I think I've mentioned my church's community garden in the past. It's an interesting concept, really: People join the garden for a small investment, volunteer weekly, and take home the bounty. Leaders of the plots don't have to pay, but have complete responsibility for the production. Shareholders who can't volunteer pay more. A tithe of the garden is given to the local food pantry, providing the neediest in our community wholesome, organic vegetables.
I'm disappointed I can't be more involved in the Grace Garden, but I've got my hands full with my own. I have helped promote the garden around the church, and the ministry leader Sara invited me to a garden party last Thursday to celebrate the progress so far. We ate, visited with other volunteers, and ended the night with a talk by Matthew Jose of Big City Farms and then (for me) a garden tour.
Jose is just my age, 25 - which is unbelieveable, considering all he's achieved already. He is the owner of Big City Farms, a community-supported agriculture organization that grows its food on empty lots on the near-Eastside of Indianapolis. The urban-farming concept is using what would be otherwise-unused land, beautifying urban neighborhoods, and bringing fresh produce into areas where it's hard even to find a grocery store. Recently, his efforts have been highlighted in a Mother Nature Network article and Indianapolis publication Nuvo.
Most of what was discussed was organic farming strategies and tips, but I especially appreciated the higher-level local food philosophy he spoke of, focusing on the interconnectedness of a local food economy. He talked about a local restaurant that, rather than pulling all of its ingredients from one industrial supplier, decided to contact local farmers, see what ingredients that they could provide, and plan a weekly menu based on what's in season in the local foodshed. This is a complex task- the restaurant must have lots of farm contacts that each grow different vegetables or fruits, check with them to see what kind of quantity they can provide each week, and plan accordingly. Keeping a static menu and having ingredients delivered on a truck is simpler, sure, but so much is lost. Sourcing locally, the restaurant is supporting farmers in the community, getting fresher produce than any of its competitors, and, because the produce is organic and local, leaving a smaller footprint on the earth (which many customers appreciate and will pay more for).
We, too can source our food locally, but, like the restaurant, it's complex. We may have to visit many booths at the farmers' market to get everything we need. We may have to have a different farmer we go to for chicken, eggs, beef, and pork. We may have to plan our menus around what's in season. Because we need this complex web of relationships to eat locally, when we make the effort, we strengthen the community. Rather than picking up plastic-wrapped cucumbers anonymously at a big box store, we're meeting the growers, getting interesting varieties of the freshest vegetables, and we're healthier for it. And really, it's not much more expensive than the grocery store- and the food is so much higher quality. It's kind of like buying something from free online auctions vs craigslist- in the former, you've got convenient, one-stop shopping and anonymity, in the latter, you've got community connections, a lower carbon footprint, and a better deal.
:: getting off my soapbox ::
Check out what's growing in the Grace Garden!
See all photos from the event here.