 2002 Kirschenmann delivered the keynote address to the Future of Agrarianism Conference, held in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first publication of The Unsettling of America. While it is a trenchant analysis of conventional agriculture, it also includes an inspiring vision for a new way of farming based on sensitive integration with the environment.

Another noted observer of contemporary cultural trends is John Ikerd, an agricultural economist from the University of Missouri. In his essay, "The New American Food Culture," Ikerd traces what he sees are hopeful signs of the emergence of a new generation of people seeking a more harmonious way of life, with one of the starting points being an increased desire to link with local food and farms.

THE FOOD REVOLUTION

In early October 2006, the cover story of Seattle Weekly, entitled The New Food Revolution, profiled many of the individuals and organizations spearheading the shift to a better kind of agriculture for our region.

Among the "revolutionaries" profiled in the article were Chris Curtis, the founder of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which now sponsors five weekly markets in the Seattle area; Jennifer Hall of Bon Appétit, a major food service company which has since made a commitment to source Food Alliance certified products for its cafeterias at 23 corporate and college campuses in the Pacific Northwest; and Bruce Dunlop, a livestock farmer developing new markets through the Lopez Community Land Trust's Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development program; and Gerry Warren, a retired professor active in starting the Seattle Slow Food convivium.

Another excellent overview of our region's food revolution was Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes' cover story for Pacific Northwest Magazine, published in mid-September, 2002. Entitled "Cultivating a Future," the article reports on local farmers revitalizing agriculture through innovative cropping and direct marketing to consumers. In the process they are helping create what Wendell Berry envisions as "a decentralized system of durable local economies."

One of the most encouraging indicators of the dramatic changes underway in our region is the rapid growth in the number of organic farms. Thirty years ago there were perhaps 20 commercial organic farms in Washington. In 2002 the Washington State Department of Agriculture's Organic Food Program certified 560 organic farms, plus 283 organic processors. Total acreage certified organic in Washington state grew from 6,200 acres in 1993 to just over 43,000 acres in 2002.

MEET THE PRODUCER

Along with the growth in the number of organic farms, there has been an explosion in the number of farmers markets in our region. The history of direct marketing for Washington farmers began in 1907 with the venerable Pike Place Market. Given the rush to urbanization and the collapse of traditional agriculture after World War II, by the 1950s direct marketing opportunities were few and far between.

The organic movement, however, prompted a rebirth of direct marketing, and in 2003 the Washington Farmers Market Association boasted 85 member markets in every corner of the state. In 2003 Washington farmers sold an estimated $21.5 million worth of fresh fruits and vegetables in farmers markets, more than triple their sales of just five years earlier.

Each week during the summer an estimated 67,000 people shopped at Washington farmers markets, with a total of more than 1.5 million shopper visits through the season. While still a fraction of the state's 6 million residents, this does indicate that a significant number of people are seeking better food and are investing their dollars in supporting local agriculture.

By shopping at farmers markets, consumers have an opportunity to vote with their dollars for better food and a healthier environment. At the same time they strengthen local economies. When you buy conventional foods at the supermarket, 8 of every 10 cents goes to processing, transportation, marketing and advertising. As John Ikerd says, by shopping at farmers markets you can ensure that local farmers "get the full dime."

Although organically grown food still represents only a few percent of the total food industry, it is the fastest growing segment of the market. Annual organic sales have topped $200 million in our state. According to the Organic Trade Association, annual organic sales worldwide exceeded $23 billion in 2003 and are projected to continue growing at more than 10% per year for the foreseeable future.

The growth of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement is another ray of hope. CSA farms offer consumers an opportunity to purchase a share, or "subscribe," to a farmer's crop. The 2003 Seattle Tilth CSA Directory lists 42 community-supported farms in Western Washington serving more than 4,000 families with projected sales of $1.9 million.

The Pike Place Market Basket CSA is a stunning example to a cooperative approach to Community Supported Agriculture. In 2003 the Market Basket CSA pooled crops from more than 30 Washington farmers for distribution to 720 regular subscribers. In addition, 500 baskets were delivered via Meals-on-Wheels to homebound seniors as part of the Senior Market Basket Program. The combined programs generated $450,000 in farmer sales in 2003. (That's up from $10,000 in farmer sales in 1997, the program's inaugural season.)

Local Farms (Washington State): If you wish seek out a local farm to buy from, there are now several on-line directories listing Washington farms selling fresh, seasonal produce to local consumers. Here are a few of our favorites:

Puget Sound Fresh
Access to farms throughout Western Washington, with cross references for specific crops, information about regional agriculture, and news of food and farm events.

Washington Tilth Producers - Organic Farm Directory
State-wide directory of Washington organic farms, available both online and in print.

Green products and services
For a listing of green products and services, see the 21 Acres Blog.

Bon Appétit!