ACT LOCALLY: Farmers give insight on ‘menu for the future’

“FOR ME, IT was the black beans,” said Robin Mills.

She, her husband and daughters ages 2 and 4, eat them often.

“The kitchen’s not my strongest place, but now I cook up a big pot of beans to get us through the week.”

Since they live on Marrowstone Island, not worrying about hauling cans around was a relief.

Replacing canned beans on their table is one new choice change Robin decided to make after six weeks of exploring options as part of the “Menu for the Future,” a discussion course developed by the Northwest Earth Institute (www.nwei.org).

An up close and personal touch — the North Olympic Peninsula discussion groups include a local farmer.

“The farmers had a chance to learn what their customers were looking for, and the others got a real sense of what farmers are facing,” said Judith Alexander, coordinator for Jefferson County groups.

At a Chimacum Grange discussion, farmers said that they needed more educated customers — those who understood the value of local food and were willing to pay market prices to support local agriculture.

Who could better explain what local farmers face than farmers themselves?

Alexander began recruiting farmers to join the “Menu for the Future” discussions.

In January, more than a dozen groups began meeting in Jefferson and Clallam counties — each including a farmer.

Among those who have done or are doing “Menu for the Future,” she lists John Gunning and Jesse Hopkins, Collinwood Farm; Haley Olson-Wailand from Dharma Ridge Farm, (www. dharmaridgefarm.com); beef farmer Roger Short; garlic farmer Les Richards; Matt Day from Mt. Townsend Creamery (www.mttownsendcreamery.com); Suzanne Tyler, Wild Harvest goat farmer/cheese maker (www.wild harvestcreamery.com); Steve Baker and Adam Blake from Corona Farm, (www.seedspring.org/coronafarm) and Kelly Gellino, who farmed at Frog Hill last year, though is not currently farming,

Crystie Kisler from Finnriver Farm (www.finnriver.com) is participating in an experiment — an online Google group.

“Winter is a relatively quiet time for farmers and gardeners,” she said.

Interested in joining a discussion group?

Contact Judith Alexander in Jefferson County, (360-385-5794, lightenup@olympus.net) or Don Wilkin in Clallam County (360-582-1790, wilkin@olympus.net).

Or are you wondering what’s to discuss?

Food may be the ultimate shared experience. We all eat, share food with neighbors, friends and family and take part in food-centered celebrations and gatherings.

Once the food we shared and enjoyed came from small, local farms and backyard gardens and menus were determined by what was in season, what the root cellar still held in the winter or the home canned meats, fruits and veggies on pantry shelves.

Now with industrialized agriculture and international shipping, we have become consumers, too often clueless about the food on our plates.

Farmers markets across the country are increasingly popular ways of “putting a face on our food.”

Strawberries in January and bananas anytime come with largely invisible costs. Fruit harvested before it’s ripe is grown for its ability to be stored, gassed, packaged and shipped and still resemble food.

Forget taste, wholesomeness or nutritional value.

Consumers don’t see the chemicals that force plants to crank out cardboard produce. Or the punishment Earth takes in the process.

The courses offer no answers, but encourages thoughtful exploration instead — which helps create lasting connections.

Groups often continue long after completing a course, sometimes plunging into another topic together, or meeting for casual potluck gatherings for years afterwards.

“It clarified my personal values about food. I feel good about my choices,” said Robin Mills, who sent course workbooks for Christmas. “It doesn’t have to stop here.”

Her father is starting a community garden at his church back East.

________

Diana Somerville, an award-winning author and science writer who lives in Clallam County, joins Turning The Wheel, a national arts nonprofit, on Sunday to offer HeartDance, a day to renew and replenish one’s creative energy. This inter ­genera ­tional experience will be at the Port Angeles Senior & Community Center, sponsor of the event.

Act Locally, her column on sustainability and the environment on the North Olympic Peninsula, appears every other Tuesday. She can be reached at writer@olypen.com.

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