Mark's Food Policy Blog

Finding Solutions to Today's Food System Challenges

A Blast from the Past, Mark Bittman, Fall Appearances and More!

I’m giving this edition of Mark’s food blog over to short stuff. No long, windy think pieces or rapturous reflections (oh well, maybe one). I just want to share a few things, including a look ahead at where I’m going over the next couple of months. I do this as much for folks who may want to catch up with me when I’m “in the neighborhood” as I do to remind myself where I am (or was, or will be).

First, for those who might have missed Mark Bittman’s departing essay in the 9/13/15 New York Times, the chef, writer, and food activist is pulling the plug on a great five-year run that popularized and underlined in red some of the day’s most important food issues. I like to tell people I met Mark exactly 14 years ago in a tent erected under a crystal clear September sky at the Jones Family Farm in Shelton, Connecticut. He had graciously agreed to join our first ever Celebration of Connecticut Farms and Food fundraiser, held only five days after 9/11. The event drew attention to other forces of darkness and evil that were paving over the state’s beautiful farmland. With Mark’s help and that of other chefs, farmers, activists, and dedicated volunteers, that event began the process of restoring vibrancy and meaning to Connecticut agriculture. From one Mark to another, I want to say thank you and God’s speed.

I also want to give a shout out to the National Farm to School Network http://www.farmtoschool.org/. These folks have played a huge role in making locally produced food a common item on school cafeteria trays across the nation. Boy, we’ve come a long way on that one, baby! When I suggested to Hartford’s school food service director back in the nineties that she buy Connecticut produce, she simply responded, “Why?” Thanks to NFSN and a growing army of determined soldiers, over 40,000, K-12 schools are buying $385 million of locally grown food annually for 23 million students. There are two ways to celebrate these achievements. First, October is “Farm to School Month” so make a big noise about it at your local school. And second, tell your members of Congress to support “The Farm to School Act” which will put more resources at the disposal of communities and schools to expand what by all measures is a successful way to help kids become healthier and help our local farms grow stronger.

Now this last item is a bit tricky. It just so happens that 40 years ago I and a band of teenagers started the Natick (Massachusetts) Community Farm, which is about 15 miles west of Boston. It was one of the first in what are now many community-based ventures designed to connect young people to food and farming (you can read more about it in my book Closing the Food Gap). However, the farm’s 40th anniversary would have completely escaped my notice if it wasn’t for the recent discovery of a videotape by one of its founding youth workers, Mary Ann LeLievre.

In 1975 we had secured a small grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, which, in its infinite wisdom, thought that the farm, then barely three months old, was a model youth project. The grant enabled a handful of the farm’s youth participants, including Mary Ann, to document that first year. Through the miracle of digital technology and the good work of the current Natick Community Farm staff (www.natickfarm.org), a dusty old plastic 8-track cassette is now “YouTube-ready.”

But first a warning: The slow moving nature of this 1975 production may not be suitable for people who suffer from short attention spans. Consult your physician before watching if you are prone to drowsiness when gazing upon pastoral scenes for more than 10 seconds, find blogs of over 300 words tedious, or experience ringing in the ears when listening to people with Boston accents. If you are fit enough to view this 23-minute film (feel free to skip around) then click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnCFiY3zfW0&feature=youtu.be. And if you can guess who the hairy young man is with the scraggily beard, you’ll receive a lifetime subscription to this e-magazine.

Now, to answer the question on everybody’s lips, “Where’s Mark?” here is a list of my fall appearances.

October 1 and 2 – Pittsburgh, PA – The Center for a Livable Future will be providing a training and briefing for members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council and City of Pittsburgh public officials. For more information contact Dawn Plummer at dmp37@psu.edu.

October 16 – Santa Fe, NM – Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Food Policy Council celebrate World Food Day with panels, demonstrations, and a locally inspired potluck dinner. For more information contact Morgan Day at morgan.g.day@gmail.com.

November 10 – Cincinnati, OH – A one-day training for the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council. For more information contact Angie Carl at angie@greenumbrella.org.

November 12 -14 – Saratoga Springs, NY – Attending the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture (NESAWG) annual conference and presenting a workshop on November 13 on the role of community engagement and inclusivity in food policy councils. For more information go to www.nesawg.org.

November 16 – Harrisonburg, VA – Meeting with members of the Virginia Food System Council. For more information contact Mark Winne at win5m@aol.com.

November 17 – Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN – As part of Tennessee Tech’s 100th Anniversary, I will be speaking and conducting seminars on campus. For more information contact Lachelle Norris LNorris@tntech.edu.

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