It's been a little quiet around the blog lately while I've been wrapped up in some real world adventures like: teaching a workshop at the Michigan Friends Center's day-long conference called Eating Local Foods: Nourishing Local Communities ; visiting Old Pine Farm for an interview with Kris Hirth and sons about their meat CSA; documenting the Clements Library's Exhibit on 500 Years of Grapes and Wine in America; along with podcasting and (yesterday) cooking for 85 people for Friday Mornings at SELMA (with asparagus quiche and cardamom bread pudding - adapted from Tartine's heavenly recipe). That's in addition to my regularly scheduled culinary research and writing projects, the various and sundry volunteering with Slow Food Huron Valley and the HomeGrown Festival, and of course daily life.
Oh right. Daily life - the time for making the meals and digging up the dandelions. Digging up dandelions is great because it's one of those things, like cooking or knitting, that occupies your hands and leaves your mind free to focus. Dandelion digger in hand, I looked around the yard and realized how it's all coming together....
For my first SELMA podcast I was lucky enough to interview one of Michigan's best defenders and most eloquent food activists, Chris Bedford, about why the local food thing matters so much in Michigan. His response was that the government is not going to be coming to our rescue any time soon, and that as a state, the best thing we can do for our health and our future is to work toward food and energy self-sufficiency.
I agree that government bail-outs are not going to be helping anyone I know directly, but it seems a little lofty and theoretical to say we need to move toward self-sufficiency. What does that mean exactly? How can the average person take action toward a more secure and self-sufficient future with good food for everyone? Chris' reply was eminently practical. He said he thinks there are three main things to start on:
- Know your neighbors. Know who has tools you could borrow or a skill you could call on. Know who needs help shoveling their walk in the winter or who might need some assistance with meals.
- Inventory your own skills and abilities. Get a sense of your real-world accomplishments. Do you know how to build a fence or can tomatoes or sew a shirt?
- Grow some of your own food. Even if it's just a little bit, put your hands into the soil and nurture something that you can eat.
It makes a lot of sense. The world we've created is an increasingly volatile place based on outdated infrastructure and brittle monocultures. And we're increasingly de-skilled and dependent in almost all of the former arts of sustaining ourselves. So who will be able to save us the next time the electrical grid fails or if, god forbid, the food system collapses here in Michigan as the so-called "green revolution" is currently doing in Pakistan? Only ourselves. We're all we've got.
In the workshop that I did for the Michigan Friends Center I got to explore some initial thoughts about how to get off the dime with Chris' suggestions. I asked people to make a visual representation, a sort of personal treasure map, for themselves answering these questions:
- What was your "Soylent Green" moment? Have you had a moment of "food epiphany" when you decided something needed to change? What was that epiphany?
- Do you know your nearest neighbors? Draw the block around your house with every house (or each house in your nearest vicinity). Label each with the names of the neighbors you know.
- What are your real-world skills and abilities? List what you can grow, make, do, or manifest.
- What foods are you currently growing and could you be growing in your own yard? List them, including things like bees, chickens, fruit trees.
- For extra credit: list your neighbors' skills and abilities. And for even more extra credit, on your neighborhood map, label any other sources of food like: a farmstand, an abandoned apple tree, a neighbor's overgrown patch of rhubarb.
It was surprising how engaged people were in this exercise and how creative. You could see really interesting patterns emerge - linear thinkers, creative spirits, quadrant types. One of the most surprising things for me when I made my map was seeing clearly that, after 10 years of living in my house, I am far from knowing even a majority of people on my block. Almost everyone was surprised to see how many people they live near, but do not know.
The thing I was most excited about was the list of things I can eat that are right now growing in my small, shady yard. Even before planting my admittedly tiny vegetable beds (or getting a beehive), I have: blueberries, rhubarb, garlic, 3 kinds of mint, sweet cicely, rosemary, chives, thyme, parsley, dill. Plus 2 apple trees. And in the front yard (before I've planted my persimmon trees): strawberries, kale, lettuce, sage, and jerusalem artichokes. With fewer (edible) dandelions every day. And I just made my elderly neighbor a rhubarb pie. In that journey of a thousand miles, I can take a single step.