One of the headlines in our Sunday paper reads, “Sustainable Food Movement So Strong, Local Demand is Outstripping Supply. The subtitle, in big letters, was “Grow Your Own.” This is cool. I get caught up in my own life and don’t always get the big picture, but apparently, Athens is turning into a showcase for the local food movement.
According to the article, we’re seeing growing participation here in traditional local distribution models such as farmers markets and community supported agriculture, as well as growth of a new kind of model called Locally Grown, an online market that matches growers with buyers who can select, buffet style, what they want from individual growers and pick up their collective order at a central distribution point once a week. Restaurants around town are also carrying more locally grown offerings, and Athenians in increasing numbers are doing some growing of their own, in backyard plots, on decks and patios, wherever they can find some space and a bit of sun.
Craig Page, founder of the non-profit PLACE (Promoting Local Agriculture & Cultural Experience), says people are coming to local food for a variety of reasons: to support sustainable agricultural practices, to keep money circulating in the community, and, of course, for the simplest reason of all, taste.
I was going to talk about our little garden here at the ranch house and the joys of growing (and eating) our own food, but I got to poking around on the Web at the sites of a couple of the local food advocacy groups. Some people believe the Athens area has the capacity to grow 75% of its own food. But obviously, we all can’t pick up and move to a farm. In fact, as the 23% poverty rate in Athens will suggest, many here don’t even have even the smallest plot of land to call their own. But the plan, if the folks at PLACE, the Athens Urban Food Collective, and other local food advocates have their way, is to build a network of urban agricultural projects using vacant lots, public parks, power-line rights-of-way, and other under-utilized space around the city to give everyone the space to grow their own. Guidelines are available from the Athens Urban Food Collective for any person or group wanting to take leadership and start their own urban garden and there are educational gardens in the planning stages or already under way at an elementary school here, at UGA, and at other locations in the area.
Sounds good to me. I’m reminded of the Victory Garden, that fixture of World War II era communities across the country. Times were hard, the food supply was unreliable, many staples were simply unavailable. Community self-reliance was an imperative. Everybody grew something if they could, and shared the harvest with neighbors, and put up the surplus for the off-season. According to Wikipedia, some 20-million Americans produced about 40% of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. during that period. But, you know, from every story I’ve heard, those gardens produced more than simple nourishment. They became centers of community. Working those gardens large and small, people did more than survive. They planted hope. They harvested pride. They shared practical and cultural knowledge that made the roots of community deeper, individuals stronger.
Craig Page at PLACE and his fellow local food advocates are busy planting more than the seeds of ideas, here in Athens. They’re cultivating real change. If you want to find out more about the local food movement here in Athens, here are some links:
Read the article in the Athens Banner-Herald, “Strong sustainable food demand strains local supply” (they’re using a different headline for the online version): http://onlineathens.com/stories/072708/news_2008072700335.shtml
PLACE (Promoting Local Agriculture & Cultural Experience): http://localplace.org/
The Athens Urban Food Collective newsletter, Food Now Athens: http://localplace.org/images/stories/foodnowathens2.pd
The photograph is courtesy Magalie L’Abbé: http://www.flickr.com/photos/magtravels/