15 June 2009

"You Can't Eat Gold," Urban Grown, June 2009

For the last six months I have been volunteering with the KC Center for Urban Agriculture, helping to plan their 2009 Urban Farms and Gardens Tour (which is going to be here in less than two weeks!). The following is a piece that I wrote for the June issue of the KCCUA newsletter - Urban Grown.

"You Can't Eat Gold" Urban farms tour volunteer chooses to invest in food, relationships during economic crisis.

Emily Akins is an editorial director at Hallmark, Inc. by day and an avid locavore by night. She is a member of Fair Share Farm in Kearney, MO. She is on the coordinating committee of the Kansas City Food Circle, works with the Kansas City CSA Coalition and is a first-time volunteer with KCCUA. She blogs about food and more at www.everythingbeginswithane.blogspot.com.

There are only a few weeks left until all the efforts of KCCUA staff and volunteers culminate in the 2009 Urban Farms and Gardens Tour, aka Food from the City for the City. Our committees have been meeting and planning since the cold, long evenings of December. But my path here started even before then.

Last September I went to Salina, KS, to attend the Land Institute's Prairie Festival. Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp--authors of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle--were guest speakers. I had just finished reading their book over the summer and had been transformed. Actually, that was not the very beginning either. In truth, the transformation began in 2005 when my decision to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) planted the first locavore seed in me. The cycle has long since taken hold and I can't imagine my culinary world without my weekly share of genuinely fresh vegetables, my trips to the farmers markets to get the best of each season, and, now, my preserved harvest during the winter.

After I read Kingsolver and Hopp last year, my interests grew even stronger, and when I was presented with the opportunity to help plan the 2009 Urban Farms and Gardens Tour, I gladly took the chance. I am impressed with KCCUA's not-just-local-but-urban approach that brings the vital process of growing sustenance right into our own neighborhoods. I believe it is significant to have farming in the foreground since food is an everyday element in our lives. Urban agriculture and the local food movement make farms more visible so that perhaps some day growing will be as familiar as groceries. Even as I love the beautiful land of the more rural farm of our CSA, I also love knowing that I can happen upon an urban farm on my way to an art gallery during First Fridays; I love that more farmers are creating productive urban spaces and making the city limits a lot less limiting. This broad range of farms makes for a rich and valuable agricultural portfolio right here in Kansas City.

But back to Barbara Kingsolver's talk in the big red barn at the Prairie Festival: Kingsolver told us that a friend of hers had asked if, given the economic crisis, we all should be investing in gold or something. Kingsolver's response was to tell her friend that "you can't eat gold." The essentials should be our focus. "Food," she told us, "is the one consumer choice we have to keep making." Food is fundamental and isn't to be overlooked, even--and especially--at times like these.

In the process of getting to know my food and where it comes from, I've begun to see how critical it really is. Yesterday at work I was eating a salad I'd brought from home. I came across a surprise sprig of thyme and in my excitement hollered to my cubicle neighbors: "Hey! There's thyme in my salad!" One colleague seemed surprised and asked incredulously if I'd gotten my salad in the cafeteria; "No," I told her, "it came from the farmers market." But beyond that it came from Lew, Steve, Sherri, Brooke and Dan and I surprised even myself when I found that I was actually able to point out which parts of my salad came from which farmer. This is how urban agriculture and local food build community. It is essential in more ways than one--it is food, yes, but so much more.

Being a locavore has taught me about new vegetables and recipes and about the nutritional value of food. Being in a CSA has enabled me to see relationships that surround food. Being a volunteer for KCCUA has given me the opportunity to learn more about the impressive effort that goes into producing good food, urban food. And I know that the effort it takes to grow food goes a long way to grow communities and relationships, too. Growing food in sustainable, reliable ways is an incredible investment to which I am pleased to be able to contribute.

Our thanks to Emily and ALL the wonderful volunteers working on Food from the City for the City.


Seana said...

This is great Emily. It is really wonderful how much is going on IN Kansas City. Now you have inspired me further, to look into these said urban farms right here in Chicago, there must be some, now I'm curious. As I write/read this, I am eating some delicious strawberries from our Neighborhood Farmer's Market, Independence Park Farmer's Market. They are delicious. :)

Emily said...

Oh, I'm sure Chi town has some urban ag. I'm curious to hear about what you find!

Hooray for fresh strawberries - my theory is that if you're using fresh strawberries for your jam you won't need any sugar or sugar substitute at all.