by Eileen Weber
Joel Salatin is a religious man. He is a believer that nature should be left to nature. But above all else, he is a farmer. Going against the tide of industrialism where hormones and antibiotics are fed to livestock, he lets his chickens have their “chicken-ness” and his pigs have their “pig-ness”. They roam free to peck and forage as they please across Salatin’s rolling hills of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va. By some, he is considered a lunatic. For others, he is a genius.
Mr. Salatin is not alone. There are others who have the same core values he does. Will Allen, a former basketball player and subsequent marketing manager, is an urban farmer in Milwaukee, Wis. growing vegetables without any chemicals or fertilizers on only three acres of land. His secret is compost and he’s not shy about grabbing a fistful to make his point. After being gored by one of his hogs with the resulting infection resistant to scores of medication, Russ Kremer, a farmer in Frankenstein, Mo., is now a proud and sought after hog farmer. He took the extreme measure of exterminating his herd to begin anew, swearing off antibiotics and hormones.
We can see these farmers in their fight against an industrialized food system in the highly acclaimed film FRESH. Last night, the Pequot Library in Southport held a viewing of the movie, a film produced and directed by Ana Sofia Joanes. There was a panel discussion afterward and close to a dozen local exhibitors displayed their wares in the library’s adjacent Reading Room.
The event was the brainchild of Analiese Paik, Founder of Fairfield Green Food Guide. With the idea and her enthusiasm, she approached Dan Snydacker, Executive Director of the Pequot Library. The efforts of six tireless weeks of work paid off. There was a huge turnout. While the seating could only accommodate 200 people, there was a wait list for the event and some were turned away at the door. What a clear indication of how important an issue food is to this community.
The film’s subtitle says it all: “New thinking about what we’re eating.” But is it really new? The film celebrates the environmentally aware farmers, Salatin, Allen and Kremer being prime examples. But what each of these men has achieved is not a novel concept. Letting nature be nature without the use of chemicals is an age-old farming technique. Let the grass grow. Let the cows and chickens roam free. Let their manure fertilize the grass so it can grow some more. The cycle of life continues.
“We’re farming grass,” said Salatin of how he sees its role in farming animals. “If we take care of the grass, it will take care of us.”
Michael Pollan, author of such agriculturally provocative titles as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, inserted his own commentary in the film. “Industrialized food is cheaper but nutritionally deficient,” he said as scenes of well-known brands in a supermarket’s freezer aisle flicked across the screen. “The more processed it is, the less nutritious.”
But many people, especially those in urban areas considered a “food desert” because local produce is not available, will buy the cheap food. In a tough economy, having any food on the table is better than having none. So many kids grow up eating little if any vegetables that don’t come with a colorful box top and a plastic toy.
That was the case for Karen Parker, Co-Director of Growing Power, Inc., the organization founded by Will Allen in urban Milwaukee. She admitted that she and her kids ate whatever came from the closest drive-thru without ever buying much in the way of fresh produce. After working with Allen, she has changed her tune.
“I used to say, ‘That’s too fresh! My food don’t have a name!’ But now it does,” she said of Allen’s first attempts to get her to eat the different varieties of vegetables he grows.
Too many Americans buy processed food on a weekly basis and eat at fast food chains. As a result, there is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in this country. Slowly but surely, that trend is starting to shift. But that shift begins within each community.
“We are the local food movement,” said Sue Caldwell, owner of Fairfield’s Health In A Hurry restaurant and one of last night’s panelists. “The biggest message in Fresh was showing the labels with that long list of ingredients. They kept talking about food, food, food. But that’s not food.”
“We don’t need to teach kids how to read labels,” said panelist Amie Guyette
Hall, Holistic Health Counselor and Cooking Coach working with the Fairfield district middle schools, “because there are no labels to read when you grow your own food.”
So grow your own vegetables. Have pots of herbs. Plant flowers and let the butterflies come. Eat locally and eat fresh. As Analiese Paik said of the resources available in Connecticut, “There’s no excuse for not eating locally.”
Indeed. No excuse.