Sunday, June 20, 2010

cabarrus county, north carolina :: creating a local food system

These are just the highlights from a pretty good article about my community's attempt to create a local food system. I emphasize the key components near the end. I'll be writing more about this in the future.

From Emily Ford at the Salisbury Post,

CONCORD — In a bold attempt to reconnect people who eat food with people who grow it, Cabarrus County has launched several agriculture programs, including plans to build the state's first publicly owned slaughter facility.

Cabarrus leads the state in establishing a local food economy, officials say.

"They are certainly a role model for North Carolina," said Dr. Nancy Creamer, N.C. State University horticulture professor and director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

Three years ago, Cabarrus began implementing a strategy to build a local food system. That's an economy that includes all the processes involved in feeding people — growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, distributing, marketing, consuming, disposing and recycling.

County Manager John Day and County Extension Director Debbie Bost are spearheading the effort, with support from county commissioners.

"We want to build an economy here that doesn't go away on the whim of a CEO," said Aaron Newton, recently hired as the county's first local food program coordinator.

A local food economy aims to create new income opportunities for farmers and promote sustainable agriculture practices that can be used year after year, generation after generation.

People are too far removed from their food, said Newton, co-author of "A Nation of Farmers."

"The overall goal is to develop a more resilient, self-reliant economy in the county," Day said, "one that is not subject to the sorts of global disruptions that we've seen recently."

Day and Bost mapped out the county's local food strategy in 2007 after Day heard an official touting the local food system in Madison, Wisc.

The county hosted a town hall meeting for farmers and food producers. More than 200 people came, including all five county commissioners, to discuss preserving agriculture.

Bost wrote a concept paper and submitted it to county commissioners, who embraced her five-pronged strategy:

- The top recommendation from farmers to the county: build a local slaughterhouse, or "harvesting facility," as Bost calls it.

- At the incubator farm, participants pay a small fee to lease one acre of land and learn everything from planting to business planning.

- The Food Policy Council will identify and develop ways to bolster the local food economy, pulling together technical and financial resources. The council will deal with issues as broad as hunger, public health and the environment.

- [A] county food assessment, a yearlong effort costing about $30,000, will determine what local food people eat and where they buy it. The county will survey institutions and households.

- A marketing strategy will promote local foods and products. Restaurants that use local ingredients will have a special designation. The county will approach schools, hospitals, even jails about using local foods.

Read the entire article…

Thursday, June 17, 2010

change ain't sexy

The past few weeks have been very busy for me. In addition to my normal activities- work, family life, harvesting the bagged leaves of my neighborhood- I attend a one day soil regeneration seminar and a 2 day ULI seminar on sustainable community design. Both of these events were remarkably informative and I'd go so far as to say inspirational. I love to learn and synthesis seemingly unrelated bits of information into programs that facilitate change. You might even call it a hobby. But one particular event of recent weeks has been much more rewarding. We had our house reinsulated. It would probably be more accurate to say we had it insulated as much of it had no insulation at all.

Now you might think that's pretty strange, that someone convinced we're embarking on worldwide energy descent would have, up until now, lived in a poorly insulated house. To which I would respond that it's been on the list to do, but the list is long and the budget is far from unlimited. The real deal though is that my wife and I have been planning to build our own home for several years. Since day one of my architectural education at university I've dreamed of building my own home. In recent years I study alternative construction methods and fell in love with strawbale building. I read books, took classes and even worked on a few such structures. My wife and I were investigating a land purchase and organizing a few folks to help with the permitting process. But the situation has changed. The peak in global oil production is imminent and the effects of climate change are more rapidly headed our way. I've become convinced that with more than 90 million homes already in existence here in America, what we need is less building new and more making due. Several people have tried to convince me that I could be more useful to my fellow citizens by offering an example of effective strategies for 'Sheltering In Place,' and I'm starting to believe them.

But there's an equally compelling reason. My wife is expecting our second child in March and our daughter is almost 2 years old. At such a young age she can already pick up a hammer and swing it quite effectively but hasn't yet learn that hammers are not meant for the destruction of anything with reach. The idea of my family building a new home during the next 12 months could very well be the uproarious inspiration for a new TV reality show. I'm not sure if we'd find it funny though.

I have not yet thrown out the idea of building our own home. I think using straw for home construction makes sense for lots of reasons and I think we need more people using it to serve as examples. I'd like to be one of them in the future. But for now it looks like we are staying put and that means more closely examining our current conditions and making reasonable adjustments. Sounds prudent right? Well here's the thing, it's not at all sexy.

Over the past two weeks I've spent three days with a crew who are adding insulation to our home. When they first arrived they hooked up a blower door to our home and pressurized the whole structure to get a sense of how air tight our home was. The answer was not very. That part was fun to watch but then came hours of action like caulking and sealing and weather stripping. The real work took a long time and was not my idea of fun. Another contractor used an infrared camera to find out where the big heat leaks were located. This too was pretty neat. But then it was back to the grindstone. The flooring in the attic had to be removed and then insulation was blown up there. The crawlspace below our home had to be cleaned, plastic sheeting laid below and insulation strapped to the underside of the floor joists. The best part, I say with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, was when the crew cut 2" holes in all our exterior walls ever 20" or so and blew insulation into each cavity. It was necessary. It will make for a much more energy efficient home. We are doing our part! And yet the work itself was mundane. Some of it was boring and some of it was uncomfortable. 3 days of regular old work. And the mess!

In contrast my time spent at the soil seminar was great as was my sustainable community design seminar. But neither of those actually accomplished anything tangible. They were useful experiences. The knowledge I came away with will certainly come in handy, but neither accomplished as much actual change as did my 3 days of insulation. Part of what I've been sensing in the community of people who are interested in issues of energy and the environment is that many are ready to move on from the arena of talk into the arena of action. It's fine and good to talk about peak oil and climate change and track the progress of these occurrences. That is important work for some to do. But for most of us, responding to the converging calamities of the 21st century should be more about getting dirty and less about talking about getting dirty.

Having said that, I did film the whole transformation of my home- about 5 hours of raw footage which will be edited into a video and uploaded onto the Internet some time early next year. Hopefully it will help inspire other people to begin making similar changes. There's no reason to stop sharing our progress with other people. In fact I think we have an obligation to do so. But as much as possible I think we need to get to work; not online but in our own homes and in our own communities. There is much to actually do.