Relocalizing the Food System

I love writing stories about food and farming. The people I meet are so passionate about their work. Almost everyone I interview is invested in reforming the broken food system. Bonus: They give me tasty things to eat.

Here’s a rundown of the treats I’ve sampled just in the past few weeks.

  • Cissy, a woman who’s long been the vanguard of Indiana’s organic movement, gave me some intensely flavorful pickles she made from cucumbers raised in her kitchen garden. I washed it down a glass of homemade kombucha that couldn’t be beat.
  • Jim, a farmer in Owen County, sent me home with a bunch of carrots he pulled from the wet earth like a late winter miracle.
  • Anna, a farmer in Rush County, gave me a huge jar of rolled wheat that her cooperative had grown and milled. (I used some in banana bread I baked for my weekly writing date—my writer buddies pronounced it wonderful.)
Checking out a display of LocalFolks Foods at Moore Corner Store while on assignment

Checking out a display of LocalFolks Foods at Moore Corner Store while on assignment

And a couple weeks ago, at Moore Corner Store, proprietor Jasen Moore offered me a taste of ketchup made by Indiana’s own LocalFolks Foods.

I’m no ketchup connoisseur, and in fact we never purchase it. But if I were a fan of this most American of condiments, I would never buy a national brand again. LocalFolks’ is sweetened with sugar, not the genetically modified scariness that comprises high-fructose corn syrup.

I happened to be in the natural food store when Hoosier Microgreens’ Alex Sulanke came along to introduce his product. So I got to munch uber-fresh sprouts of radish, cabbage, kale, arugula, and mustard from “the smallest farm in Indiana” (120 square feet).

Moore Corner Store is in the business of connecting small farmers and food entrepreneurs to the consumer. Though its hours are limited at present, this shop and others like it fill a critical role in relocalizing our food system.

For Jasen and his wife Sara, Moore Corner Store is more than just a business. It’s a mission. Jasen told me the enterprise arose out of concern for the state of our economy. Big box stores have fragmented communities and hurt the little guy.

Moore2“But a store like this…supports the local economy, minimizes carbon footprint, puts actual nutritious food on your plate, and it’s close to home.” The Moores live just up the street from the shop, though both must spend time elsewhere to make ends meet.

I just saw a documentary called Down to Earth in which the iconoclastic farmer Joel Salatin (made famous in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma) made an important point: Your purchase of a farmer’s product might be the thing that keeps that farm afloat another week.

Is it worth changing our habits to spend a little more of our money at a farmers’ market or a shop like the Moores’? I would say yes. What about you? Have you connected with a small farmer, producer, or locally owned shop lately?

Check out my piece on Moore Corner Store here.

A Whole World Alive

I recently heard Michael Pollan speaking on NPR’s Science Friday show about research into plants’ intelligence. He revealed how mycelium (the vegetative part of fungus) figures into communications among the trees of a forest. (We learned about mycelium earlier in Peter McCoy’s guest post on radical mycology.)

Hyphae (branches of the mycelium) as seen under an overturned log. Photo by TheAlphaWolf (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Hyphae (branches of the mycelium) as seen under an overturned log. Photo by TheAlphaWolf (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Pollan said:

“The trees in a fir forest are networked, in a very complicated network, held together by the mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi, connect(ing) all the trees in a fir forest. A scientist in British Colombia named Suzanne Simard has studied this. She injects a fir tree with radioactive carbon isotopes, and then using a geiger counter and other devices follows the trail of that carbon.

And what she’s found is astounding! All the trees are connected. They use that network to send information, such as warnings of insect attack. They use that network to send nutrients to their offspring…They can even use that network to trade nutrients with other species…”

Isn’t that miraculous? And I suspect that—as the Wendell Berry quote in my previous post implied—everyone and everything, everywhere, might be invisibly interconnected in a similar way.

If this is true, what harms one, harms all. What uplifts one, uplifts all.

Is this possible? Perhaps. On an energetic level. What I’m talking about is rising above the zero sum game that’s so indoctrinated in us. Making space to see that without all of us being OK, none of us are OK.

We lack instruments fine enough to fully measure the energy field surrounding us (and surrounding every natural thing, every boulder and ant and trout and evergreen, every human and tulip and mountain). But I believe that through this field we have an impact on each other, on the whole of life, every moment we live, whether we know it or not.

It isn’t possible to live apart from each other. Not truly. The web of life knits us one to another, even if we are unaware of its strands.

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, via Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient sages say that if you pull one thread in the web, the others vibrate.

Quantum physics … the mycelium … the Internet even—all are outer manifestations of this esoteric truth.

For a while now I’ve taken a few moments every morning to ground myself, feeling and seeing my “roots” going deep into the earth. Lately I find myself connecting not just vertically but horizontally, under the earth’s surface, with the mycelium.

There’s a whole world alive under our feet that we don’t usually see. So it is with our energetic world.

Finding Refuge

Some days you wake up thinking, What is the point of any of this? Why do I self-inflict all this work, all these expectations? Your writing feels stale, your tasks stretch before you like so much drudgery, your paperwork piles to the ceiling.

And you think: I will never, ever catch up. I will never move through the world without this exhaustion. I will never be able to fully focus on my writing the way I need to.

Then a note appears in your inbox from a woman you contacted months ago. You mailed her your application in slim hope of gaining entry to a selective writers’ retreat miles away. The first words in this email are “I am delighted to inform you…” You read the note again. And again.

And the whole sky can’t contain your gratitude.

By Frank Schulenburg, via Wikimedia Commons

Tomales Bay, which is overlooked by Mesa Refuge from its bluff. Photo by Frank Schulenburg, via Wikimedia Commons.

For two weeks in October, I will reside with two other writers at Mesa Refuge, a retreat for people exploring the intersections of nature, economics, and social equity.

It’s a precious gift—a chance to dive deep.

“The landscape of sky, marsh, and bay flowing to the sea helped concentrate my mind. I loved the quiet. I loved the wild garden overlooking the wetlands below and the hundreds of birds circling above. It is rare and wonderful to feel so quietly cared for—so completely supported and encouraged.”

—former resident Chris Desser

Some of the authors I admire most have found the solitude and focus here to create their transformative books: Michael Pollan. Terry Tempest Williams. Frances Moore Lappé. Natalie Goldberg.

These are writers whose work has changed my life. There are no words adequate to express how honored I am to gain a place in this residency program.

And what a thrill to get this tweet from an alumna today:

Already I feel renewed by a beneficent universe.