This past week I was asked to participate in Town and Country R.C. & D ‘s Go Green Convention as a break out speaker in one of their after lunch sessions. I gave a 30 minute talk on our Earth Victory Garden project that was essentially a shortened version of the one I gave to several hundred at the MREA. As before, people are very interested in living more sustainably, and the “systems thinking” of linking various aspects of our homes to reduce wastes while improving soil and food quality. Hopefully as things settle down I will be able to set up a Page on the system to be used as a reference.
After the breakout session, all 300 of us headed over to a The Lake Club, which is a members only Yacht club that just happens to house Chef Jack, who is the most important driving force in our local Slow Food Movement. He typically spends over $60,000 annually supporting local farmers for his restaurant alone. 1/50th of that money has gone to my Yukon and Carola potatoes this year, and he had said a month or so ago that he had hoped my harvest would hold out as he wanted them on the menu for the banquet. When we all sat down, each table had a marker reserving that spot for a “Celebrity Farmer”. This conference had pulled in some Big Hitters like John Ikerd, so my mind started racing to the likes of Joel Salatin and others. Mark Sheperd- a powerhouse of the the Midwest Permaculture group was already in attendance and I couldn’t wait to see who else was here to see what I could learn from them. When Chef Jack came up I grabbed his ear to see if he could hook me up with some intros to these mystery farmers.
When I asked him who they were, Jack was flummoxed for a minute. Then he said “They’re *you* Rob… your potatoes are on the menu!” The “celebrities” were all the farmers who had contributed to the meal -and in a room full of celebrated authors, VP’s of Fortune 50 Corporations, and leaders in state and regional Sustainability non-profits we -the farmers- were the Guests of Honor!
After the keynote talk, Jack got up and gave a speech detailing how he had worked his slow food ideas into the Greater Sustainability dialogue. He related on how he had sat in conferences where they would discuss at length the plight of the local farmers and how to help them save their farms, and then sit down to a catered meal where the food was all imported, out of season, and had no flavor. Over the 18 years that Jack has worked at the Lake Club he has worked to change that mentality and has done more than most towards that end. After his talk, he asked the half dozen or so of us who grew the food to stand up, introduce ourselves, and say a few words.
The first farmer had over 1000 acres of pasture grazed beef and dairy cows, many of the other farmers were also livestock operations, but there were some smaller veggie growers like who specialized -one in tomatoes, the other in Chard as well as my little .1 acre potato patch. My speech was from the heart -thanking Jack for putting the farmers in a rare spotlight, valuing quality over ease, and taking the time to spend on little .1 acre operations. For without him I would not be able to make it profitable; I spend less than 6 hours a week in the field, and selling over 100#’s a week at a farm stand would mean I would spend as much time sitting in a market as I did in the field, cutting my profit margins so low that I likely wouldn’t even bother after a few years. Jack pays close to retail, values quality (I ask him if he need peppers and he asks me how they taste…), and is willing to work through the weird logistics of buying chard from one farmer, tomatoes from another, and cheese from three more rather than unloading them all from a truck all at once.
I want to thank, again, my Mentor who has given me the space to farm and the knowledge to make it work, and Chef Jack who has the foresight to put the spotlight, even for one night of the year, on the farmers working to bring local food back to our lives.
Thanks to both of them for Being the Change -in my life in particular.