Digging in

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  April 28, 2008

But just who are these green messages reaching? Will there be attendees who don’t already shop at the farmers' market, who aren’t already MOFGA members, who haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? Will any of them actually need persuading? Of course there is always value in preaching to the choir, galvanizing the troops, and whatnot. But how can these activists be sure they’re also attracting new members into the fold? How can they know that their earnest efforts aren’t being overshadowed by corporate greenwashing?

The Phoenix got the chance to ask several of this weekend’s speakers a few of those very questions. What follows are some of their edited responses, which we received via e-mail and in phone interviews. Dig in! (And look for more at thephoenix.com/AboutTown.)

What aspect of food and farming is most important to you?
DOIRON I’m trying to take the local food revolution to its logical extreme. I’m trying to get people actively involved in the production of their own food. And cooking ... It’s one thing to encourage people to grow Swiss chard, but if you don’t know how to do something inspired with it then they’re ultimately not going to be won over to the homegrown cause.

BEAL My father is a dairy farmer, and all my life I have watched him work harder than anyone I know, yet struggle to make ends meet. The most important aspect to me personally is for people to know that our farmers are some of our most valuable resources, and to make more visible the hard work that goes into producing our food, particularly food that is produced in a way that is healthy for all.

CHENEY Especially around urban areas on the East and West coasts, there has been a wonderful growing of excitement around farmers’ markets and local foods and [community-supported agriculture], and it’s become very hip to buy fresh fruits and vegetables — and I think that’s really wonderful. But it’s really important to remember that the bulk of our calories are still coming from big commodity farms across the country. To rest on our local-arugula laurels and to feel like the game stops there would be a mistake. We have a system, backed by the federal Farm Bill, that overwhelmingly creates a foodscape of cheap, unhealthy foods for most Americans. As boring as corn is, and as boring as subsidies are — that’s where most of our food energy is coming from.

BUCHANAN I'm most interested in the ecology of food production and in helping more people create gardens right where they live. Small gardens can produce tremendous amounts of food, even in the city, and they introduce diversity to the landscape. I look around and see so much overlooked land that can help sustain us, and one day will.

How can we convince the general public that these ideas aren’t reserved for well-off urbanites?
BEAL What I find interesting is that as people’s financial situations are becoming more and more stressful right now, we are simultaneously seeing a spike in the number of seed sales from some of our Maine-based seed companies. There are families living in cities here in Maine who spend less than $100 per year on seeds and seedlings, and can supply all their vegetables for nearly half the year, and a portion for months beyond that — all from a corner of their small back yards! Even growing a few things in containers, such as tomatoes and basil, can help to reduce the cost of what you spend on groceries overall. Of course, there are both inexpensive and expensive ways to experience this movement, but I think many people are figuring out how to make it work for themselves regardless of their economic situation.

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