May is Transition Challenge Month

Transition Challenge Month, yup. Brought to you by the Transition United States, yup. Clearer now? Until I was asked to teach a Backyard Chicken class for a Reskilling Festival co-hosted by Transition Ann Arbor, I did not know either. Nor had I heard the phrases "peak oil" or "energy descent". But in my humble opinion, the Transition movement is awesome.

Awesome in the sense I am in awe. Committed people walking the walk - building communities through reducing local energy use, reusing materials for building, reducing reliance on new items, educating a new generation in such practices, creating local currency, and (of course) focussing on the role of food (they LOVE local food).

And why? Peak Oil and Energy Descent!

Peak Oil is the term used to describe the point at which "the maximal rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline." The exact tip of the bell curve is debated, but most experts seem to agree that the oil that is remaining to us will cost more and more energy to extract (ie it has peaked, but no one is committing to that position). (Offshore drilling or shale oil extraction compared to the bygone days of black gold striking Clampetts for those of you who like visual comparisons.)

A member of the Transition Ann Arbor group 2 years ago shared with me what distinguishes the Transition Towns Movement from the other groups involved in local and self-sufficient food, transportation, and reducing energy paradigms. It is the assumption of energy descent. It is a notion that, to move forward we actually need to ramp down our energy use substantially. Nothing that we have out there, in terms of the green technologies out there is actually going to replace the oil infrastructure that we have right now ... What we want to do is creatively descend in our energy use, not ramp up to try to replace the technologies that oil has given us."

As I type at my computer, surrounded by my digital camera, cell phone, camera, television, and looking out at the streetlights glowing in the rain, I think I know of what she speaks.

This is the month to get involved. There is a national transition challenge happening throughout May focussing on five great areas:

Take food, for example. You can start a garden, get backyard chickens, plant a fruit tree to trade with your neighbor who gets chickens, plant a row for a local food bank (and check out AmpleHarvest to find your local bank!), start a worm bin, make your own bread, preserve (kombucha is delicious!), save seeds, etc etc...

The Transition Challenge in 2011 logged over 1500 actions and the national goal this year is 2012. Register your Action, check out their Action Map to see what is happening around you. Last but not least, did you know that National Potluck Week is May 20-26? Sounds like a  delicious way to celebrate your new dehydrator!

Though I may not be the best at riding my bicycle in the rain, or always taking the extra 10 minutes to hang my clothing on the clothes line - it is nice to know there is a community of people committed to safeguard our beautiful earth and its resources by thinking outside of the paradigm of abundant oil - and dare I say, their calf muscles are all the stronger for it.

For those of you who are still curious to learn more, here is a TED talk given by the co-founder of the Transition Network, Rob Hopkins.

Here is the piece on Real Time Farms!

3rd Annual Homegrown Local Food Summit

The Homegrown Local Food Summit celebrated its third year with over 300 people at Washtenaw Community College on March 1st. The sun drenched lobby shone down on the information booths and tables groaning under the bounty of donated food. Rachel Chadderdon, of Double Up Food Bucks, introduced the day's event as a way "to bring together leaders in the local food movement to reenergize ourselves."Borden-homegrownfoodsummit2011 The conference had more of a conference like feel to it this year with a full morning of shared lectures and then break-away talks in the afternoon. The full morning started with a tag team presentation by Kim Bayer, of Slow Food Huron Valley, and Dan Bair, of The Farm at St. Joes, of our local food victories. Two keynote speakers: Dan Carmody, President of the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation, and Ken Meter, President of the Crossroads Resource Center, spoke to the larger world of food.

The morning wrapped up with four local food initiatives pitched by Mark Hodesh (for Mark's Carts and the Union Hall Kitchen), Aubrey Thomason (for her vision of Small is Beautiful Goat Dairies), Edward Weymouth (for Arborcycle), and Jeff McCabe (for his vision of building 20 hoops in 20 days).

All of that before lunch.

As Kim Bayer said in her introduction, "the local food victories inspire me to keep doing this. There is a network that is starting to form that can support our health and our community." She and Dan Bair read quotes from the recipients as the slides moved through the almost 30 local food victories.

2011 Local Food victories

A Local Food Victory Cluster: Johnson Jams "When Karen Johnson made a jam at the Preserving Traditions class last year, Emily Springfield told Karen she thought it was prize-worthy jam." When the Cottage Food Bill passed, Johnson Jams was born and eventually began selling at the Saline Winter Farmers Market. As Dan summarized, "it is a virtuous cycle, it is an example that demonstrates what is possible when the right pieces are in place."

Michigan Good Food Charter Kim Bayer describes the Michigan Good Food Charter, as "a framework that helps us see the aspects or categories of a foodsystem that provide community food security from the pieces that we need to have in place... State policy work is happening for food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable." The charter focuses on four main areas: Farms and Farmers, Food System Infrastructure, Institutions, Good Food Access, and Youth.

As such, the remaining local food victories are divided into those categories with two more added: Entrepreneurs, and Mentors.

Farms and Farmers

Stephanie Phillips - The Family Farm

Organic since 1980 The Family Farm has now become a Biodynamic Farm. As quoted from Stephanie Phillips: "'Use what you have and do what you can' this has been my motto. I don't believe in making excuses, like I am a woman or I am black so I have had a hard time. You overcome obstacles by sticking to your convictions and not giving in to those who mock or ridicule your ability. I started this business because I was tired of being subjugated by bureaucrats."

Kate Long  - Deer Tracks Farm

"I would like to think my business is helping the general community."

Jennifer Kangas - Capella Farm

"It's a great feeling to know that people like to eat what we raise and are finding new ways to enjoy food. We are also helping by providing a fair wage for our employees. They are a our key to success."

Tomm & Trilby Becker - Sunseed Farm

"We started Ann Arbor's first year round fresh vegetable CSA. We began an apprenticeship program to help other beginning farmers to start their own businesses."

The Doll Family -  Back Forty Acres

“Farming is a noble profession — from raising the animals to selling the meat — providing things that are real…It is a shame that there are so few meat processors nearby.”

Food System Infrastructure

Corinna Borden - Westside Farmers Market

Quoted from what I wrote to Kim Bayer in January: "One day when people say, 'I saw them at the farmers market.' The other person will have to say, 'which one?'"

Nancy Crisp - Saline Farmers Market

Nancy Crisp has managed Saline's markets from the beginning and they are doing great! As she says: "We now have three farmers markets in Saline."

The Roseans - Real Time Farms (check out their newly redesigned website!)

"We are taking on 32 interns, encouraging people's participation nationwide and madly building tools to help our regional food system the world over. Did we mention worldwide?"

Ed Weymouth - Arborcycle

"I like riding my bike and I wanted to turn it into something practical and useful for the community and the burgeoning local systems that are beginning to spread their roots through Ann Arbor."

Tim Redmond/Bill Taylor - Eat Local Eat Natural

"We have made it through nearly three years so we have overcome the temptation to quit when the truck is broken and there is no money in the checkbook and somebody just canceled a big order. The major hurdle that remains: the tough local economy."

Dawn Thompson/Jane Pacheco - Lunasa

As quoted from the ladies of Lunasa: "Connecting over 30 local producers, representing over 1500 locally grown foods and natural products, supported by over 300 members and growing daily. We are planning on opening another Lunasa in Garden City on April 2011!"

Emily Springfield - Preserving Traditions

"Started in 2009 to teach people the skills they need to eat locally all year round... now has over 325 members. People can contact me if they want to teach!"

Institutions

Dan Bair - The Farm at St. Joe

As introduced by Kim Bayer: "Dan told me that his own business called the Careful Farmer comes from a Wendell Berry quote that says, 'the most important thing the land can produce is a careful farmer.'"

(Dan Vernia) - The Royal Park Hotel

Dan Vernia shares he "is working on one plate, one event at a time... We need more consumer education, demand for local food will define our local food system in ways which we can only speculate."

Alex Young - Zingerman's Roadhouse

"At the Roadhouse, our commitment to local went to new heights with the opening of Cornman Farms. Chef Alex found that he was able to get great tasting produce without trucking tomatoes from Arizona."

Silvio & Catia Medoro - Silvio's Organic Pizza

"We are changing our recipes to include more local organic ingredients, such as using Ferris Mills flour for our dough and our Michigan blueberries on our pizza."

Good Food Access

Rachel Chadderdon - Double Up Food Bucks

Launched by the Fair Food Network: "Double Up Food Bucks is coming back to all four [Washtenaw] markets this summer and to 34 others all over Michigan and Toledo."

Jenna Bacalor & Sharon Sheldon - Prescription for Health

"In 2010, Washtenaw County of Public Health was awarded a 2 year, $294,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation. The award will expand the Prescription for Health program which connects low income patients of local medical clinics with farmers markets ensuring greater access to healthy foods."

Youth

Michigan Young Farmers Coalition

"Is based on a model of regional hubs and was started because many young farmers need access to land, financial support, business support, network and community."

Amanda Edmonds - Growing Hope

Dan Bair shared, "Growing Hope offers classroom and afterschool and summer programs for people aged 3 to 21 at its gardens and greenhouses in Ypsilanti." Growing Hope is: "making access to affordable, healthy food available to everyone in our communities in a way that increases self-reliance and supports local food producers and purveyors."

New Entrepreneurs

David Klingenberger - The Brinery

Their song was laughter inducing, gasp worthy, and educational:

Helen Harding/Blake Reetz - EAT

"We are so proud of our state. We love being able to support as many local farmers and purveyors as possible... in 2010 we doubled our catering business and we plan to do that again in 2011. We hope to be part of Downtown Home and Garden food cart court aka Mark's Carts."

Mary Wessell Walker & Michelle Hartmann - Harvest Kitchen

"We received funding from the USDA farmers market promotion program - we are using this money to outfit a new kitchen in Ypsilanti's Depot Town."

Mentors

Deb Lentz & Richard Andres - Tantre Farm

Anne Elder & Paul Bantle - Community Farm of Ann Arbor

The King Family - Frog Holler Organic Farm

Whew!!!

Dan Carmody then spoke about his experience in Detroit and some of the expansion plans for Detroit's Eastern Market. His talk was engaging, informative, and piercing. Several quotes have stuck with me: "The food pyramid that they recommend we eat is exactly the opposite to what they subsidize in the field." "In 2004, there were 80 community gardens in Detroit. In 2011 there are 665." "On Saturday we proudly sell pineapples and oranges because our customers need citrus."

Carmody spoke of Detroit's "poverty of place" and the initiatives he is working towards to help create destinations around food to encourage a greater community. Hence, there are plans for the Eastern Market Corporation to build a teaching and community kitchen space, to build a 2 ½ acre market garden with 3 hoop houses on wheels, and to support mobile food operators. Carmody finished his talk with a very sensible summary. "I don't want to live in a place where Happy Meals are outlawed but I want to live where no one would ever want to buy a Happy Meal."

Ken Meter, of Crossroads Research Center, spoke as a food system analyst looking at our food system through the lens of community. Ken Meter argued "food takes money out of a community" and that the "goal is to build community-based food systems." He showed an alarming graph showing farming income, in real dollars, has not increased in almost 90 years and the price increase in food comes from the middle-men/marketing element. That is directly a result of the prevailing view of our food system as a supply chain. For example: Producers » Processor » Distributor » Retail » Consumer.

"The problem with that is that the producers and consumers are not talking... better to have a value network."

Ken Meter finished his talk with this rallying call, "you can't outsource a local food economy."

The morning concluded with four entrepreneurs sharing their vision for a local food initiative and asking for help. Mark Hodesh is looking for 3 more food carts for his Mark's Carts. Aubrey Thomason has been making cheese at the Zingermans Creamery for 5 years and she wants to source her goat milk locally. She is offering a market for anyone who wants to raise goats for milk in our area. Edward Weymouth is looking for bicyclists and customers for his Arborcycle business. Jeff McCabe is looking for volunteers to make possible his vision of building 20 hoop houses in 20 days starting June 15. He is also looking for people wanting to donate money and 8 more sites to build the hoops.

A myriad of talks filled the afternoon: Farm to School, ABCs of Local Food/Planning/Zoning, Toxins in our food, Michigan Wines, Cottage Food Bill, Four Season Farming in Hoophouses, Food as Medicine, etc.

The day ended with a showing of a few favorites from the 1st annual Michigan Good Food Film Festival, which took place the night before. The judged winner was Edible Avalon's entry. If you have not seen it before: here it is!

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Selma Cafe's Farmers Fund builds hoop houses

Ever since Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb started FridayMorning@Selmas as a breakfast fundraiser in their home 1/3 of the money has been spent, “on the food and the rest of the money goes towards the funds for hoop builds,” according to McCabe. At the Capella Farm in late August, I volunteered to help with Selma's 7th hoop build.

A hoop house is a plastic structure used to extend the growing season for vegetables into all four seasons of the year - a grand thing for our Michigan winters. Shannon Brines, of Brines Farm, has been overwhelmed with demand for his fresh winter greens since he began four season farming in 2004. Selma's Farmers Fund will allow more farmers to augment our winter supply.

Tomm Becker, of Sunseed Farm, received his two hoop houses from Selma’s funds in August 2009 and May 2010. Becker extols the benefits of four season growing. “If we didn’t have those [hoop houses] our CSA season would be 20 weeks, from June until October. With the hoop houses we are able to continue that all through the winter, so we do 48 weeks of distribution. We take 4 weeks off because we need to, for ourselves, not because we need to for the crops. With that protected space, we increase our income by increasing our harvest, all through the winter."

Borden - hoop house build

Jennifer and Dave Kangas started a CSA last year at Capella Farm and have had an eye on expansion. Jennifer applied for a USDA grant for a hoop house, which is administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and augmented those funds with a loan from Selma’s Farmers Fund.

All 75 volunteers were overseen by McCabe and Gottlieb, fed by the Kangas family, and fueled by McCabe's van full of tools. People worked Friday night and all day Saturday, August 28th, to build Capella Farm's 30 foot by 96 foot hoop house. I have never before been involved with such a large group of volunteers working together with enthusiasm and cheer to improve the sustainability of our local food. I loved every minute of it.

As the moon rose over the new building silhouetted in the field, Jennifer Kangas shared her thoughts on the day. “Dave and I were so energized by all of the volunteers and support that we received to help build the hoop. Farming can be challenging because it really is hard work and you can't control the weather or the number of mosquitoes, etc. It was very affirming to feel support from the community. This day will help keep us going for a long time.” Capella Farm is planning on offering a winter CSA with the produce grown in the hoop.

McCabe’s vision in 2011 is to raise, “20 hoops in 20 consecutive days.” This dream relies on increased revenue for the Farmers Fund beyond that which can be raised on Friday mornings. As such, Chef Brandon Johns, of the Grange Kitchen and Bar, is kicking off the fundraising launch of the community-supported micro loan program (aka Farmers Fund) on September 26.

If you cannot make the fundraiser, volunteers with shovels, hammers, and portable drills will be building the 8th hoop house at Brines Farm on September 25th. One weekend, two very different opportunities to support local food.

The Farmer Fund kick-off event will be held Sunday, September 26, 5-8 pm, at Grange Kitchen and Bar. The cost is $50/person, with a tax deduction of half the ticket price. RSVP to info@selmacafe.org or sign up online.

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Westside Farmers Market: looking back, looking forward

The Westside Farmers Market (the market I work as the manager) runs June through September in Zingerman’s Roadhouse parking lot (on the corner of Jackson and Maple) on Thursdays 3-7 p.m.

Ann Arbor has an abundance of food establishments. A plethora, a smorgasbord, a cornucopia, a wealth of stores to choose from - stores yes, farmers markets, ummm, not so much.

The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is part of our texture Borden - Westside Farmers Market sign in front of marketas a community. It is a place of gathering, it is downtown, and it is on everyone’s radar as being “the farmers market.” It feeds community, provides local produce, and strengthens the relationship between the farmers and the consumers.

However, if you are a new farmer wanting to find a market for your goodies during the harvest, “the farmers market” is fully booked.

In 2006, Chef Rodger Bowser of Zingerman's Deli, Chef Alex Young of Zingerman's Roadhouse, Zingerman's founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, and many others in the Zingerman’s community decided it was time for a new market in Ann Arbor.

Bowser describes the different facets of their motivation to start a new market. "We realized there is a waiting list for the farmers market in Ann Arbor. We wanted to increase the capacity of food growing in this area. We wanted to offer them [the farmers] an avenue to sell. We also wanted a new outlet for consumers on the west side of town. We were looking for a new opportunity for both producers and consumers - to have a new outlet, a new market to choose from.”

The market started with a small band of dedicated volunteers and a handful of brave avant-garde vendors. Steadily the market grew every year until I started volunteering with it last spring. And that spring brought unexpected twists.

Some of you may recall the zoning issue that happened last year with the Westside Farmers Market. To summarize, the Zingerman’s Roadhouse parking lot (where the market is located) is zoned C3 by the City of Ann Arbor. C3 zoning, at that time, was not eligible for application of special use permits, therefore the market, functioning without a special use permit, was illegal. So, as of April 2009, the market was not going to take place.

Borden - massage sign at the market

After a great deal of community rallying and discussions, the City told us in May to move ahead, saying they would fix the zoning over the summer, which is what they did. It was awesome. For a native of Washington, D.C., like myself, it was a beautiful example of brilliant and timely action by the wonderful hard working members of our government.

2009 was a great season. A daily average of 600 visitors visited the 28 different vendors who set up in the wind and the sun. From Bizzy Lizzy’s beet cookies, Swarm Naturals beeswax candles, Dragonwood Farm eggs and veggies, McLaughlin Farms grass-fed Highland beef, Seedling white peaches and Clare Limerick Alpaca Ranch soft wool - there was much bounty to choose from.

This year we have put in our special use petition to the city and approval is expected at the City Planning meeting on May 18. When we open on June 3, we will have many alumni as well as some new faces joining us: Zilke Vegetable Farm, Nakee Natural (handcrafted soap and skincare), Inchworm Microgreens, and Portage River Farm among others. We have been approved by the USDA to accept Bridge Cards and Project Fresh Coupons.

As we enter our fifth season, and I continue to receive vendor agreements, I empathize with the Ann Arbor Farmers Market vendor waiting list. Perhaps two farmers markets are not enough for all of our new farmers working to support themselves and feed their local community. We shall see what the future brings for farmers markets in Ann Arbor.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

A visit to Zilke Vegetable Farm

Tom Zilke’s passion and excitement for the second year of his vegetable growing enterprise is palpable and communicated. “My thing is, I like putting a seed in the ground and I like growing it. If I can do that, I am happy. I’m very content. Extremely happy doing what I am doing.” His face crinkles into a smile and he does truly seem to be a man at peace with his life. Not only at peace, but thrumming with pleasure for his new projects and ideas.

After all, I am talking to a man who turned his swimming pool into a greenhouse.

Borden - Tom Zilke in his greenhouse

Three years ago, Zilke started growing serious amounts of vegetables on his 5 acres. Last year, Zilke Vegetable Farm signed up their first CSAs and started selling their naturally grown bounty at the Taylor and Ypsilanti Farmer Markets. This year they plan on selling at Milan, Dundee, and our very own Ann Arbor Westside Market as well.

They have the ability to cultivate 20 acres of virgin land and will be providing 100 CSAs this season (as of today there are still shares available). The first year Zilke’s CSA shares were sold out through word of mouth and this year he found more customers through Local Harvest. (If you have never explored Local Harvest’s website, it is a great resource for farmers markets, farms, and locavore information.)

Zilke and his wife are both avid gardeners. Zilke grew up on a 600 acre farm in Deerfield and worked as a landscaper for 30 years. When asked why they choose to start growing and selling vegetables, Zilke smiled, “I love this movement, what is going on right now. The grow local. I just want to be a part of it. I have farming in my blood. I grew up on a farm. I love growing stuff and it is fun being part of a movement like this.”

As with all things in nature, every year is an experiment. This year he experimented with covering onions over the winter. We were able to squelch out into the field, covered with recent snow melt, to see the onions that had over wintered in the “low tunnel” hoop house. They were thriving under the cover.

The Zilke's encourage their customers to come out and visit the farm, whether to wander through the rows of growth, or to enjoy salsa making evenings. They are planting a smaller children's garden for the families. “We try to make it very family oriented.”

Visitors to the farm can enjoy visiting an old barn, cats that twine themselves around ankles, the pleasure of seeing the miracle of plant growth, but they can no longer swim. The pool is now the greenhouse. As Zilke explained, “this was the swimming pool and I took out the lining out of it and added insulation. I had the hoops out in the barn. And I dug a hole 42 inches down from the house to here, and I am running a line from the basement.” The line 42 inches in the ground is below the frost line and carries water, electricity, and airflow to the greenhouse.

There is already much being grown because Zilke is hoping for fresh greens to be available in mid-May, “just to get a jump on it.” The Zilke’s will be getting a jump and families will be able to visit and see where their food comes from.

Borden - Zilke Farm cats

I got the sense from Zilke that was one of the many parts of his occupation that excites him. “A lot of kids they come out here and look at the broccoli. I don’t know how many times I heard the kids come out and say, “Oh that is what a broccoli plant looks like?” Because they are used to going to some grocery store. They have no clue how it grows, what it looks like. That is why it is neat to give them some background.”

I couldn't agree more.

Here is the article on annarbor.com!

A CSA embodies the relationship between an entrepreneur and an investor

Borden - Locavorious bags

At a recent dinner of my parents' friends, no one at the table knew what a CSA was, and I, still addressing the “adults” as “Mr & Mrs," attempted to enlighten them. “CSAs are shorthand for Community Supported Agriculture. You purchase a share at the beginning of the season and then receive bushels of whatever is in season every week or so. It is a partnership between the farmer and the eater.”

Mrs X responded loudly, “That is the most un-American thing I have ever heard of, what happened to the idea of self-sufficiency? That reeks to me of socialism!” (It helps to imagine a glass of Sauvingon Blanc being waved around when you hear this.)

My default action when that particular emotional hot button word (aka grenade) is lobbed into the conversation is to hide under the table, or at the very least flee to the ladies room. However, an attack on healthy, local food is too important for me to ignore. Let me see if I can break down Mrs. X’s point of view (after all, she knew me as a babe).

100 strangers and I pay $400 to a farmer. The farmer purchases seeds (capital), pays for gasoline for the tractor, buys a new pair of mud boots for the season (operating expenses), hires some people to help plant the seedlings (labor) and feeds herself while caring for the green shoots growing in the fields under the rain and sun.

My initial monetary investment is transformed into lettuce, beets, chard, kale, bok choy, pole beans, squash, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, raspberries, strawberries and eggplant (to name a few).

If I were to purchase a CSA share in early March, I'd expect to start receiving food in May, and that abundance would continue till October (timing depends on the farmer). The dividend percentage on my initial investment burns through the capital every year, and thus I will need to reinvest in shares the following year (I have eaten all of the profits).

If the potatoes are hurt by the blight and the squash catches a fungal wilt, my food dividend will be commensurately smaller, as will the shares of the other 100 investors. When the farmer has a productive season, my larder will be filled to bursting as I share in the food profits.

The Farmers Marketer blog lists information about CSAs from Two Creeks Organics (I wrote about my visit to them in January), Tantre Farm, Pregitzer Farm, Portage River, Old Pine Farm Meat CSA, Needle Lane Farms, Frog Holler, Community Farm of A2, Sunseed Farm, Carpenter’s Greenhouse, and Capella Farm. I would add to this good list the Zilke Vegetable Farm, Our Family Farm and Down on the Farm - a CSA offered by the farmers in the Amish Homer Community (contact Down on the Farm, 29910 R Drive S, Homer, MI 49245, or call 517-542-2025 at 8 a.m. and ask for Amos). This list in no way is complete, but it will give you a good place to start. I recommend asking your favorite farmer at the market whether they offer one.

Personally, the best thing I have found about CSAs are the relationship between the consumer and the farmers: heck, let us say it - friendships.

Socialism? I don’t think so. For me a CSA embodies the relationship between an entrepreneur and an investor - and the dividends are paid in food - a very American and unique relationship. Oh say can you CSA?

Here is the link to the annarbor.com article!

A full day at HomeGrown Local Food Summit

Borden - crowd at HomeGrown Food Summit  Over 200 people attended the HomeGrown Local Food Summit at U of M's School of Natural Resources & the Environment.

Photo by Dave Brenner, School of Natural Resources & the Environment

I started out my day at the HomeGrown Local Food Summit talking about turkeys (with John Harnois of Harnois Farm in Webster Township) and finished it talking about garlic (with Dick Dyer of Pretty Good Garlic). I can only say, to extend the metaphor, the poor bird would be bursting at the seams if I tried to stuff in all of the conversations, ideas and people that swirled around the Samuel Trask Dana Building at the U-M yesterday, a gray Tuesday in early March.

According to Jason Frenzel, longtime member of the HomeGrown Steering Committee, the desired outcome for the summit could have been nothing but vast and powerful. “The goal of today is to come to an understanding of what the next phase of the local food movement is going to be. We will have a lot of different discussions and go through a lot of different processes to figure that out today.”

The energy was high from the very beginning, with Frenzel asking questions and the crowd responding with laughter, cheers, and raised hands.

“Give out a whoop if you GROW food!." "Raise your hand if you EAT food!"

The energy continued with Kim Bayer, president of Slow Food Huron Valley, presenting a slideshow of local food victories in 2009. These are victories for all of us.

2009 - Local Food Victories! Guaranteed to make your head spin and your heart full.

Borden - Yes we can Can

WHEW! I would also add to this list my personal favorite, the City of Ann Arbor changed zoning rules in order to make the Westside Farmers Market legal (yippie!).

Jeff McCabe then stood up to speak about the 10% Campaign, and his data was compelling. “In Washtenaw county, we spend over $1 billion a year on food…less than one percent of those purchases are grown in the county…growing 10 percent of our food would result in over $90 million in new direct economic activity and increased community security.”

At this point we broke into small groups to work on a slogan or a brand for such an initiative.

And the results were awesome:

“Keep it Local: Eat ten for your town!” “You drive a Michigan car, now eat Michigan food.” “Add 2 [meals a week] get 10 [percent]” “Ten [locally sourced meals a month] tastes great!” “Eat 2 [locally sourced meals a week] for you!” “Produce, Prepare, Prosper.”

Buoyed by the creativity and intelligence of our fellow participants, we broke out again into action groups focusing on the many facets of the local food hydra: education, infrastructure, inclusivity, management, resources, transportation and policy, among others. Each group worked on short-term and long-term ideas to improve a facet of that issue. My group was public outreach, and we centered our discussions on how to raise awareness of the local farmer’s markets. Ideas ranged from bicycle deliveries from the market to food preparation tips and guides.

Regrouping for a delicious meal by A Knife’s Work the day continued.

Smaller group workshops continued throughout the rest of the afternoon. From a dizzying array of choices (Beekeeping, Wildcrafting, Backyard Mushrooms, Farm to School, Local Food Distribution) I chose social media, where we spoke about the role of social media in raising awareness and improving distribution. Then I went to a workshop with Jennifer Fike of FSEP to hear about the Michigan Charter being worked on at the Michigan Good Food Summit to use as a template for Lansing discussions (you can read it on their Web site under “Draft Work Group Agenda Priorities”).

I started out the day talking to John Harnois about 13 frozen heritage turkeys in his freezer leftover from Thanksgiving and his concern about finding a market. Right then Chef Brandon Johns, of the Grange Kitchen & Bar, walked by and said that he might be able to take “a few." I ended the day sitting next to Dick Dyer, of Pretty Good Garlic, talking about the offers he had received from local restaurants to purchase his garlic. "I met so many people today, isn't this great?"

It appears I was not the only one making vast and powerful new connections and left feeling full of possibility and choices.

Here is the link to the annarbor.com article!

Visit to Two Creeks Organics

Two Creeks Organics began four years ago when Amie and Mark Sanford purchased land in Manchester. When Mark could no longer work as a full-time carpenter, he turned to Amie and said, “I am going to start an organic farm.” Many people looking for a second career would not turn to such physical labor, but that did not deter Amie and Mark (who get help from Amie’s brother and father during the season). As Amie said when I asked her about that decision, “Well, no one ever tells me it is a bad idea. So I just jump in.”

What became clear as I spoke to Amie about their mostly community supported agriculture business model was that they are not the only ones jumping in. Their CSA customers are as well.

Valley Family Farm, Garden Patch Farm (which is no longer active), and Tantre Farm were very helpful as Two Creeks Organics learned where to purchase seeds, what to plant, and how to market. One of the first things the farming community shared was that Two Creeks would need a Web site to advertise their community supported agriculture shares.

Amie describes their first year of doing the CSA memberships. At that point all of the marketing they had done was via the Web site. “Our first year we had one person call to see if we even existed. I was amazed that people were sending us money online and no one ever checked. They just sent their money. How cool is that? Our first season we had 50 CSA shares. I was so touched. People are that trusting, it is amazing.”

Two Creeks Organics delivers their CSA shares at the Westside Farmers Market, the Saline Market, and at their farm. “Everything that we grow goes to our CSAs and they get first dibs on our eggs, chickens, and everything else we do because that is the main part of our income.”

There is not a lot of food available after filling the boxes. I was able to receive a box one week at the Westside Market after a subscriber did not pick up their box. It was chock full to the brim with fresh goodies - we could barely finish everything to return the box to Amie that next week.

Every year Two Creeks is planting and trying to grow new things, last year it was sweet potatoes this year it could be artichokes. Amie and Mark learned last season when they tossed the seed potatoes in diatomaceous earth before planting they did not get the blight. They have a beehive behind the chicken coop to help them pollinate their crops and Amie’s father has planted an orchard to slowly mature over the years.

Mark Sanford’s skill as a carpenter is evident in the chicken “coop de ville,” barn, and the house. The Sanford’s feed the poultry - meat chickens, ducks, turkeys, and egg chickens - organic feed and they are free range. “The chickens love our tomatoes.”

You can check out Two Creeks Organics’ certificates online. Certified Naturally Grown is an international movement that seeks to help smaller organic farms navigate the high fees of organic certification.

Now is the time to sign up for a CSA share for the 2010 growing season. Two Creeks Organics offers both full and half shares.

Here is the link for the article on annarbor.com!

Giving the gift of a CSA share

Borden - French Toast with strawberry and blueberry compoteBerry compote made with Locavorious CSA frozen berries on top of French Toast.  Corinna Borden | Contributor

I don’t think I’m alone in not always jumping for joy when I open my holiday gifts (my zenith was at age 14 when I unwrapped a festive box to find Latin vocabulary flash cards). I was recently reminded of this when hearing an economist say that we value gifts we receive from other people at about 20% of what the person spent. (I think he is being generous).

Community supported agriculture works as handshake between the consumer and the producer. You pay a certain amount at the beginning of the season and then are directed to pick up your collection of goodies weekly throughout the growing season. If you are away, you can share with your friends. Your check in January helps balance the cash flow of the farmer during the seed buying and planting season.

Slow Food Huron Valley has compiled a list of certain farms around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that offer CSA shares. One of the best conversations you can have with your farmer at the market is to ask them if they offer a CSA share and learn about their prices and policies.

We signed up for the Locavorious CSA share over the summer. Rena Basch prepared and packaged a collection of fresh fruits and veggies during the growing season and we receive a bag monthly for four months. Our first installment included blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, squash, corn, green beans, and snap peas - all beautifully prepared to dump into a hot pan and eat. I am picking up our second installment this afternoon and hoping I can squeeze the new bounty into the freezer.

This past Sunday we threw a handful of the frozen blueberries (from Sodt’s Berry Farm) and strawberries (from Gibbs Berries Farm) into a pan with water to make a compote as we made French Toast. In 10 minutes the entire kitchen was infused with the smell of fresh summer strawberries. It was no longer 20 degrees outside and sleeting, it was June.

How do you package a CSA share as a gift? Just like ordering from a catalog in front of the computer, it can be done in your pajamas - write a cheerful coupon and put it in a card. It is one concrete thing you can do this season to show your support of your local farmer. Oh say, can you CSA?!

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Farm to Fork: Brines Farm

Borden - Shannon Brines in his greenhouse

Shannon Brines of Brines Farm is a busy man. In addition to his full time job at the U of M Environmental Spatial Analysis Laboratory, he is the vice-chair of Slow Food Huron Valley, and the chair of the HomeGrown Festival. Yet for him the decision was straightforward to become a four-season farmer on top of his other duties. "I want to have a lifestyle that is sustainable and I love food, so I was like, this is obvious."

It is obvious to me that I wish Ann Arbor were ringed with similar greenhouses filled with fresh lettuce in December. I stopped purchasing lettuce imported from California last year when I did some math. The amount of calorie energy my body receives from eating lettuce in February does not justify to me the amount of fuel it takes to get to my plate. There is a fascinating article discussing this ratio (energy input: producing, processing, packaging, and distributing vs energy output: calories to the body). I also think that vegetables and fruits grown here taste better than the hardier varieties grown to withstand transport and sitting on the market shelf. True, I still purchase olive oil from Italy, Malbec from Chile, and Telicherry Pepper from India - but I don't eat bowls of olive oil, Malbec, and pepper everyday - I do eat bowls of vegetables everyday. Big bowls.

My decision to eat more locally sourced fruits and vegetables may not save the planet but it probably won't hurt. So as a self-confessed salad lover, vegetable maven, and devotee to all things green walking into a greenhouse to see the carpet of fresh spring greens cosseted from the frost and thriving within large greenhouses on a recent 18 degree morning was a worshipful experience. The contrast was breathtaking.

Shannon Brines described to me how he started. "I was looking around and realized that there really wasn't anyone delivering anything year round." He went to workshops, read books, and finally decided to give four-season farming a try when he built his first greenhouse in 2004. He had no experience with such a large scale greenhouse operation, but he decided to "give it a whirl." Borden - Brines view of greenhouse

I think for many of us building a 90 foot long greenhouse might seem a bit daunting, but as Yoda tells us: "there is no try, there is only do, or do not." Shannon Brines has been doing - since 2004 he has built two more greenhouses. He started selling at the Ann Arbor Market in 2005 and continues to sell at Ann Arbor and the Westside Farmers' Markets. As Shannon tells me, while he harvests delicate yellow-green Tokyo Bekana, "It didn't take long for people to catch on when they realized I was gonna come in the winter with fresh greens."

Borden - Brines at A2 market

And green they are. Growing in his three greenhouses are, "what everyone talks about as cold hardy plants." Looking at his list of goodies on his website, his plants are mostly varieties of brassicas. Many of his seeds come from the Johnny Seed's because, "Eliot Coleman lives near them and has teamed up with them before." (You may remember Eliot Coleman as an influence on Mark Baerwolf, at Cornman Farms.)

The greenhouses are built as a simple metal frame with two layers of plastic on the outside. A small fan pushes air between the two layers to create a layer of air insulation. Row cover fabric is pulled over the plants when the sun goes down as an added layer against the cold. "For the most part it stays above freezing at ground level - the light issue is really the biggest concern. The day gets so short. It is winter." It may be winter, but inside the greenhouses, with the sun glowing through the layers of plastic, it felt like early May as the warmth crept into my bones.

Brines Farm utilizes organic practices and finds for the most part that insects - both deleterious and beneficial find their way inside the plastic. With the large number of brassicas crop rotation is "a little tricky" so their current modus operandi is to spread a 5 gallon bucket of compost for every 12 foot bed. This practice is recommended by Eliot Coleman and Steve Moore (referred to in this article as the Gandhi of Greenhouses).

I had a chance to do some harvesting of the mizuna, a plant I was unfamiliar with until that morning. I took off my mittens, jacket, hat, scarf, and sweater to kneel down onto the dark earth in the warm humid space. Occasionally the 18 degree wind buffeted the walls, making the plastic bounce. Mizuna is bright green with lacelike leaves. I used paper scissors to easily cut through the tall stalks and place them into a cooler. The leaves were to be cleaned and separated in preparation for the market the next day. Saturday at the market, I was able to purchase a bag of Mizuna to taste the fruit of my efforts.

I poured some toasted sesame oil and soy sauce to heat in my iron skillet while I cut the delicate greens. Sauteing for 90 seconds at high heat I transferred the glistening greens into a bowl and sprinkled on toasted sesame seeds. The taste was less intense than arugula, yet still pleasantly peppery. I look forward to eating the rest of the mizuna as a salad under poached fish. The last time I had that meal was when my arugula came up last April. Thank you Brines Farm for making that possible in December.

Here is the link for the article on annarbor.com!

Oh say can you CSA!

This Saturday the Westside Farmers Market was at the HomeGrown Festival for the first time. I have lost my voice because I was speaking over the sound of the bands that were playing. According to the official count that I have heard, there were over 5000 people at the festival. There were tons of people that I recognized from the farmers market (both the Westside Market - that I am managing) and the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. We were right next to Lisa, of Pot & Box, and across from Julie at Tasty Bakery.

It was an incredible evening, Amie from Two Creeks Organics joined as did John and Cathie from McLaughlin Farms. We sold shirts and talked about Community Supported Agriculture. It is a system where you pay the farmer before the growing season for the vegetables you would like during the growing season. It is a HUGE boon to the farmer because they have a positive cash flow and they also know how much to plant. It is a great gift to yourself because it forces you to learn to cook kohlrabi.

I would like to create a bumper sticker that says "Oh say can you CSA" (patriotic, real, and catchy all at the same time).