Putting it into Practice | May 6, 2012

How a Farm Aid supporter puts it into practice.

JOAN_AT_DAVES_VINEYARD

Farm Aid supporter Joan Blanusa at Blenheim Vineyards (owned by Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews) in Charlottesville, Virginia

In a recent column, we explained what we mean by “putting it into practice” and why we think that’s important. We also asked for comments from our readers on the challenges and opportunities they see in making choices for good food from family farmers. One great response came from a longtime Farm Aid supporter and we’d like to share her experiences with you.

What was your first Farm Aid experience like? Why do you stay involved?

We watched the first Farm Aid on TV in 1985, which was also the year of Live Aid. I remember being so inspired by all these musicians using their social and political capital to help people have access to the basic necessity of food. With Farm Aid, I remember calling 1-800-FARM-AID and getting bandanas in the mail weeks later. I must have done it a few times, because we received many bandanas. It was just a marvelous feeling, watching music make a difference in people’s lives at such an organic level (this was before the word organic was part of our vernacular).

We stay involved because

  1. We still love being a part of music promoting food, of the clarion call of music tapping into our most basic need of nutrient rich food to survive. And to remind us that we can feed and nourish our whole world, when we do it right, in cooperation with Mother Nature.
  2. Also because of the people we’ve met who work at Farm Aid. They’re insightful, committed people who embody the very ethos of their message; that we need to work as a community to help individual farmers do his/her best to produce the food that s/he can best produce (working in consort with nature), so people will always have the food we need to survive and thrive.

How has getting to know farmers changed the way you think about food?

I came to thinking about food kind of “ass-backwards.” I grew up around farmers and farms, and never gave them a moment’s notice. I just took it for granted — picked strawberries and raspberries for summer jobs, ate fresh fruits and veggies from my parent’s or local gardens, without giving it a second thought that it was anything special. I vividly remember the local corn trucks on the highway; local farmers setting up their pick-ups filled with fresh-picked corn to be sold that day to anyone driving by. And I do remember it being a big deal going over to Yakima (we lived about an hour southeast of Seattle, at the base of Mt. Rainier) every late summer/early fall, and coming back with crates of fresh picked tomatoes, peaches and apples that we’d devour. We ate the tomatoes like one does apples. My parents would can anything that we didn’t manage to eat in due course. But, as I say, I took all this for granted. It never dawned on me that farmers, farms and the food they were growing were anything special.They, this world, was all that I knew.

Then I went off to college, moved to some big cities, relished delicious meals, but never gave “freshness” or where the food came from another thought. I got busy with becoming an adult, starting a career, but all the while, appreciated good food.

It was when we moved to Berkeley in the 90s, and began eating at a few amazing restaurants that I became aware of the special diet of my childhood and the farms and farmers who worked so hard to give us those treats. In Berkeley – a mecca for food – where something is fresh year ’round, we became aware of the difference between fresh, local produce, meat, fish, nuts…you name it. And how just using a few of these naturally-grown, in season, recently harvested products could make a mouth-watering meal – with the added benefit of being healthy, low in calories, good for the earth, and for the community.

So, I’m a country girl, who discovered the benefits of farms for food by living in the city. But that’s often how it goes.

Building on that idea, how do you “put it into practice?” What changes have you made in your own life?

Ha! Moving from Berkeley to Boston has made it a challenge. In Berkeley we put it into practice by buying what was in season, local, etc. In Boston — well, that’s not as easy to do. We try to buy as much local food as possible. We try to buy as much authentically organic as possible. We try to buy humanely raised and butchered meats and poultry, and eggs from cage free, humanely treated chickens. We try to do the same with dairy.

The more we learn about what we can do to make sure animals are treated as humanely as possible, that the land is not over-farmed or treated with chemicals, that what is produced is truly organic, the more we put those lessons in practice. We make requests for such foods at our local markets. We’re especially lucky, in that we live next to a farm that sells their locally produced vegetables and fruits, yet we’re only 20 minutes from Boston. So during the growing season, we get to walk to our “market” and buy as many local, just-picked vegetables and fruits as possible. I especially love tomato season.

Are there any meals that you think capture a season or spirit of good food really well?

Any summer meal. That’s because summer is when the widest range of food is available, and it’s fun to combine just a couple fresh things with perhaps some pasta, a little olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, fresh herbs – or just serve as is…like watermelon. Watermelon is like candy to me.

What one change would you recommend a person make in their life to benefit family farmers?

Try to buy locally. It makes such a difference, in everything. Buying locally means you get the freshest food. It means there’s a demand for land for farming in your area. It means more green space. It means less transportation from the farm to the market. It means employment for your community, your county, your state. It means tax dollars for your community, your county, your state. I could go on and on. The benefits are endless…

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