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Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food: The Slow Food Ideology

With Michelle Obama planting an organic vegetable garden (which I like to think of as a “victory garden”) in the White House, it’s the perfect time to be thinking about local eating, climate change, pesticides, GMO crops, and connecting with the growers of our food.

The Marin Independent journal spoke to Chelsea Green author Woody Tasch and others actively involved in this new movement:

Investor and environmental activist Edward “Woody” Tasch sees a lot in common between the mortgage-backed securities that helped bring about the global recession and a typical American hamburger.

“No one is quite sure where the meat in a hamburger comes from,” Tasch told his audience last week at a discussion of the “slow food” movement at Fort Baker’s Cavallo Point Lodge. “It might come from hundreds of different animals. And no one is sure where the money for each of those securities came from.”

Recent food scares like January’s discovery of salmonella in peanut products made by a Georgia plant and the 2006 identification of E. coli bacteria in spinach have fueled interest in the movement’s mantra of small-scale agriculture and locally grown food, said Elizabeth Ptak, a spokeswoman for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

“This is part of a very timely national conversation,” Ptak said. “People want to know where their food came from and who grew it. Writers like (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” author) Michael Pollan and (“Fast Food Nation” author) Eric Schlosser have helped people become much more aware of these issues, and (first lady) Michelle Obama planting a garden on the White House lawn is part of that change as well.”

As an investor, Tasch – the author of “[Inquiries into the Nature of] Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered” – eschews massive mutual funds in favor of small, local businesses where his contribution can make an impact on his community.

As a consumer and an eater, Tasch and others who tout “slow food” believe buying food that is grown and sold locally, using small-scale or organic methods, can have the same positive impact on their health, and the health of the environment.

“The closer food is produced to where it is consumed, the greater the likelihood that it will be fresh, in-season and better tasting, and that getting it to market will use less energy and produce less pollution,” declared the American Farmland Trust in a study of the Bay Area’s “foodshed” released last week.

Amelia Spilger puts it another way.

“Farmers need customers. Eaters need nutrient-dense foods. And those foods need local farmers,” said Spilger, a market manager at Marin Farmers Markets. “It all goes hand in hand.”

According to the University of California’s Sibella Kraus, the meaning of “slow food” has less to do with whether food is organic, locally grown or sustainably produced. Instead, it’s about the relationship between the person who grows food and the person who eats it.

“It’s not an ideology that says food grown within 75 miles is good, but within 50 miles is better,” said Kraus, director of UC Berkeley’s Agriculture in Metropolitan Regions program. “The farms need to have a personal resonance for the consumer. The places where people grow our food are places we should visit. We need a better understanding of who grows our food.”

Read the whole article here.

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