Last Friday I slipped into the Local Foodshed Commons and Conference, part of Boulder County’s Eat Local! Week sponsored by Transition Colorado. There are so many groups working on increasing local resilience, it’s hard to keep them all straight. I go to events sponsored by Transition Denver and set up by Dana Miller; now Transition Westminster/Arvada/Broomfield is holding contradances every third Sunday!

Yet the conference was a quiet affair when I arrived. Booths lined the walls of the Glenn Miller Ballroom at the University of Colorado, where I found The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman, about growing through the winter in “cold greenhouses”; Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, which made me laugh; and, most interesting to me, How to Store Your Garden Produce by Piers Warren (all available from Chelsea Green Publishing).

I also found myself lingering over pictures from a local farm that uses permaculture principles. One picture caption discussed how permaculture mandates surrounding fruit trees with the following: plant to attract beneficial insects (both pollinators and insects that attack damaging insects), plants to repel damaging insects (onions, garlic, marigolds—that is, anything with a strong smell), plants to fix nitrogen in the soil, and a food source (in this case, squash). I love stuff like that. I love the mixing of types of plants, which is counter to how most of us were raised to garden; I love the attention being paid to pollinators; I love the idea of growing plants to improve the soil in an orchard.

I guess I’m multidisciplinary at heart.

By the time I finished visiting the booths, perhaps 60 people were listening to Bruce Milne talk about establishing a New Mexico foodshed. When I think of local foodsheds, I think of recruiting farmers to grow food. But Milne made a point that hadn’t occurred to me. He said that a local foodshed needs a broker between farmers and restaurateurs, a liaison who can develop contracts that allow farmers to make a living and that allow chefs to have a stable supply of food. He also asked the question, “Should we issue local bonds to support farmers?”

I would vote for that. Would you?

Milne is part of FoodPrint NM, formerly called the Alliance for a Carbon-Neutral Foodshed (kudos on the name change!). It was formed in response to a 2006 executive order by Governor Bill Richardson to reduce New Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions by 11 million metric tons by 2020. One way to do that is to grow food locally (within 300 miles of urban centers instead of the 1,500 miles food often travels), so less fuel is expended getting food to people.

Travel Globally, Grow Locally?

I’m torn between the Location Independent life I envision and my desire to live simply, grow lots of food in the summers and consume it throughout the year, and make my own clothes and furniture. I know the former is probably more suitable for me; I know that I’ve never grown more than a small fraction of the food I eat and that my few attempts at sewing (let alone carpentry) were not all that successful. But somehow I’m still drawn to the idea of that self-sufficient life, even though it would mean staying in place. It’s difficult to be a farmer (even a small-time one) and travel the world.

But maybe Todd and I could travel the country and interview people who are doing these things. Then we could connect the local farmers with other locals who don’t know about these efforts.

Or maybe I could be a sometime farmer, traveling places and interning on local farms.

Leave A Comment

  1. Priscilla September 9, 2010 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Beth, thanks for this report. I’d wanted to go to the conference but didn’t make it. Thanks for the heads-up on the Chelsea Green titles–love them! It gives me a lot of hope to know that smart people are thinking through the complexities of growing food locally and making that system work again. I mean, it goes against the whole design of our national food distribution system. Kudos to creative thinking like local bonds for local farmers! I hadn’t heard of that one at all. And a broker between farmers and restaurateurs. Of course I smiled when I got to your line about being multidisciplinary–me too! Mixing plants is the sane/safe/sustainable way to garden. After all, that’s how things grow when unsupervised by humans. I think your idea of publicizing local-food developments is a great one. People need to know of the changes/innovations that are already happening because of the tendency to feel overwhelmed by how much needs to be done. In the face of seemingly intractable food habits and distribution systems, change IS possible! And already happening!

  2. Beth Partin September 9, 2010 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Priscilla, I’m looking forward to what our food systems will be like ten or fifteen years from now. I don’t want the national/international food system to go away completely (What would I do without bananas and apples all year round?), but I do want the local/regional food systems to grow up to meet it. And I want things like factory farms (CAFOs) to disappear. We should never have allowed anyone to establish a farm that requires a lagoon of shit so large that it pollutes the air for miles away.

  3. Gail Storey October 7, 2010 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    What Priscilla said. ;-D And another very good Chelsea Green book is The Humanure Handbook; a guide to composting human manure, by Joseph Jenkins. My husband actually read passages aloud to me (after dinner, thank heaven), and it’s quite interesting.