Passion, Purpose, Persistence

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded about the purpose and mission of Southern Soil and why it is I do what I do.

The Ferguson family of Hunter Cattle Co. being “placed” by Tara. :)

The Ferguson family of Hunter Cattle Co. being “placed” by Tara. :)

Today was one of those days.

I spent the afternoon at Hunter Cattle (just outside of Brooklet), learning more about the Ferguson family and their wonderful farm for an article I’m writing which will be in our upcoming issue. I’m already quite familiar with this farm because they have played a huge part in my own personal food journey.

My venture into local and sustainable food all got started because of my passion for animals and concern for animal welfare. The day that I became aware of the atrocities of our meat industry in this country is the day I began looking for local alternatives and found two farms nearby that were producing humanely raised meats, Hunter Cattle and Savannah River Farms. I became a loyal customer and have never looked back!

So, it was a special joy for me today to be back at one of the farms that helped get me started on this journey more than 10 years ago.

Sharing my own passion as a consumer for food that is grown and raised in such a way that takes care of the animal and the environment (and by extension our own health) and sharing the stories of our local food systems and the people behind them is the reason I started Southern Soil.

As anyone who starts a new business can attest - it ain’t easy. It is, however, easy to get discouraged, easy to lose sight of the big picture and easy to question whether it’s all worthwhile.

So, days like today are important. Because it’s good to be reminded that when passion meets purpose and is driven by persistence … great things can happen!

I’m looking forward to great things that we will accomplish as a community of producers, consumers and advocates of local food produced sustainably.

Let’s grow together!

A big THANK YOU to the Hunter Cattle family for hosting me today! And a shoutout to Tara Ruby who did the photography for this upcoming article (the photos in this post are mine, you’ll have to wait for the issue to publish to see hers!) :) Be sure to check out our Issue #4 when it is published later this month which will feature family farms and kids and agriculture. Until then, check out some of these fun photos from the farm today … all that cuteness and some hard work too!

Check out our latest issue!

Check out our latest issue!

In this issue, you’ll get to learn about a thriving clam farming operation off the coast. Yes, you read that right. Clams are being farmed off the coast of Georgia. Captain Charlie not only farms clams, but he also runs a number of commercial fishing boats and owns the Fish Dock Bar and Grill, a restaurant located on Pelican Point where diners can enjoy a seriously good sea-to-table experience.

Lemons to Lemonade: or in this case, fried hand pies to baked pie.

Lemons to Lemonade: or in this case, fried hand pies to baked pie.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Chef Todd Richards at an event put on by Georgia Grown. Richards is a self-taught chef with several restaurants in Atlanta who is known for his Southern cooking and elevating culinary traditions of the South in general and of soul food in particular. I was able to get my hands on his new book Soul, a Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes, to review for the next edition of Southern Soil.

As I was reading this book, I came across many recipes that I was eager to try out and Memorial Day seemed like a good day to get started … mainly because it meant I could cook in my sister’s kitchen (much more photogenic than my own) and I’d have extra hands around to help (especially with the cleanup).

Lunch at the Creek

Tasting some great wines, enjoying a well-told story (or five), eating delicious food, spending some quality time with my sister in a beautiful location … it’s another hard day of work putting together content for the next issue of Southern Soil!

I spent some time this morning out at Watermelon Creek Vineyard in Titus (near Glennville). If you haven’t checked out this winery, which also includes a great little restaurant, you’ll want to!

Thank you!

Thank you!

There are many people who have supported me along this journey and have made it possible for Southern Soil to exist. But today I really want to single out three people, without whom this magazine would not exist either at all or at the very least, in its current form.

Table Talk(ing) with Myself: the Ideal Food System

table_talk.jpg

One of the regular article features in each issue of Southern Soil is Table Talk. In those articles, I have conversations with individuals involved in the local food system to discuss issues related to sustainability and how we can do better. I provide their perspectives for readers to view, but I keep my own side of the conversation out of it.

In this blog series, I’ll be addressing those issues myself. This is the third blog post in this series. In the previous post, I described our current food system here in Southeast Georgia - as I see it.

In this post, I’ll answer the question: what should the food system look like here in Southeast Georgia?

So, in this post I’m going to lay out my own personal utopian food system. This is my world and anything goes, but I will try to keep it within the actual realm of possibility. I mean, ideally, gardens would weed themselves and birds wouldn’t beat me to my ripe blueberries; but we all know that’s never going to happen!

First of all, I think that our local food system should be really, really local. Like, it should start in each every home with each and every individual. Every yard should have a fruit tree or two, maybe a couple blueberry bushes and a blackberry vine. Every patio could have a small fruit tree or a pot of herbs and a few veggies.

Gardens would be even better. But I’m not unrealistic… I get that not everyone has time or the talent to tend to a garden - heck, I don’t plant one every season - but adding fruit trees and berry bushes are a relatively inexpensive way to take part in your own food production.

It’s very possible for people, en masse, to decide to take part in their own food system and to do it effectively! During World War II, all US citizens were encouraged to plant “victory gardens” as their patriotic duty to support the war effort. And they did so! On a grand scale. 20 MILLION home gardens were planted: everything from 1/4 acre lots down to window boxes, people did what they were able to produce as much for themselves and their neighbors as they could. At its peak, the victory garden movement produced 40% of the vegetables grown in the US.

We have proven when properly motivated, our food systems can become VERY local.

Expanding out from the individuals and the homes, my utopian food system would also include gardens at every school, every church, every community center. As with individual “gardens” these could be sized and planned according to resources available. However small the involvement and contribution, it would still be impactful.

But imagine how cool it would be if every school here in Southeast Georgia had its own organic garden. Not only are gardens a wonderful teaching tool, but they could also be a great source for healthier school lunches (and study after study has shown that kids who grow veggies, eat veggies!). What if churches could send parishioners home with fresh picked blueberries or ripe tomatoes? What difference might it make for senior citizens if they were able to help tend a garden and then enjoy the fruits of their labor?

But of course, we can’t all be self-sufficient (and I’m not even suggesting that anyone try). So in our local food systems, there needs to be plenty of farmers who are willing and able to meet growing demand.

In my ideal world, I would be able to go to down the street to a grocery store in my own community and buy local foods produced within 100 miles of my front door. I know for a fact that if I were able to do that, I would have a wealth of high quality, healthy foods to choose from. (How we make that happen is far too complicated to go into while I’m on my utopian dream world high… I’ll address some of those ideas in the next post.)

What should our local food system look like here in Southeast Georgia? It should be a cornucopia of sustainable foods grown right here in our own backyards, communities and farms. Local food should be readily available and just as convenient to buy as conventional foods currently are (and on a more equal footing in price - I’ll get into that more later as well).

How do we bridge the gap from where we are to where we could be? Ahhhh… wouldn’t we all like to know! I’ll do my best to explain some of my own ideas on that topic in my next post. Spoiler alert: it won’t be easy and it will take a united effort from all of us who understand how important this issue is.

Table Talk(ing with myself: Describe the Current Food System here in Southeast Georgia

table_talk.jpg

One of the regular article features in each issue of Southern Soil is Table Talk. In those articles, I have conversations with individuals involved in the local food system to discuss issues related to sustainability and how we can do better. I provide their perspectives for readers to view, but I keep my own side of the conversation out of it.

In this blog series, I’ll be addressing those issues myself. This is the second blog post in this series, the first of which we (ok, I) established that it’s perfectly normal to talk to oneself and I explained why it is that I started Southern Soil and do what I do.

In this post, I’ll answer the question: what does the current food system look like here in Southeast Georgia?

In my opinion, our current food system here in Southeast Georgia epitomizes what has gone wrong with industrial agriculture and the globalization of our food supply. We depend on “cheap” foods.

We depend on them because this is a largely economically depressed region where consumers are constrained by finances. We depend on “cheap” food because rural Georgia has become as much of a food desert as urban areas, perhaps more so because the distance to travel good food sources is even greater than those in metropolitan areas. And we depend on “cheap” food because logistically speaking, quality local food is not readily available even for those who have the means to purchase it.

Most readers will likely understand what I mean by “cheap” food, but I’ll clarify briefly. Cheap foods include overly processed foods readily available at every grocery store, most convenience stores and your average fast food restaurants. Foods full of preservatives, chemicals, fats and usually a good dose of “added nutrients” supposed to make up for all the other crap that’s in them. These are the foods that have become sadly typical of the American diet. These are foods that are inexpensive, readily available, easy to prepare (or eat right of the package). These are also the foods that have made billionaires. These are the food-like products that are advertised on billboards, TVs, radios and internet around the world.

The other aspect of “cheap” food are the meats, produce, dairy and eggs found in the average grocery store. Produce that often come from overseas where laborers are more easily exploited. Meats produced in CAFOs (see previous blog post for why this is messed up!). Products that seem “cheap” because of the price tag at the grocery store, but are costing us in poor health, destruction of our ecosystems and environment, and are heavily subsidized by our own tax dollars.

If you look at a map of Georgia that shows median income levels, there is basically a line that divides the State between North Georgia and South Georgia. It’s one of the reasons I chose to limit the coverage area of Southern Soil the way that I did. Because our situation here is much different from our neighbors around Atlanta and Macon.

Because much of our population here is rural, economically depressed and less educated; we have different barriers to sustainability. We can’t expect the majority of the local population to embrace the local, sustainable food movement because most of us simply don’t have access. In some cases, that access is limited by finances and in other cases that access is limited logistically - either the local supply is not there, or it’s not convenient, or it’s not known to the consumer.

Just using myself as an example. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more committed to the idea of eating local sustainable foods. But I still depend on “cheap” food options way more than I would like to. For one (without calling names), I live in a town, and a county for that matter, that does not have one sustainable producer or purveyor. At a minimum, I have to drive 30 minutes to have access to any of the wonderful “local” products that I enjoy. Sometimes, that’s just not possible. Sometimes, I don’t have the grocery budget for it. Sometimes, I simply don’t have the time to spend an hour on the road to go get some groceries. That’s life.

From a consumer perspective, the financial barrier is not insignificant. But neither is the logistical one. Farmers Markets are great and are doing a wonderful job of helping farmers and consumers connect. But, for many of us, there isn’t one nearby. And for many who may have one nearby, they may not want or be able to devote every Saturday morning to do their grocery shopping.

If I had to use one word to describe our current situation here in Southeast Georgia, I’d probably have to go with “frustrating”! And as I’ve just read about one more local place going out of business this week, I feel like sometimes we are taking one step forward and two steps back.

It’s kind of a dismal picture of our current situation, but up next I’ll describe what I think our local food systems SHOULD look like and what steps I believe we can take to get there!