Third Annual Homegrown Festival: a smashing success

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Angie Beach her daughter Shelly, 5, husband Sunny and 5-month-old son River check out a booth during the Homegrown Festival held at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown on Saturday night.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

The first HomeGrown Festival took place at the Community High School in the rain. Few braved the puddles - giving me the chance to corner Mayor Hieftje for a five-minute conversation about his work on the Michigan Climate Action Council, his vision for Ann Arbor’s green energy usage, solar panels and new streetlights for downtown. Last year the Festival moved to Kerrytown and was a booming success, so much so that now, three years later, I was unable to have a five-minute conversation with anyone this past Saturday night.

Food, wine, beer, information, smiles, hugs, laughter, and great music swelled around Kerrytown - a glorious celebration of the all that is homegrown in southeast Michigan.

As John Harnois, of Harnois Farm, shared with me, “This is my first festival, and it took me forever to get from one end to the other - hours - because everyone is here - people I know, people I don’t know - people are quick to start up conversations.”

Many of those having conversations were vendors who had been up since the crack of dawn to prepare for the Ann Arbor Farmers Market at 7 a.m. Mill Pond Bread baker, Gabe Blauer, unrolled his spine as he stood to talk to me over the boxes of fresh foccacia. Borden - Silent Auction at the HomeGrown Festival

“What time is it? Almost 9! Wow, we are doing almost twice as well as we did last year. We have been working since 6 at the festival and up since 4 to do the farmers market. But it is totally worth it.”

Maitelates Chocolates founder Maite Zubia expressed similar enthusiasm as we watched the milling crowd, oversaw her abundant piles of delicious alfajores, and watched the patient participants waiting for wine tickets. “Just look at this -- it is fun! I am having fun with my eyes. Today was market day in the morning and still -- it is worth it, it is fun.”

Jenn Fike, CEO of Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), has participated in all three festivals. She felt the festival’s success was due to people’s interest, “in where their food is coming from and wanting to buy direct from farmers and …” Other thoughts she may have wanted to share with me were muffled as she was pulled into a squealing hug.

Amanda Segar and Maggie Smith, of the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), were joining the festival for the first time. According to Segar, they were seeking to meet “farmers market vendors and enthusiasts and to spread the word about our organization.” The two ladies wore identical grins of excitement as people pushed towards their booth to read about the good work MIFMA is doing with Bridge Cards and to answer their survey, “Why do you shop at farmers markets?”

The third year of the Festival brought in many people from all over southeast Michigan. One visitor to the Westside Farmers Market table shared that his family drove in for the Festival from Sterling Heights. “You have the best of everything in Ann Arbor,” he opined.

Wading through the sea of people continually pouring into the vibrant celebration, I felt the same way.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Mark you calendars for the third annual HomeGrown Festival: a celebration of Michigan bounty

Borden - Homegrown festival boy playing piehole

In 2008, over 1000 people flocked in the pouring rain to the first HomeGrown Festival in the Community High parking lot. Last year, the HomeGrown Festival moved across the street to the protection of Kerrytown and hosted over 5000 people. The weather was perfect. The smorgasbord of sounds, flavors, food, music, and NGOs was breathtaking. From baby chickens, to bees, to solar drying of fruit, to locally prepared gazpacho and chicken, bellies and brains were stuffed with great flavors and new ideas about community food security.

The third HomeGrown Festival, taking place from 6-11 pm on September 11 at Kerrytown, promises to solidify its role as the “annual celebration of our community, our farmers, and our region’s incredibly diverse (and tasty) food,” as described by Kim Bayer - one of the main organizers of the event. Borden - Homegrown festival chicks with crowd

Completely volunteer organized and staffed, the HomeGrown Festival embodies what is possible in grassroots activism. By request of the organizers, the Major is expected to once again proclaim September as Ann Arbor’s “Local Food Month.” Only those businesses that commit themselves to the local economy were offered sponsorship or booth opportunities. The HomeGrown committee intends to make the “event as close to zero waste as possible,” says Bayer, “the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition will be offering their “bike valet” parking and security service to make it easy to arrive by non-motorized transport.”

Borden - Homegrown festival honey with crowd

When you arrive to the festival, there will be many things competing for your attention and time. 12 local chefs have been matched with local farms to prepare tasting portions of harvest fare, designed to spark creativity and sparkle taste buds - all food portions cost less than $6. 10 Michigan beer and wine vendors will have tastings. 4 local bands will be jamming on the Main Stage - as well as myriad acoustic sets. 35 local food and artisan vendors - from Westwind Milling to Durham's Tracklements to Mindo Chocolate to Farrell Fruit - will tantalize your tastebuds. Just in time for the holiday season there are over 40 items in their silent auction - donations from Michigan Theater, Downtown Home and Garden, and eve the Restaurant will compete for your attention and checkbook. There will be activities for kids and educational opportunities at many booths.

Mark your calendars now for what Jeff McCabe, another event organizer, describes as, “the big local foods party of the year!”

The HomeGrown Festival will take place September 11 in Kerrytown from 6-11 pm, they are looking for volunteers. Hope to see you there!

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Michael Pollan discusses the politics of food during fundraiser for Edible Avalon, HomeGrown Festival & Summit

Michael Pollan taught me a new word on Sunday evening. Deracinated. As in meat has “gradually become a deracinated product. First there were butchers and you could actually see carcasses being cut up occasionally, and then [the meat was] always prepackaged, and then the bones disappeared. We are looking to take this protein and return it to, or advance it to, a state of pure protoplasm.” A protoplasm that is completely uprooted from the sinew, tendons and ligaments of the animal that once breathed and lived on this earth.

The urge to mediate this sense of displacement was a theme that ran throughout the hour-long conversation at the fundraiser for Edible Avalon and the HomeGrown Festival & Summit that took place at the Zingerman’s Roadhouse on Sunday evening.

As Pollan said to the event organizer Chris Bedford, “one of the things you learn very quickly is that food is a stand in for a whole lot of other issues. As much as we care about food and health and the environment – finally it is about community. Community is the deeper hunger that people feel and food has been a way to create community.”

His words echoed what Kim Bayer, of the HomeGrown Summit & Festival, said to me at the beginning of the evening. “This is an example of community working together to create a better community," Bayer said. "A lot of people donated their time so the impact could be the biggest it could be. I consider this a local food victory to add to our list for 2010.” The evening started (for a generous few) with an intimate conversation with Pollan. Soon more than 100 of us found seats, munching on the locally-grown appetizers provided by Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, to participate in the conversation.

The discussion began with Bayer and Kris Kaul of Edible Avalon describing their organizations and thanking Pollan, Bedford and Zingerman's Roadhouse.

Bedford, a 25-year veteran filmmaker and food advocate, started by asking Pollan four questions. His first question was about the state of the food.

Pollan speaks with the assurance of a college professor and someone who is comfortable in front of crowds.Maxwell - Pollan books in the foreground as Chef Alex speaks

“I think there is a food movement, and I think that it is one of the most interesting social movements happening right now… I think there is this growing recognition that the system we have is not serving people well, is not serving our health, the environment, is not serving the workers, is not serving the animals," Pollan said. "I think there is something really fundamental about food; you have choice there that you don’t have in many other areas. You don’t have to wait for the whole political system to move. You can do something today. You can do something three times tomorrow … that will have an effect.”

Bedford mentioned the reductionist paradigm of nutritionsim that Pollan discussed extensively in Defense of Food. (For those of you who may not be familiar – the premise I took away from the book was that food is a delivery system for nutrients, nutrients are the only important things and, since I cannot sense them, I need experts to tell me what they are. Therefore the experts divide food into good and bad nutrition parts, and the whole point of eating becomes to promote health as opposed to create pleasure or community.)

Pollan dove right in with the history. “Back 150 years you can find people talking about the need to make our eating more scientific," he said. "If we can get the science we won’t have to trouble ourselves with all of these uncertain areas having to do with pleasure. So we have been eating in a reductive way for a long time.”

“We’ve always had some issues with food in this country – I mean, the whole culture is descended from Puritans who have a lot of trouble taking pleasure in things that animals also do," Pollan said. "Food is one of those things, and you know what some of the others are.”

Bedford asked Pollan about the divide between those who believe that animals are part of our food system and those who believe animals should not be.

Pollan said he feels "it is healthy we are talking about these issues. All I ask of my readers is that they think through the consequences of their food choices, wherever they come out."

In a sharp turn away from discussing Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia and its effects on vegetarians deciding they could support eating his meat, Bedford asked about government receptivity to the food movement.

Pollan addressed the farm bill. “To the extent that food politics becomes national politics, it is very hard to justify the subsidy system that we have today," he said. "If you listen to someone like Collin Peterson, the head of the House Ag committee, when he is giving interviews, its like 'Who are these people to raise any questions about agriculture?'”

Then for the first time during the evening, Pollan raised his voice. “Well, these people are eaters! These are the eaters of American agriculture, and they have a dog in this fight," he said. Pollan argued we need to show our elected officials that their vote on the farm bill is not one they can trade easily or think we will ignore.Questions asked during the audience question-and-answer session included:

Q: What kind of things can we do here in Ann Arbor? Pollan discussed the tax on high fructose corn syrup that has been put forward in several states, “though it is a little weird to me that you are taxing something that you make cheap with other policies – subsidizing and then taxing the same thing.”

Q: I worry that conventional farmers will be left behind in this movement. They have invested their whole lives into farming, what are your thoughts? Pollan shared that he often speaks at agriculture schools where many in the audience have not read his books. “My general sense is that it is possible to show the organizations that are ostensibly representing them are not representing their interests. That they stand to benefit from a more decentralized and farmer-centered food system.”

“As soon as you start talking to them about monopoly, they really understand that. That is fundamentally the common ground. Monopoly threatens us as eaters. But monopoly threatens them too because they are price takers, and they have lost complete control of their market place.”Maxwell - Crowd at Pollan event at Roadhouse

“Their challenge is getting from there to here. Once you have invested in that confinement hog shed – it is a very capital-intensive type of agriculture. They have spent a lot of money, and it is very hard for them to get out of it. We need to create structures to allow farmers to move. Right now we have the opposite – they are so locked in and those are the things we have to work for.”

Q: How can we bring food to the deserts, like Detroit? Pollan discussed some of the policies that are working, like the Wholesome Wave Foundation in Connecticut, which has a program for those receiving food stamps to spend vouchers at farmers markets all over the country. However, he quickly stated, “This is when I am out of my depth because I am a writer, not a policy maker – we need people in this movement who are very creative – so we can figure out how to do this.”

Q: What about the microwave? Pollan leaned back in his chair, “The microwave is a big problem. It has changed eating in America. It helped to destroy the family dinner – it became possible for the food makers to make a different meal for each member of the family, but since it can only heat up one at a time – it lead to serial eating, not shared eating.”

Q: American Bourbon was made a heritage product in 1964 by Congress. Do you think that legislating more American food items as heritage products is a good or a bad thing? "The Europeans have done this the most, and it has a very interesting effect."

“First of all, it defends the food against adulteration. Which is a word that we don’t use nearly enough … And it also creates an awareness of that there is a tradition here. A cultural tradition that is worth preserving.”

“It is controversial – because there are people in Wisconsin making Parmesan cheese. Of course the people in Italy think that should not be allowed. So I don’t know where I stand on that issue. It is worth working on.”

Q: I try to choose healthy food for my family, and I am frustrated in the grocery store because I don’t know when something is genetically modified. Do you have any idea if there is legislation to bring that forward to protect my family? “There is a bill introduced in every Congress sponsored by Dennis Kucinich and it gets maybe 12-15 or 20 cosponsors and that is it – which is fascinating because when you poll the American public, about 90 percent of the people want GMO to be labeled – it is a very popular issue. So why don’t the politicians reflect this public interest?”

“When both parties agree on something there is no room for debate and GMOs are one of those issues. Both political parties support it strongly. This might have to be one of those local issues.”

Q: What about urban farming in a place like Detroit? Pollan mentioned Will Allen’s Growing Power in Milwaukee as a stellar example. “Urban agriculture has a potential to help in the inner city on several levels. It is community building, it provides jobs, and it provides healthy food.”

Q: Where do you think the tipping point is of our very vulnerable commercial food system? “You know, I don’t know where it comes. When we say that a system is unsustainable, we mean something very specific, which is that it is depending on conditions that it can’t depend on, or it's destroying what it needs to keep going. And I think that is a fair description of the industrial food system. But where the breakdown is going to come is very hard to say. It might be oil prices. It might be water. I don’t think we know.”

“I think the key is to build up the alternatives to it with our consumer dollars and our policy changes so that when the breakdown comes we will still be able to eat.”

“The challenge is going to be to let a thousand flowers bloom and see what works. And not to put all of our, changing metaphors, sorry, eggs into one basket.”

And with that humor tempering the doomsday potential of Pollan's earlier statement, the audience cheered and formed a line to have books signed.

Personally, unlike the benighted deracinated protein protoplasm, I felt deeply rooted in the shared knowledge and concerns of the collected guests by the end of the evening.

__________

All photos courtesy of Melanie Maxwell, annarbor.com - here is the article. I would like to thank annarbor.com for allowing me to cover this event for them, it was a great great thing - and totally unexpected. In fact, it might even fall into the Miracle category!

Maxwell - Pollan speaking to Bedford

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!

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).