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OPINION | The hungry insurgent: Security in a fragile food system
I write a lot about our fragile food system. It is fragile because much of our food comes from great distances, dependent on transportation infrastructure and lots of cheap fuel. It is fragile because the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that we put on our crops are hard on the land and ultimately destroy it, making it incapable of growing food. It is fragile because weather has always made farming fragile, and we have messed up our weather patterns with human-created climate change, so crop-destroying weather events are becoming more common. It is fragile because it depends on a fragile economic system that puts food production under a factory model that is subject to wild economic swings.
We would like to assume that our supermarkets will always be filled with Florida oranges, California salads and Guatemalan avocados. And maybe they will, but there are a lot of factors that could change all that. So it just might be wise to have a back-up plan.
What would that look like and how could we create it? We can take gardening classes and learn how to grow our own food. We can forage, learning about wild foods all around us that grow without us planting them. We can create less waste and use what we have, helping our neighbors with surplus apples and pears when they have finished their own harvest.
Much of our food security, however, lies in the power of the community around us. We create mechanisms and structures to help each other, to share resources and knowledge in times of need. At this point, the growing season is about over, so I want to talk about some local structures that might help us increase our food security, to strengthen the infrastructure that makes nourishment possible.
First, there is a local city initiative called Homegrown Minneapolis. The purpose is to increase local food production and processing. It’s a new initiative, only a couple of years old. I have been to a number of meetings and come away with the impression that the Food Council is still working out its role and procedures.
Ideally, the Food Council would make recommendations to the mayor and City Council, resulting in changes in ordinance and regulation that would strengthen our local food systems, helping to get government out of the way when laws create obstacles, encouraging new structures to channel citizen initiatives.
By good fortune, there is an opportunity to become a member right now.
Applications for the next two-year terms are due Oct. 13. There are 15 community members, appointed by the mayor or the City Council, as well as several city staff members from the city health department or the city sustainability office. You can get information and application forms by calling Jane Shey at 612-673-2032 or by filling out the online form at http://form.jotform.us/form/31914287938163. Meetings are currently held between 3 and 4:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month, at various locations around the city. Food Council members are also expected to attend meetings of one of the committees each month.
Second, there is a different opportunity for working through the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Tree Advisory Commission. A lot of this commission’s work involves trees, which, although they don’t necessarily produce fruit, do give shade, filter rainwater, save us energy and make the city a more livable place.
There are lots of discussions about emerald ash borer, tree loss from storms and drought and that sort of thing. But there is a move afoot to consider more fruit trees in city parks, as well as the trees offered each spring in the amazing Minneapolis tree sale. Meetings are at 5:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month, at the MPRB headquarters at 2117 W. River Rd. Meetings are open, and there are occasional openings among the four citizen representatives. Quite a few cities around the country are planting orchards in their parks, so if that sort of idea interests you, this might be the place to have your voice heard. If you would like to learn more, contact Michael Schmidt at 612-230-6400 or Park Commissioner Scott Vreeland at 612-721-7892.
Last, and to me the most fun, is a wonderful nonprofit called Gardening Matters. Started just under 10 years ago as a coordinating group for community gardens and local food initiatives, this organization has sprouted many wonderful programs. You can get a referral to find a community garden spot near you.
They help match gardeners without yards with homeowners who have yards but don’t garden. You can join a Local Food Resource Hub to get inexpensive seeds and plants, free gardening classes, borrow garden tools or participate in a host of community activities. They are always looking for volunteers, and my experience has been that this group is an inspiring and admirable group of people whose enthusiasm keeps me going. If you have a little time to help with a group that is building a grassroots local food system, call them at 612-821-2358 or visit their office in the Sabathani Community Center at 310 E. 38th St., #204B, Minneapolis.
These are just some ideas. Lots of things can help make our food supply more local and more secure. Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs) help. Gardening helps. Farmers’ markets help. And, if you have time, you might want to think about working with the organizations that make these activities grow.
So now, the calendar:
- Tuesday, Oct. 9, 7 to 9 p.m. Free. “Fruit trees,” Longfellow Garden Club, Epworth Methodist Church, 3207 37th Ave. S., Mpls. longfellowgardenclubmail [at] gmail [dot] com or https://sites.google.com/site/longfellowgardenclubminnesota/volunteers
- Saturday, Oct. 12, 3 to 4:30 p.m. Free. “Fall yard and garden care,” Southeast Library, 1222 4th St. S.E., Mpls. 612-543-6725 or http://www.hclib.org/pub/events/
- Saturday, Oct. 12, 1 to 2 p.m. Free. “Magnificent mushrooms,” Eloise Butler Gardens, Theodore Wirth Parkway and Glenwood Ave., Mpls. 612-370-4903 or http://www.minneapolisparks-.org/documents/parks/EBWG/-OctoberBrochure.pdf
- Monday, Oct. 14, 7:15 p.m. Free. Meeting of Minnesota Mycological Society, Green Hall, room 110, University of Minnesota, 1530 Cleveland Ave. N., St. Paul. 952-890-8744 or http://www.minnesotamushrooms.org/
- Sunday, Oct. 27, 1 to 2 or 3 to 4 p.m. $3. “Wild edibles hike,” Wood Lake Nature Center, 6710 Lake Shore Dr., Richfield. 612-861-9365 or http://www.woodlakenaturecenter.org
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