So You Want a (Food) Community?

I got a gift of homemade sauerkraut and a grocery sack of beautiful green and red peppers from Vivienne the other day.  I was very excited about having the bratwurst and sauerkraut dinner that my German heritage makes me adore - yah!  And stuffed peppers are perfect for the continued winterizing plan we have.  I love getting a gift that someone has made. Her lovely gift and also her foray out to John Harnois' farm to pick up turkeys for several of us are great examples of Vivienne's observation that local food builds a sense of community. That observation made me think about what some of the stops on a "cultivating our food community" tour would be. 

The first stop would definitely have to be Morgan and York where Heather Anne Leavitt's fantastical cake sculptures  from her  senior art school project called "Home Made: Cultivating Community through Local Food" are on display.  If you haven't seen this (and their matching scrapbooks), go immediately to Morgan and York before they disappear. These cakes each represent a farm or an artisan that is a shining example in our local food community. There are cakes in honor of Tantré Farm, Zingerman's Creamery, and John Harnois' turkey farm among others.  In case I haven't made it clear enough already, these are really not to be missed.

Next stops on the tour would be some of the local organizations that are already bringing people together around the ideas of food as a connection to and appreciation of place. Of course you will want to attend the Agrarian Adventure's edible schoolyard Fall Harvest Dinner on Friday, Nov. 30th. The kids are cooking the meal themselves (from the vegetables they grew) under the direction of Zingerman's Deli chef Rodger Bowser.  After that, share festive holiday food and wine at Slow Food Huron Valley's meeting and Holiday Gathering. Swap recipes and entertaining and gift ideas at this finger food potluck. It comes with a Michigan holiday wine tasting and takes place on Friday, Dec. 7th.  And since Dec. 7th also happens to be Midnight Madness, you can walk right on over. 

Hopefully you already know that the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market will be open through the winter on Saturdays and that places like Brines Farm will have beautiful greens and fresh produce all season long. Winter is a perfect time to get to know your farmer, and perhaps bring him or her a tasty snack in appreciation. 

As a few other people have already noticed, the exciting developments in the world of food in our corner of the state have convinced Kate and Robb Harper to publish one of the newest entries in the Edible Communities family of regional food magazines. Of course I'm going to be giving my Mom a subscription to the new Edible WOW magazine, not just because I'm writing for them, but because in addition to being absolutely gorgeous it's going to be a great catalog of what's going on in local, sustainable food in southeastern Michigan.  And though you can buy subscriptions, it will be free to you and me when we pick up our copies in Kerrytown or other food focused places. 

Thoughts about year-end and holiday gifting are reminders many of the stops on the food community tour need your support.   That's some of that "cultivating" part in "cultivating our food community."  One worthy non-profit for year-end donations is the Growing Hope school and community gardening project. They need a gathering place for their work on gardens, greenhouses, and markets and for their efforts to "improve nutrition, enhance neighborhoods, foster education, and bring people back to the "roots" of how to till the soil and make something grow."  They are very close to their goal of buying a location for their new Growing Hope Center and they are actively recruiting new members for their board, so keep them on the list. 

The last stop on the tour is also one of the best signs of good things to come. The Food System Economic Partnership's Farm to School program is just starting to take off in Ann Arbor, Dexter, and Chelsea schools.  Through this pilot project, kids are starting to learn about and eat Michigan produce from local farms - apples, carrots, kohlrabi, melons - and loving every minute of it.  It's wonderful that it's finally starting to happen, even if it's sad that it's taken so long and the situation with kids' weight and health has gotten so dire. It's also continually surprising how hard it is to get healthy food in schools when entrenched interests make profits when we don't eat what's healthy.  Isn't there something wrong about that?  The tour of our food community is a part of the remedy though - change starts with understanding.

To jump on this tour, all you have to do is give a friend a jar of sauerkraut.  Or a huge Hubbard squash. Before you know it, you're driving around picking up turkeys for people and going to see cakes in the shape of a farm. It's exciting that there are so many pieces of the puzzle already down on the table, and an increasingly vibrant and secure food community already taking shape.  Now if only our grocery stores and restaurants wanted to be a part of the local food community and thought they should be getting food from Michigan farms and orchards. Perhaps we could ask them about that. And maybe that Farm-Ex project can do something about it.  

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