Seeds of Change

Garden Song
Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow.
Gonna mulch it deep and low,
Gonna make it fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row,
Please bless these seeds I sow.
Please keep them safe below
‘Til the rain comes tumbling down.
~ Pete Seeger

With this chorus still ringing in my ears, I spent Mother’s Day weekend in Sarasota with my spouse/best buddy, meeting up with Don Hall, executive director of Transition Sarasota, to learn how he built the group through “experimenting with many things and seeing what stuck.”  Sounds familiar.  Don came to Florida from Boulder, CO, site of the first Transition Town in the U.S. He is a Transition trainer and running the nonprofit organization is his full-time job and his passion.  Sarasota proved to be fertile soil for the ideas of Transition, and today it’s hard to know what came first: the active farm to school program, an established Saturday farmers market, a gleaning group whose members include Transition volunteers, restaurants — even those at the local hotels, Indigo, where we stayed and the nearby Hyatt — that proudly display their

Fresh Local Sarasotasupport of local food.  Of course, none of this would be possible without the interest and support of local chefs, growers, purveyors and the population.  Sarasota’s Saturday farmers market is a happy mob of people bearing cloth and string bags!

This cultural shift around food has been building for some 40 years, and is often credited to Alice Waters, a pioneer of the organic food movement that argues “cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.”  Chez Panisse, her Berkeley, California, restaurant still caters to a  knowledgeable, well-heeled crowd of ‘foodies’ while her foundation takes the message (and funding) into schools.  Waters is also a Slow Food vice-president.  Although there remains just a hint of elitism in the movement — Van Jones calls it  Whole Foods, whole paycheck —  the good news is, the idea that good tasting, healthy food as a right is beginning to sink in with the general public.  You could call it a democratizing process that will benefit us all.  Food is where Transition often begins in a community because it is easy to make the case that local grown is good not only for taste and health, but can lead to a healthier, sustainable local economy and lower carbon footprint.   

For me, it was both inspiring and a little daunting to see how the movement is coming alive on Florida’s West Coast in partnership with Transition.  One of the first successful Transition Sarasota projects was the Eat Local Guide, a directory to farmers markets, buyers clubs, groceries featuring local foods,  restaurants, and community gardens, that Transition Palm Beaches would do well to emulate.  The Guide also offers a changing menu of relevant articles gleaned from around the country that capture the strength of the shift to sustainable agriculture.   Transition Sarasota also spearheaded the 10% local food shift challenge, inviting people to switch just 10% of their food purchases to local growers and purveyors.  The impact speaks for itself:

While a 2006 study found that only 0.7% of the $797 million Sarasota County residents were spending every year on food was purchased directly from a local farmer, a shift of just 10% in this direction would add $80 million a year to our local economy, potentially creating thousands of new green jobs.

Came home to find more news that feeds my optimism about local food growing, including today’s New York Times article on the topic.  From Lincoln, NB, yoga student and friend, Betsey Shipley, enclosed an article from the Journal Star about the explosion of community gardens thanks to a program not only to support local farms and farmers, but to train new ones.  Over 170 people signed up for the Growing Farmers Program that began in 2005, and 35 have started farming.

Earth Day Tree PlantingBut it’s a 2014 initiative in the Lincoln community that really got my attention:  a partnership with a local church to create Nebraska’s first food forest, “a woodland eco-system that yields food for people.”  If there is one thing I love more than trees, it is trees that bear fruit!  As it turns out, First UU of the Palm Beaches is already well on our way.  On Earth Day, this small, multi-generational team, including our minister, CJ McGregor, launched our own food forest with donated trees along strip of land on church property.  A growing (!) Tree Fund promises there will be more planting parties like the one pictured here.  Inch by inch.