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

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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!



Table Talk(ing with myself): Intro

Table Talk(ing with myself): Intro

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, I’ll be addressing those issues myself… so, in effect I’m going to have a conversation with myself and share my perspective on these issues! Talking to oneself is normal, right?



Let's Talk Turkey!

Let's Talk Turkey!

The holidays are nearly upon us! Soon we will be gathering together with friends and family and the food on our tables will take center stage. What better time is there to make sure that food is as healthy, delicious and responsibly sourced as possible? Learn some of the benefits of pasture-raised turkeys and where you can buy a fresh one near you here in Southeast Georgia.

Issue #3 is "NOT off the presses! Read all about it!"

Our third issue of Southern Soil has made its way out into the world. I hope you'll take a few minutes to check it out!

I have to admit that I love to hold books and magazines in my hands! You know, the old fashioned ones that are made of paper, not e-readers, smart devices and computer screens. Print material can be experienced with all the senses: you can feel, touch and smell the pages ... most of us probably choose not to taste them!

So, it's with some measure of regret each time I publish an issue of Southern Soil, that I can't pick it up and hold it and flip through pages (I have a weird habit of reading magazines from back to front). 

But I will say that the platform we use for this magazine, www.issuu.com, does a really great job making the best of a digital product. 

They are making lots of changes and updates which make using and viewing publications on their platform much more appealing. For instance: this was the first issue I was able to use their story creator to improve the layout so individual stories from within the magazine can much more easily be read and enjoyed on smart phones and tablets. 

So, I'd like to quickly walk you through the process of viewing the magazine online and point out some features that you might have missed ... or you're just way better with technology than I am!

 

Here's Issue #3 opened to pages 4 & 5 (as indicated on the bottom lefthand corner). You can flip front to back (or back to front) by using the arrow keys to either side. Viewing the magazine in this format is best for laptops, computers and tablets.

Here's Issue #3 opened to pages 4 & 5 (as indicated on the bottom lefthand corner). You can flip front to back (or back to front) by using the arrow keys to either side. Viewing the magazine in this format is best for laptops, computers and tablets.

You can use these handy keys on the bottom right to zoom in, search for key words, create a larger view, or go into full screen mode.

You can use these handy keys on the bottom right to zoom in, search for key words, create a larger view, or go into full screen mode.

This is what you'll see directly below the two page spread view of the magazine. This is where some of the new features come in. Each article contained within the magazine is laid out as its own story. If you are using a smart phone to view the magazine, this is definitely the best option for viewing. Each story has been digitally optimized and formatted for that purpose.  It's also a great way to share a particular story, if you can choose only one, that you find fascinating!

This is what you'll see directly below the two page spread view of the magazine. This is where some of the new features come in. Each article contained within the magazine is laid out as its own story. If you are using a smart phone to view the magazine, this is definitely the best option for viewing. Each story has been digitally optimized and formatted for that purpose.

It's also a great way to share a particular story, if you can choose only one, that you find fascinating!

And here's an example of one of the ways that a digital magazine has the printed kind beat! As you're reading through the magazine and you see something that interests you ... like an ad from someplace fabulous like Midnight Run Distillery and you think .... "Wow! I need to go find out more about this place!" You can just click on the link and it opens a new page for you, taking you directly to the site you want to see. How cool is that? (It's also pretty cool for advertisers who don't have to rely on readers to remember to look them up later.)

And here's an example of one of the ways that a digital magazine has the printed kind beat! As you're reading through the magazine and you see something that interests you ... like an ad from someplace fabulous like Midnight Run Distillery and you think .... "Wow! I need to go find out more about this place!" You can just click on the link and it opens a new page for you, taking you directly to the site you want to see. How cool is that? (It's also pretty cool for advertisers who don't have to rely on readers to remember to look them up later.)

But it's not just ads! We hook you up with other cool things too, like Rebekah's website which, among other things, links to her blog  Some Kinda Good  (oops, I did it again!). You should totally check it out if you want some great recipes or insight into the food scene in Statesboro and Savannah.

But it's not just ads! We hook you up with other cool things too, like Rebekah's website which, among other things, links to her blog Some Kinda Good (oops, I did it again!). You should totally check it out if you want some great recipes or insight into the food scene in Statesboro and Savannah.

So, that brings me to my favorite function of all ... the SHARE button! This is one you should use early and often! Share it on Facebook, share it on Pinterest, share it on Twitter! It's free to read and free to share, so share with your friends, share with your colleagues, share with your family! They just may thank you for it! And I  know  we will!  So What are you waiting for? Go forth and read and share and click on links!

So, that brings me to my favorite function of all ... the SHARE button! This is one you should use early and often! Share it on Facebook, share it on Pinterest, share it on Twitter! It's free to read and free to share, so share with your friends, share with your colleagues, share with your family! They just may thank you for it! And I know we will!

So What are you waiting for? Go forth and read and share and click on links!

Issue #3 Cover.jpg

Issue #3 of

Southern Soil

This issue highlights kids and agriculture and the wonderful lessons about life, the natural world, work and relationships the farm or garden can teach. Get to know a bit about the families behind Byne Blueberry Farmsand Southern Swiss Dairy, LLC. Did you know that Hunter Cattle Company offers educational tours for kids and adults alike? Take a peek at how Bethesda Academy uses its farm and garden to teach tomorrow's leaders important life lessons. Dig in deep as the conversation continues about our local food system, this time with Jeb Bush Director of Forsyth Farmers' Market. Thank you to Midnight Run Distillery LLC. for advertising with us and helping to keep these important conversations about our community going!

In Pursuit of Their Dreams

I want to take a moment to brag on our wonderful regular feature contributors, Jovan Sage, Rebekah Lingenfelser and Jon Jackson. Not only do they bring their own unique perspectives to Southern Soil, but they are all ardent pursuers of their own dreams. With so many fantastic things going on with them individually, I wanted to take a moment to share a little bit about what they're up to.

Jovan Sage has been growing her brand Sage's Larder, based out of Brunswick. She has a growing product line of jams, teas and more. She also offers classes to teach about fermentation, making your own kombucha, She also has custom blends of teas as part of the Peach Dish array of local products. Follow her Facebook page to find out when the next class might be! Jovan is passionate about local foods and has a great deal of experience with food activism and community organization. Along with her own business, Jovan also owns The Farmer and the Larder along with life and business partner Matthew Raiford. Located in downtown Brunswick, The Farmer and Larder is woven into the fabric of the local community.

Rebekah Lingenfelser and her brand Some Kinda Good have been making a splash lately. Rebekah is one of the top 10 competitors on Food Network Star. Though she was eliminated in the third episode, we are incredibly proud of her for chasing down her dream of hosting her own cooking show. All hope is not lost as there are always twists and turns throughout the competition. And you can still vote for her as a fan favorite, voting can be done daily! 

Jon Jackson is always up to something new with his nonprofit StagVets and Comfort Farms, stay up to date by following his Facebook page. One of his current projects involves a documentary about Comfort Farms. You can learn more about this film and how you can help make it a reality on their Facebook page

Comfort Farms: The Movie is a documentary film about one of the most interesting transformational veteran run therapy programs in the country where veterans serve self, family and community. Interviews with veterans, people in the community, therapists, volunteers, farmers, and chefs will show how far Comfort Farms has come in just over 2 years of existence. By helping fund this film, it will be shown at film festivals and possibly distributed for broadcast. Expect an exciting, suspenseful dramatic documentary that really puts the audience in the shoes of its subject.

In the process of researching and writing many of the stories included in Southern Soil, it is my privilege to meet people who don't just follow their dreams, they pursue them relentlessly with dedication and perseverance. 

Seeing is Understanding

Nothing beats hands-on learning, especially in the garden. 

I'm an avid researcher and I like to think that I can learn a lot about plants and how to grow them by reading a million blog posts from homesteaders, a couple articles by professionals and watching a Youtube video or two.

Also, as a writer, I'd like to think that the written word has the power to teach me what I need to know.

But when it comes to gardening, there's just nothing quite like seeing and experiencing things first-hand and by just getting in there and doing.

Case in point, I planted blackberries a few years ago, a semi-upright variety and I have read and researched everything out there on how to properly prune the vines. And it completely stressed me out because everyone threw terms out there like "second year" canes and fruiting canes and having never seen the cycles for myself, I had no idea what I was supposed to prune and what I was supposed to leave behind.

Not knowing what to cut and what to leave, I just left everything.

This year, my vines produced fruit amazingly well.

And miracle of miracles, new canes emerged! Almost as if overnight these massive upright canes presented themselves just in front of the older canes that were currently bearing fruit.

And that's when all those hours of reading and watching videos and trying to figure out what the heck everyone was talking about suddenly made sense! 

Of course, I still think books are great, blogs are wonderful (can anyone doubt it?), and magazines are fabulous! But nothing compares to real-world application!

If you're like me and you like to research and know a little of what you're getting into before you dive right in, that's great ... I highly encourage you to continue! But at some point, dive in there. Make mistakes. Learn from nature. Get your hands dirty. Make those cuts, don't make those cuts, learn from the consequences. Gardening is hands on and you'll never learn more than you will through experience.

Second Chances

Second Chances

There is a theme to our second issue of Southern Soil. One that was unintentional and isn't clearly defined within each of the articles. But as I reflected on the people I've met and the interviews I've conducted to put this issue together, it struck me - second chances.

Why it matters

As many of you know, starting a new business from scratch isn't easy and there are lots of ups and downs along the way. 

Southern Soil, unbeknownst to me, has been in the works for the past 11 years. From those early days of making changes in my own shopping habits, to the launching of my first blog, Facing Your Food, which was read only by myself and a few friends, to an unexpected job in newspaper writing and forays into marketing and social media management. 

I rarely take the direct route.

If you've ever started your own business or have ventured into the realm of the self-employed, then you understand that one has to expect the unexpected, learn new skills on a daily basis, learn to fly high without a safety net, and rely on a select few to help you through it all.

I am so grateful for the friends and family who have helped me throughout this process as the dream is becoming a reality. 

And as the exhilaration of completing our first issue moves into the realization that the hard work has just begun, I look forward to this journey and the places it will take me and the people I will meet.

Whenever it can all feel a bit overwhelming, I remind myself why this work matters.

It matters because the animals raised to be our food need to be treated with dignity, respect and in a humane fashion.

It matters because the people who dedicate their lives to growing and raising our food ethically need to be supported.

It matters because the very earth that feeds, clothes and homes us is suffering and we need to heed its cries for help.

It matters because the path to better health is found through nutritious, wholesome, responsibly grown food that is available here in our own communities.

It matters because here in Southeast Georgia we need to support the businesses that keep our money close to home and improve our local economies.

It matters because all these things need a voice and a platform from which to be heard.

It matters because 11 years ago, I realized that I was meant to be one of those voices and that I would not be able to be silent.