StartNow: Creating local food systems
I'm Jean Schanen, and with my husband Glenn Huff, we've been working on developing local food systems for 30 years now. Our website www.StartNow.org describes our earlier efforts in Belize and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and now we're in Bremerton, Washington, where we've created a city farm on three adjoining properties in a modest residential neighborhood. We've only been here for 6 years, but we've been seeking out and building connections with other farmers and people interested in local food, so we have a pretty good cohort of interested and capable associates by now.
It's only been a few months since I've learned about the Post Carbon Institute. I already had great interest in peak oil and global warming issues, which led me to the writings of Richard Heinberg, starting with Peak Everything, then moving naturally to the Post Carbon Institute at just the right time, where I was galvanized by the Food and Farming Transition Report, sent it out to all the farmers I knew, and said let's do this! As you know, people don't just immediately take to the Peak Everything ideas, and the first effort, except for one farmer, fell flat. But the wonderful word "Transition" had been added to my consciousness and I found a Transition training weekend coming up very soon. It was magically inspiring, because it established a clear bridge in my mind between the terror of Collapse and the extremely desirable societal changes we can make to create post-carbon future far more like the world we want to live in than anything we've encountered so far.
My town is not a good candidate for early participation in the Transition movement, however. We have a big naval yard here, lots of military personnel, and more than our share of low-income residents. Armed Forces Day is our big holiday, and despite the economic downturn, lots of residents still have plenty of money to burn up in home fireworks displays that turn 4th of July week into a rather frightening simulation of a war zone. These are not people who think about Peak Oil, or global warming, for that matter. They believe in economic recovery and resumption of the consumer lifestyle that brought them so many video games, so I quickly got over thinking I was going to start a Transition Initiative here right away. I did, however, strongarm my womens' book group into reading Peak Everything (discussion set for October), and have finagled the opportunity to present a service at my Unitarian fellowship (November for that one) ostensibly based on local food (which is very nice and desireable on its own, and lots of people take to it readily), and I will use that opportunity to tie local food to all that is taught in Peak Everything (and, of course, Blackout and the recently published article Temporary Recession or the End of Growth, which are even scarier). Tying the very desirable Local Food movement to the very scary realities of the Heinberg writings is the key, I hope, to inspiring a group of intelligent, caring individuals to leap past denial into a dynamic Transition effort.
Meanwhile, events have transpired to create an opportunity for our local farmers to get together and create a store selling locally produced food. I've been trying promote more urban farming by selling the concept that when the
I sent out the announcement yesterday, and response has been dramatically positive and supportive, both from producers and consumers. Now the inklings of turning this into a real Transition Initiative are beginning to appear. We're hearing not only from food producers, but also from a few others, producers of homemade chicken feed (We're pushing our city government to finally legalize raising laying hens, which we've been doing for years anyway.) locally produced worm compost (recycling food waste in a local business staffed by developmentally disabled people), and hand knitted garments made by a woman who hand spins yarn. That's just in one day.
Glenn and I are convinced that urban farming is going to have to be a major source of food in the pretty near future when the current industrial food system dies, as it must, early in post-carbon days, and so we've determined to start an urban farming school to start building a cadre of young people to build and operate the farms, help other people build and operate them, and bring the resulting products to the local market. We will operate the school, sharing our thirty years of experience with people who have the youth and energy to carry it forward. We're pretty old, so we feel a sense of urgency in this. We have housing for students next door, and we'll offer an intensive one-year program. The first student is set to arrive this winter. I now have to figure out how to attract more, and how to finance the school, but it must happen, and I believe it will. The other farmers associated in the store have agreed that some percentage of store proceeds will go to the school. They know better than anyone else how much we need more people who know how to do this.
… Things move fast – here’s an update to our story
We received bad news last week, when the owner of the premises we were going to share to operate our FreshLocal Food Store told us that fire regulations would prevent us from putting our walk-in cooler, absolutely necessary for our fresh produce, in the space we intended to put it, the only space where it could have been, and so suddenly we had nowhere to have our store. However, like most towns in the U.S. now, there is a lot of commercial space available, and we found a place we thought would work the next day. It was located directly across the street from a brand new commercial kitchen just installed by the visionary owner of a trophy shop, of all things, and we realized that we could use that kitchen to create value added products with our unsold produce. Meanwhile, other people around town, not farmers, had been asking if they could make products like jams, pickles and granolas to sell in our store, and I had been discouraging them by telling them they would have to produce their products in a commercial kitchen. Now we see that there is great potential for our store, which will be in a much larger space than we first planned, to serve as a market for these other locally produced products as well. Localization happens!
Then city farms will spring up all around Bremerton, and we will have enough local produce to support a local processing facility where we can process foods for out of season use and create value added products. We did this with our farm and restaurant in Wisconsin and know it works. A local guy (a chiropractor) who enjoys creating cedar boards with his home sawmill, will supply boards for raised beds in the new gardens. Another local guy will expand his business designing gardens and building beds for people. How many new local businesses is that so far? I know we will attract more. We're working on the city to change the law so that we can legally collect rainwater. (Another thing we do anyway because it is so right and necessary) Then we'll have a business helping people install their own water systems. And another business raising bedding plants for all the new gardens. Each time we take a step, we see farther ahead to steps to come.