Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Master Food Preserver Course

I think that most people know about the Master Gardener program organized by Cooperative Extension offices around the country. It's a great program: serious gardeners get training in a wide variety of horticultural topics and then share that knowledge with their community through a mandatory number of volunteer hours in the year after the course.

Well, now Humboldt County Cooperative Extension is offering a Master Food Preserver course! You read that correctly. Coop Extension will be teaching a nine-week course starting February 4th and running every Saturday from 9 to 3pm through March 31st. The course will cover jam and jelly making; drying; canning; pickling; freezing; and food safety.

Once students are awarded their graduation certificates, they are required to provide 40 hours of volunteer service teaching preservation skills to the community. Although the letter to potential applicants states that these hours must be performed in Humboldt County, I've spoken with Deborah Giraud and she would be thrilled to have some Del Norte folks do volunteer service right here.

If you're interested in applying for this wonderful learning opportunity, you can find more information and the application forms here. Let us know if you plan to attend -- maybe we can help set up a Del Norte car-pool for the classes!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving And The Economy

At a time when many people are already struggling financially, Thanksgiving dinner is expected to cost 13% more than it did last year. Commodity prices have gone up, raising prices in the store on everything from bread to flour to cranberries. And, of course, the main feature on many Thanksgiving tables: the turkey.

Soon Ray's and Safeway will begin their Fall Food Drives. Each store has put together a bag of groceries worth $20 that shoppers can buy for $15 and donate to CAN. Our food bank will get the food onto tables throughout our community that would otherwise look a little bare on November 24th. Please give generously so that everyone in our community has a comforting meal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Local Food As Insurance

In today's New York Times, food writer Mark Bittman discusses the benefits of locally- and regionally-grown food. He writes about similar issues often, but today's column hones in on the policies that create more incentives for growing commodities (wheat, corn, soy) that we export, feed to livestock, or feed to automobiles than incentives for growing fruits and vegetables, for which we are a net importer. He quite rightly points out that our current agricultural system, requiring massive transport costs to bring "fresh" fruits and vegetables to our supermarkets without regard for seasonality, depends on a continuation of cheap fossil fuels. 

He writes, "We’ve seen that nothing is guaranteed: not energy, not water, not the financial system, not even the climate. Our food supply isn’t guaranteed either (remember 2008?), but it’s more likely to provide us with security if we focus more on regional agriculture and less on trade." 

As it happens, there is a living, breathing example of what happens to a food system dependent on imports and fossil fuels when those things disappear. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did Cuba's food economy, which had relied heavily on sugar exports to nations behind the Iron Curtain, and imports of staple grains, tractors, and petroleum-based fertilizers and fuels. With no fuel coming in and no lucrative markets for its sugar, Cuba's food production was forced to become small, labor-intensive, and local. Human labor replaced tractors and small urban gardens and farms replaced sugar plantations almost overnight. You can read about it here, here, and here

Obviously, there are many criticisms that can be made of Cuba and it's Soviet-era economy is not one that is widely shared by nations today. But the lessons learned by Cuban citizens when they needed to take food matters into their own hands are valuable for us all. There are good reasons to build (or rebuild) local and regional food economies, and Cuba has shown the world that it is possible. Just some food for thought. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Feature On School Menus

Here at Growing Tables, we're all involved in the Building Healthy Communities work in our community. Part of the work is building resident power and bringing people together who have similar interests and passions to create community change. Sometimes, people get discouraged in working toward change because change can be hard. It can be uncomfortable and people in power can feel threatened and close themselves off to new possibilities.

But sometimes, everything works. Here's an example:

Several weeks ago, my husband was frustrated when looking at the monthly menu of school lunches. We eat a mostly vegetarian diet, with a little fish thrown in occasionally, and there were some school meals that were ambiguous: is a piazza pizza vegetarian or does it have sausage or pepperoni on it? Are the beans in the bean and cheese burrito vegetarian or are they made with lard?

Our kindergartener desperately wanted to check off hot lunch on her sign-in sheet some mornings, but all we could safely allow was the mac-and-cheese once a month. So my husband searched the school district's website and sent off an email asking for more information and ended up having a fairly lengthy and positive exchange with Judy Wangerin, the head of food services at the district. She agreed to try to find some solutions.

And she and her team did! This month's menu includes a single box explaining a new feature of the school menus: meatless meals are marked with an asterisk.

Note the message in the first Monday of the lunch menu!

This is community change at its easiest and best. One resident saw a problem that affected something he really cared about: his (our) daughter's lunches. He figured out who had the power to fix the problem, communicated with them and explained the problem, and the problem was fixed, the system was changed.

Now this particular system change might not affect very many people, but the lesson does:

If you see something in our community that you feel should be changed, say something! Figure out who can make that change happen and talk to them. Let them know you think a change is needed. If nobody speaks up, nothing will change. Be a part of the solution!