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Archive for the ‘local economies’ Category

Integration Acres' Chris Chmiel speaks to crowd

At least one hundred people, representing every node (from farmer to consumer) along our food value chain turned out for Monday night’s Local Foods Town Hall meeting at the Athens Community Center.

Organized by ACEnet‘s Leslie Schaller, and supported by partners 30 Mile Meal Project, Rural Action, Athens Food Policy Council, Athens City/County Health Department, Live Healthy AppalachiaAthens Farmers Market and Community Food Initiatives, the event was the first of many conversations to showcase the economic, environmental, and health benefits and potential of our vibrant food system.

Kurt Belser

About 40 people offered commentary on their local foods needs, struggles and successes. Many stressed the need for greater investment in shared infrastructure and individual enterprises. Kurt Belser, co-owner of Athen’s newest food processing enterprise, The Wingnuttery, described his path from student to farmer at Green Edge Gardens and a stint at CFI, before he and his partner Marie DeMange launched this new enterprise. The Wingnuttery will process an abundance of local nuts (no implied comment on the local foods community meant), including walnut, hazelnut, Shagbark hickory, chestnut and beechnut. Kurt added that he was the youngest producer in the room, but was quickly followed by a man one year younger, demonstrating that our system includes a hopeful crop of young farmers!

Matt Starline

Becky Rondy

We also heard from Matt Starline, co-owner of Starline Organics, Becky Rondy of Green Edge Gardens, and Warren Fussner, an Amish farmer who sells his crops at the Chesterhill Produce Auction where he serves as an Advisory board member.

Kip Parker

Kip Parker, manager of the Athens Farmers Market, noted that 2012 marks the 40th year of operation for this highly regarded public market and that the AFM generates significant income for its farmers and other food vendors.

Michelle Wasserman

Local food entrepreneurs also spoke about the importance of our food-producing community in keeping their enterprises growing. Michelle Wasserman, Casa Nueva‘s food coordinator, underscored Casa’s commitment to support local farmers and producers. Their website lists nearly 40 Ohio sources, most of them within 30 miles of Athens.

Jessica Kopelwitz, co-owner of Fluff Bakery, expressed her appreciation to the farmers and food producers who provide many of her menu ingredients. Just a year old, Fluff has already created seven jobs.

Christine Hughes, co-owner of Village Bakery and two other eateries that extensively use local ingredients, urged attendees to oppose hydrofracking operations in Athens and surrounding counties.  Hughes stated that farming and fracking cannot coexist without damaging our local foods economy. She cited instances in New York State where major purchasers of regional foods, concerned about groundwater supplies and crops and animals tainted by the chemical brine used in this industrial process, are terminating contracts with farmers near fracking operations.

Connie Davidson

Local foods remain a draw for visitors to the region. Connie Davidson, owner of Sand Ridge B&B, said her guests enjoy her locally sourced breakfast menus that are prepared with foods from King Family Farm, Integration Acres, Sticky Pete’s, Crumbs Bakery, several produce vendors and Bircher Retreat Farm.

Larry Payne

Representatives of county government also spoke, with Athens County Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Larry Payne acknowledging the personal and public benefits of local food production.

Several members of the Athens Food Policy Council – including Mary Nally, Bob Fedyski, and Larry Burmeister – spoke about their involvement in promoting a healthy, equitable and sustainable food system.

Warren Taylor

The last speaker of the evening was Warren Taylor, co-owner of Snowville Creamery and one of several regional farmers and producers that have launched a food distribution center in Columbus to increase local foods market opportunities. While known for his often lengthy treaties on food sovereignty, Warren was upbeat and the only person to speak for the allotted time of 90 seconds!

John Gutekanst

Local foods – of course – also made an appearance – corn chips from Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. and Frog Ranch salsa. John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza, brought in armfuls of delicious thick pizzas for the crowd. During his turn at the podium, he said that his business will use two tons of King Family Farm sausage on their pizzas this year, a delicious example of the economic impact of choosing foods produced within our community.

For more on this event, read Brenda Evan’s Town Hall Trumpets Local Food Economy story.

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The crowd checks out the auction offerings

Next Thursday is the opening day of the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) and you are invited.  Morgan County (OH) is home to this well-known local foods destination, with auctions scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays through October.  Each event offers the opportunity to buy seasonal produce, plants, crafts, and more, in a wide variety of lot sizes, for both the home and business.

Children enjoy the fruits of local farmers

The May 12thfestivities will begin at 3pm with a community potluck and speakers, followed by the auction at 4pm. Children are invited to take part in planned nature activities. This year’s opening day celebrates the unique combination of public and private investment that has made this regional local foods hub possible.

The auction is owned by Rural Action, a membership-based organization promoting economic, social, and environmental justice in Appalachian Ohio.  After working for five years with the founders of the CPA,  in 2010 the organization brought together stakeholders throughout the region to secure the future of this community-based economic infrastructure. Financial support came from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), as well as a core group of local community investors, farmers, and supporters, and a loan from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Kentucky.

Won't be long before the auction has an abundance of tomatoes

In 2010, ARC –  a regional economic development agency which represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government – announced funding of $50,000 in support of CPA, as part of its economic initiatives in Appalachian Ohio. The mission of the commission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia.  According to Louis Segesvary, ARC’s Public Affairs Officer, “The member states of the Appalachian Regional Commission are funding more and more food-related job creation projects to take advantage of Appalachia’s resources.”

Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Tom Redfern, notes, “With the increased emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables as a way to improve health, initiatives that support the local farm production necessary to capture those markets allow us to win at both the economic and health level.”

For more information on the Chesterhill Produce Auction, contact Tom Redfern by calling 740.767.4938, or by emailing tomr@ruralaction.org. Information on the Chesterhill Produce Auction is available here.

The Produce Auction takes place at 8380 Wagoner Road in Chesterhill, Ohio.

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Eco Cafe time

Despite yesterday’s sunshine and outdoor pull of spring, the Front Room at Ohio University’s Baker Center was abuzz with students, faculty and members of the larger community. Over 70 people attended the Eco Café, an on-going series of presentations on social, economic, and environmental issues impacting southeast Ohio, sponsored by Rural Action and OU’s Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies.

Ann welcomes everyone

Ann Brown, a volunteer with Rural Action and the series’ organizer, welcomed the crowd and introduced the panel.

David Holben, professor and Associate Director, Nutrition at the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness, began the conversation, framing the topic for the next hour and a half.

David Holben

He noted that while the term ‘food security’ is often confused with food safety issues such as post 9/11 fears that our drinking water could be attacked with a substance like arsenic, it is really about universal access to food that is healthful, nutritious, safe, and culturally acceptable. David observed that the panel represented the depth and breadth of the region’s local foods advocates.

Tom

Up next was Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Tom Redfern. Tom explained that RASA supports established farmers markets in the region, and works with communities wanting to establish their own marketplaces. Since 2003, Rural Action has also been leading the way in bringing local foods into institutional systems, including Ohio University. Passing out the ever-present-in-his-briefcase, beautifully designed, Chesterhill Produce Auction brochures, he described how this market aggregation of Amish and other farmers in the area around Chesterhill increases earnings for growers and adds vitality to our regional food economy.

What about access to healthy, fresh foods for those who may not know how to grow or preserve them or are unable to afford them? Ronda Clark, executive director of Community Food Initiatives, told the crowd how her organization serves low and moderate income populations in the city of Athens and in some of the highest poverty areas of Appalachian Ohio – rural Athens and Morgan counties. CFI assists people in growing, cooking and preserving their own food through their Appalachian Foodways workshop series. The organization has also created and supported several community gardens, including the expansive and beautiful Westside Gardens in Athens.

Ronda's homegrown and heirloom seeds

One of CFI’s most far-reaching efforts is the Donation Station, located at the Athens Farmers Market each Saturday from 10 am to 1pm. Staff collect produce donations from both farmers and the public. Collected cash is used to purchase additional fresh foods from the market’s vendors. Hundreds of pounds of local food are distributed across the region each week to food pantries and other feeding sites. Ronda ended her presentation by pointing to several Ball jars filled with colorful seeds on the table before her. Harvested from her own garden, she offered to share them with anyone interested in trying some heirloom beans and squash.

I had the opportunity to speak next about the 30 Mile Meal Project and to encourage the audience to take even small steps to increase their use of local foods and to support businesses that source their menus locally. Here’s a video I made for the occasion.

Leslie

Described by Tom Redfern as the region’s most long-term and knowledgeable local foods activist, Leslie Schaller, Director of Programming at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), concluded the program. Much of ACEnet’s work has centered on building, aggregating and supporting a local food-based economy. Its kitchen incubator has launched hundreds of local food businesses. Able to trace the region’s embrace of local foods back three decades or more, she noted the incremental development of the resources and networking that make this economy so robust. She described the typical farm ‘commodity to mouth’ supply chain – one with no possibility for interaction between the distant producer and the consumer and how different it is when the chain is locally-based. She also shared a visual presentation of the many people and places that make our food, real local, and real good!

Following the talk, there was plenty of time for questions and to pack up a few of Ronda’s seeds to plant.

Going for the seeds

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Heading into Casa

In the spring of 1985, a group of 8 unemployed restaurant workers decided to form a worker-owned cooperative. The original founders had never run a business before, but collectively had over 100 years of restaurant experience and were determined to create their own livelihoods. They turned to the recently formed Worker Owned Network (now the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks) and with their support developed a business plan, secured financing and created the foundation for Casa Nueva’s cooperative structure. As a measure of the sustainability of this vision, some of today’s worker-owners include children born to that first generation of Casa founders.

Celebrating 25 years

Last night twenty five banners, each a tribute to a year of Casa Nueva’s successful experiment as a worker-owned enterprise, covered the walls of this Athens hotspot. A big crowd of The Locavore Solution’s friends and loyal customers came out for a night of celebration, food and music.

Casa champion Leslie Schaller

The festivities were kicked off by Leslie Schaller, Casa Business Manager and the sole remaining member of the first group of worker-owners that founded the restaurant. Standing in front of a banner that listed all of the workers who have owned a share of the restaurant over the years, Leslie acknowledged the on-going support of the community in creating Casa’s success.

The mayor

Next up was Athens Mayor, Paul Wiehl, who proclaimed October 20th Casa Nueva Day. A highlight of the early evening was the awarding of the year’s ‘eater’ award, selected by Casa’s staff.

Jerry Chester

This year’s prize went to Jerry Chester and Matt Griffin who had their first date at Casa 25 years ago and continue to be loyal customers.

Just in time for the many children in attendance, Flyaway Saturn, an Athens-based band that writes and performs music for the whole family, took the stage. Soon folk, small and large, were bouncing to the band’s beat, with all that motion only building the hunger for the next event – FOOD!

Many of Casa’s former worker-owners have, over the years, launched their own food enterprises and they gladly donated food for the party. On the long table in the central dining room, one could sample fare, made just for the occasion, by Avalanche Pizza, O’Betty’s Red Hot, Purple Chopstix, The Village Bakery, and a special CASA (caramel, apple, spiced ale) brew from Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. By 9 PM, most of Casa’s baby boomer-age fans headed home, making room for the younger generation to dance away the rest of the night.

It’s easy to love Casa’s seasonal menus, comfortable bar, and quirky staff, but its spirit is truly inspiring. In a world gone mad and bland, Casa’s spicy insistence on supporting local farmers and food producers, treating its workers well, and building community, shine. Here’s to another 25 years and more!

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It's all local

Did you hear the news today, oh boy…Wal-Mart is expanding its reach into the ‘local foods’ market, with plans to double its locally grown produce supplies to 9%. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, how about you?

While some might view this business decision as a sign that the local foods movement is succeeding in making the case for people supporting local farmers and food producers, a quick look at Wal-Mart’s plans makes it clear we aren’t speaking the same ‘local’ language. By their definition, peppers grown in southern California and sold in a Wal-Mart in the northern part of that state would travel 770 miles and still be local, because state lines are their parameters for local.

But the importance of local foods is about more than distance. What our money supports and how we connect with one another are two important elements of the 30 Mile Meal project.  Wal-Mart’s business move to put local foods in the hands and mouths of more people at less cost will make neither our farmers nor communities more sustainable.

Wal-Mart is known for squeezing its suppliers for the lowest price and will never match the return farmers receive when we purchase directly from them. Then there’s the issue of where our dollars go after leaving our wallets at the WM checkout. According to a paper by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance , for every $100 spent at a national chain like WM, only $43 remains in the community. When that same $100 is spent locally (either directly to the farmer or to an independently-owned food market offering local foods), $68 remains.

The 30 Mile Meal is also about connecting the customer with local growers and producers. The big box realm won’t offer these FACE to FACE connections we experience when we buy at Farmers Markets, through CSAs, and local farm stands. Let us know what you think.

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