Posts Tagged With: Charles Church

A short rant about food.

The good stuff…

Something’s wrong with the way we eat in this country. Or maybe it’s just what we eat in this country. Because we’re packing away a whole lot of this:

Soybeans as far as the eye can see…found in almost every processed food in America.

And not nearly enough of this:

The food we eat in America is not just a personal choice; it’s systemic and entrenched. Most farmers (and all agribusiness) grow what U.S. farm policies favor, and the majority of government support goes to five commodity crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice — and not one fruit or vegetable. Despite the fact that two-thirds (yep, you heard right) of Americans are overweight or obese, and new USDA guidelines call for more vitamins and minerals in our diet, our fertile country does not produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet those guidelines.

In fact, only 2.5% of total U.S. cropland under production is devoted to growing the fruits and vegetables that could keep us from being so overweight and malnourished at the same time. And people who are poor suffer disproportionately from this malady since the cheapest food is often the worst for you, while the cost of unsubsidized fruits and vegetables has been kept comparatively high.

But what we’re saving at the grocery store, we’re paying out in health care — $147 billion annually on obesity-related illnesses every year.  And down the road, 50% of all children of color are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, thanks to a deadly combo of fats, sugar, processed food and inactivity.

Obviously, we need to change what we grow and how we eat — but as we all know, changing bad habits can be really hard (and I’ve got the bitten nails to prove it). I’d love to see the mega-farmers and corporations that control 70% of all harvested U.S cropland and earn $5 billion a year to grow one of the commodity crops, divert just 1% of those acres into growing fruits and vegetables. That would immediately increase fruit and vegetable production by 33% — and hopefully encourage more people to grow and eat the good stuff.

Small is beautiful.. and healthy.

Then, we could work really hard in our own communities to support local food movements like Heifer is doing in the Appalachia region of western North Carolina and the Arkansas Delta. If there is one thing I’ve  noticed in my travels around the world is how utterly removed most of us Americans are from the land, animals, and food we eat. That seems sad to me – and disrespectful. So before I leave the beautiful hills of Appalachia, let me tell you some of the cool things Heifer is doing to promote small farms and big gardens, and reawaken the long tradition of fresh, homegrown food that has been the backbone of Appalachia for centuries.

The Farmer Incubation Grower program provides land, equipment, markets, and training to limited resource folks so they can become the next generation of knowledgeable farmers– co-supported by nearby Appalachian State University, which has committed to buy locally 15% of the food it serves its 14,000 students. Wow! New Meat Processing Facilities (like Heifer is creating with Pastor Bubba!) will allow cow/calf operators to capture some of the $60 million regional meat market with grass-fed, hormone-free beef. And Aggregation/Distribution centers are being planned to handle all the glorious, locally-grown produce and get it to stores and restaurants at its peak of freshness. (I could include  the concentric circles-crazed Logic Model of Heifer‘s own Jeffrey Scott that explains all this, but it gave me a huge headache so I’ll spare you.)

Suffice it to say that building a robust regional food system that can create jobs, improve health and nutrition in our homes and schools, and help end poverty and hunger is a pretty appetizing thought.

Dig in!!

p.s. These are all my opinionated opinions (you bet!) and don’t reflect Heifer’s views or policies.

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Down on the farm sure looks like Up to me.

Doreen Jankowski didn’t start out to be a local food impresario. 18 years ago, she and her husband Pete moved from Massachusetts to Florida, then back up to her granddaddy’s land in Appalachia (making them “halfbacks” in the local parlance) where she started a big garden on her two acres. Pete was always complaining that he couldn’t find any hot sauce he liked, so Doreen started fooling around with applewood-smoked recipes packed with serranos and habanero peppers. She produced such good hot sauce, her friends started asking her for bottles of it, then their friends started asking for it, then Early Girl restaurant in Asheville fell in love with it, and Doreen figured she might have a business on her hands.

Now Fire from the Mountain is selling from between 500 to 2,000 bottles of hot sauce and salsa a month, and Doreen is up to her elbows in habaneros and cash.

Goat milk mama, Carol Coulter.

Carol & Lon Coulter got lured into local food production a bit differently. 18 years ago they fell in love with a big piece of land in Watauga County that was covered in prickly multiflora roses. Naturally, they bought 3 goats that love to eat those pesky bushes (accidentally, one turned out to be male), and before you could say reproduction, Lon & Carol had baby goats on their hands. So they started making goat ice cream, then goat yogurt, then goat cheese–and that turned out to be so damn good, they created a whole line of Heritage Homestead products. Today, they’re selling 150 pounds of gorgeous chevre, camenbert, blue and gouda cheeses a week –not to mention some phenomenally delicious dark chocolate goat cheese fudge.

Heritage Homestead’s beautiful blue.

Charles Church, one of the most influential farmers in the five-county area, began organic farming after the tobacco farm subsidies flamed out in 2004. He saw the potential for organic produce: “…where for the first time I could grow whatever I wanted, name my price, and get it.” He began to grow all kinds of vegetables on his farm and started a cooperative called East Coast Organics, and last  year, that group made $2.75 million in gorgeous organic sales. Despite the difficulties of farming – and as Charles can tell you, farming is a 100-hour a week, physically tough, demanding job that will teach you something new every day – Church and his wife Betty are skilled and successful; and as a true Farmer of Farmers, he spends hours reaching out to all the farmers around him to help them succeed, too.

Charles’s organic greenhouse where he raises seedlings to share with other farmers.

It’s these kind of folks that Heifer is investing in – and hoping to replicate – in its Seeds of Change initiative, concentrating on the agricultural part of producing local food as well as the enterprise side, helping local entrepreneurs with business plans and loans, production, marketing and distribution.

It starts with people like Doreen, Charles and Carol and continues with young kids in the Future Farmers of America at Johnson County High School who are raising 25,000 tilapia in their school science lab — and envisioning a future when they can make a living on their land. The local food movement in Appalachia is a beauty to behold (and eat!) but to Jeffrey Scott of Heifer, it also has the potential to save the health and jump-start the economy of this traditional farming area.

One sign of the times…

As Jeffrey would say, “Good food is good work.”

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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