The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


Weekend Food Happenings
Farm to Fork Picnic

Farm to Fork Picnic

You know you’re really passionate about your work when you spend most of your free time involved in it. Like this weekend – it was incredibly busy, full of food related events and to put it simply, a lot of fun.

It was kicked off with Anna Lappe’s reading at the relatively new Flyleaf Bookstore (a wonderful, independent bookstore in Chapel Hill) on Friday night. She was promoting her new book, A Diet for a Hot Planet which explores the effects of agriculture on climate change. Through her extensive research, her book shows that global industrial agriculture, specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods, is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.

Though climate change is depressing, Lappe stressed that her book is “a sandwich lined with hope smear.” People are already changing the food system through a grassroots movement, which can be seen in the increase of farmers markets, community gardens and CSA shares. With this hopeful new movement, Lappe said, climate change “is not a dead end issue, we can turn it around….nature is resilient.” The book also features several case studies on what large food companies are doing to “go green.” According to Lappe, they’re not doing much (McDonald’s big green initiative – including endangered species toys in their happy meals) and found that much of their green and sustainable talk was nothing but “spin.”

One member of the audience raised the issue of food prices: “If our industrial agricultural food system changed to center around smaller scale, organic farming, what would the cost be to the consumer?” Lappe’s answer to deal with this issue was to “flip the current system of subsidies on its head,” so “instead of subsidizing commodity crops such as corn and grain that end up feeding the cattle we eat, subsidize small scale, organic farming” to make this food more accessible to all consumers.

After an evening focused on sustainable food issues on Friday, I continued the theme the next day by promoting a consumer supported fishery project that I’ve been helping to launch at the Carrboro Farmers Market. Despite the cloudy weather, the market was bright, full of vivid purple, yellow and red blooms in the beautiful flower displays that lined nearly every table.  The ripe juicy red of strawberries didn’t hurt either.  And the produce wasn’t the only exciting part – I was happy to see the new SNAP program going well too – a positive step in helping food stamp recipients get access to fresh, healthy and local foods.

And yesterday, I volunteered at the kid’s tent at the Farm to Fork picnic. The event was held at Breeze Farm, which serves as an incubator for beginning farmers. The event raised $20,000 for the incubator program – which allows new farmers to grow food without having to own land themselves. A dynamite list of restaurants was paired with an equally striking list of farms and each pairing came up with their own dish.  After face painting and making crafts with the kids, I attempted to eat my way through the event, visiting more than 40 food stands.

Kids drew a picture of their favorite food - here, cheese!

Kids drew a picture of their favorite food - here, cheese!

The picnic was an amazing, celebratory event but I couldn’t help but think of that persistent question about price again. At sixty dollars a head for the event, only people who could afford it could attend. Of course, this was a fundraising event, but it would be neat to hold an event with local, delicious food that might be more available to people of a lesser income…perhaps my next project?

And to fill you in on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, we’re going to start surveying at the farmers markets once again. This time to research consumer behavior, which will explore why people shop at farmers markets. So if you’re headed to the Carrboro Market on Saturday, take a moment to stop and answer our quick survey questions. We look forward to hearing from you!  I’m sure it will be another weekend full of fun, food happenings.

A start of a rainbow!

Kevin Callaghan of Acme with the farmers of SEEDS

Kevin Callaghan of Acme with the farmers of SEEDS

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