|Laura looks back on three years answering your questions|
Three years and 42 questions later, I am a little sad to say that it's time to wrap the amazing project that has been Ask Laura. It has been such fun working on all the tricky questions from you all. I’ve learned approximately a million new facts and, more importantly, I’ve been really honored by all of your thoughtful responses to what we’ve tried to put down on "paper" through this column – honest, practical and easily understood info about complex topics.
A few weeks ago I was pulling up grass from a section of soil that had completely grown over. If you’ve ever done this, particularly by hand, you know that what shows above ground comes up fairly easily but, just when you think you are done, you grab that last piece of grass and you realize that it is just the tip of the iceberg or, rather, a tangle of roots. At this point, I started to see how far and wide the roots went and started to despair that it was impossible to uproot them all. I de-grassed a two foot square patch in about two hours and the whole time I was thinking back to one of my first columns from August 2005: "what is grassroots organizing?" I remember writing the column but I wasn’t sure if I fully understood the meaning until that very moment.
There were many other issues from Ask Laura that I thought I understood, until I sat down to write. Getting things down on paper forced me to slow down, research and simplify. Lucky for me, this is a process that I deeply enjoy. When avian flu was all over the newspaper headlines, I half hoped for, and half feared, a question on that front. Sure enough one came and I had the challenge/opportunity to present family farmers as the answer to this frightening issue. My pay-off was meeting a poultry farmer a few months later, who had used the column as a hand-out to all of her customers. In a time of great fear and concern about health hazards in poultry, this farmer’s sales went up. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud.
One topic that the column has come back to time and again is a very simple one: How can I shop better? Everyone wants to know how to make choices quickly and easily but of course it’s not that simple. So my fellow Farm Aiders and I tried to answer the questions taking as many different approaches as possible. Can you help me simplify my food shopping? What questions can I ask my grocer? and of course: Is it possible to shop locally on a budget? In the end, Ask Laura gave a lot of information to help people make their own decisions. No short cuts sadly, but I hope people felt better prepared to ask good questions and get as much as possible out of the answers.
People also had questions about Farm Aid. With so much attention placed on the concert, it was fun to show people a little inside scoop. From questions about sourcing the food at the concerts to the very real "how does Farm Aid help?", I hope that this part of the Ask Laura column was just as informative as the others. So much good work happens behind the scenes in Somerville, MA, that it was important to share a little bit of it with you all.
Back to me, in my patch of dirt, looking to the future. I realized that the intertwined nature of grass roots is the perfect metaphor all of the people who have contributed to Farm Aid’s mission of keeping family farmers on the land. Tightly knit, supportive of one another, difficult to get rid of when it counts and widespread--food and farm advocates are people that you want on your side of the table! Everyone who took the time to send in a question or post a response to Ask Laura is part of that community as well. Our efforts, either at home or at work, to keep family farmers on the land and quality food on our plates, overlaps and intertwines with that of others to make change happen. So, as I am moving on from this project, I feel proud to be a part of such a strong network of passionate people and thrilled to know that our paths will continue to cross as we work for a future full of good food and simple answers to difficult questions!