The past few days here in Athens have been among the most affirming for me since I started managing Athens Locally Grown. On Thursday, about a dozen managers from markets similar to ALG came into town and spent the day with me. We could have spent several days more, swapping stories, strategies, pitfalls to avoid, and so on. It’s one thing to see dots on a map on a website, representing communities that are following in our footsteps, but it’s another thing altogether to have people in those communities together in a room talking face to face. Hopefully I can make this little get-together a regular thing.
And then on Friday and Saturday, Georgia Organics brought their annual conference to town. More than just a farming conference, this event brings together growers, chefs, people passionate about the food they eat, and other interested parties along the chain from field to plate. And of course, one of their goals is to make that chain as short as possible, and everyone along the way as healthy as possible. I go for the conversations in the halls and during meals as much as the sessions. Of all the conversations I had, one may have helped resolve a problem I’ve had for several years now: a bureaucratic roadblock preventing Athens Locally Grown from accepting EBT cards. The roadblock’s not gone yet, but at the vary least I gained some valuable allies and hope to make some headway this week.
On Saturday afternoon, I (and Todd Lister, from Veribest Farms) presented a 90 minutes session to a full room on how Athens Locally Grown works. We both were mobbed by excited people at the end and spent at least another half hour answering questions. It’s wonderful to be a part of something as great as what we all have here, and to be able to help other people and communities create the same. It’s such a simple thing, that a community should have a safe and secure food supply, but we’ve all lost that in the last 75 years. People are hungry to return to that security and in our industrialized society it seems so often like a lost cause, but it’s not. We’re all working together to help Athens regain that security, and the same thing can be done elsewhere.
The conference culminated Saturday night with a fantastic Farmers Feast. I don’t know where else you could find this: 40 of the finest chefs Georgia has to offer, led by Athens’ own Hugh Acheson, prepared a meal for 900 guests created exclusively from local ingredients. It ranks up there with one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The keynote speaker after dinner was Carlo Petrini, the founder and leader of Slow Food movement. He gave a rousing and intimate talk in his native Italian (aided by a lovely translator) that was equal parts inspirational and a call to action. I’m still digesting what he said, and will seed future newsletters with what I took away from it all. Last year’s speaker was Michael Pollan and was great, but Petrini had him beat.
And finally today had the annual Taste of Athens, a benefit for Community Connection. Four or five dozen local restaurants and food businesses were there, demonstrating in another way the strength of our local food system. Sure, much (most) of the food served was grown somewhere else, but there was a notable emphasis on fresh ingredients, sourced locally when possible. What was a fringe position only a few years ago has hit the mainstream, and it’s just that kind of awareness and broad support that is necessary to make systemic change. I won’t say that we’re at a tipping point, or that a change to a better food system is ensured, but everywhere I look, I see more signs that give me hope.
If you’d like to be a more direct agent of change for Athens, an Athens Permaculture group is forming and will be having their first meeting this Tuesday evening at 6pm at Ben’s Bikes (our pickup location). They’ll be watching a movie titled “The Power of Community” and discussing how to implement things locally.
It’s getting late, so I better stop typing. There are a number of new items listed this week, including greenhouse tomatoes from Commerce, heritage breed chicken from Walton County, family heirloom Collards from Hartwell, and many other items besides.
Thanks so much for your support of Athens Locally Grown, all of our growers, local food, and our rights to eat it. You all are part of what makes Athens such a great area in which to live. We’ll see you on Thursday at Ben’s Bikes at the corner of Pope and Broad Streets from 4:30 to 8pm!
We’re starting to put a plan together on how best to use the space at Ben’s Bikes when the weather warms up and we really fill the back room. The first thing we want to tackle is the parking/walking space outside. The rain really did a number on the soil, and to make things worse the last storm took out one of those huge pecan trees behind the building. The heavy equipment needed to cut the thing up turned a large area of the lot to mud. We want to spread some gravel back there. Do any of you know of a source of free or cheap gravel that we can get delivered to the lot there? We can spread it around, but if the deliverer is able to do that too, so much the better. ALG depends on volunteer labor, so we don’t have much funds for this sort of thing. If you know of anyone who can help with this, please let me know.
We’re also making plans for an awning to give us more working space outdoors. We’ll put out a call for workers when it’s time to build that.
The Athens Farmers Market has closed for the winter. You can watch for news during the offseason on their website. The other area markets are also all closed for the season too. All but Athens Locally Grown, that is.
Please support your local farmers and food producers, where ever you’re able to do so!