Food Glorious Food
I believe that human welfare depends on how well we care for our soil and the subsequent quality of the foods we consume that are grown out of it. “We are as healthy as our soil” is the way James Stark of the Regenerative Design Institute put it. In the words of Eliot Coleman, “in the best agrarian tradition the fertility of that crucial soil factor is not a function of purchased industrial products. It evolves from intelligent human interaction with the living processes of the earth itself”.
After the Food Intensive week I am left feeling exhausted and exhilarated. The recognition of food miles has been driven into me, having visited a handful of the farms and factories that provide most of the fruit and vegetables that our nation consumes. 3000 miles away, only 3 days after harvesting – yes, that avocado and those Driscoll berries you find midwinter on the East Coast in your supermarket or co-op. It is astounding. While located in California’s Central Valley, I could not help but feel pampered and confused to have access to such a diverse palette of fruits and foods. There are hardly seasons in this region, and produce is grown year-round. Central Valley and the other fertile expanses of California can only be called vast. I wonder then if this food can be called local. This state is huge, this country, even more immense. I think that eating local is the greatest challenge of our time.
What does local even mean? Of all the places we visited, each person carried a different definition. It depends a lot on what inputs go into a farm, I’ve observed. We visited a place called Full Belly Farm that grows the grains to feed their livestock… yet their relationship goes even deeper. Their farming has a lot to do with careful observation of the intricate relationships among the life that exists there. For their chickens they soaked the grains over a few days and let them sprout before feeding them to the hens for easier digestion. They also have a grain mill and make breads and mead, too. At another part of their farm they cultivate long rows of flowers to attract native pollinators, and are home to so many that they have no need to keep bees. Insects become indicators of the health of the farm. The flowers are not only beautiful to sell at the farmer’s market but so crucial to the life of Fully Belly, which is a 300 acre certified organic farm that grows fruits and vegetables, and raises a variety of animals. I am so inspired by the careful observation and work they’ve done that is evident in the interconnectedness and diversity of their farm system. Luck sandwiches them in a bountiful valley with a yearlong growing season. It’s hard work, though, and worth appreciating.