I had lunch last week with Holy Cross Br. David Andrews, who is former director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and now a representative at Washington-based Food and Water Watch. He was in Kansas City for a meeting of a sustainable agriculture group he’s affiliated with, held the day before a big Farm Aid concert that featured performers Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Dave and I talked about many things,including a look back over the last 20 years or so, at how the organic and local food movements have transformed our entire food system in America and around the world.
I told him about the Kansas City Food Circle, our own local “locavore” movement.
My wife and I helped put together the very first conference back in the early 1990s. Together we baked about 12 quiches and made tabouli for the lunch that was served that day. Attendance was about 25. Later that year we published our first local food directory, making available information about where and how to buy from local farmers. The directory took up both sides of one page.
This past spring, two Farmers’ Expositions – gatherings city "eaters’ can attend to meet local farmers -- drew over two thousand people. People can sign up for CSAs (community-supported agriculture subscription programs)and find out which farmers' markets to go to to get local produce, eggs and meat. This year’s directory takes up about 60 pages.
The Food Circle has always been, according to its mission statement, "an all-volunteer, grassroots organization created to promote the development of a permanently sustainable local food system, providing an alternative to the conventional agricultural system, which is dependent on practices that are neither good for our personal health nor for the health of the living world we are part of. Most of the Food Circle’s work centers on making connections between area growers who meet our organic produce or free-range animal standards and people who want to eat delicious, nutritious, locally-grown food.
The Kansas City Food Circle is building a community food system in which farmers, eaters, chefs, and grocers know and trust each other. We cooperate in nourishing each other today while seeking to sustain the ability of future generations to nourish themselves through healthy farming practices."
The farmers and eaters who have worked on the Food Circle are an incredibly diverse group, ranging from the usual old hippies through Tea Party types. More than one farmer is a Vietnam or Gulf War veteran. One farm family are born-again Pentecostals whose children are home schooled. An ex corporate jet pilot haunts the Amish wholesale markets around the state in search of morels and shitakes. A young couple in their 20s, whose urban garden in a fashionable, wealthy part of town was resisted by neighbors, found an abandoned lot in the inner-city and have begun an urban composting program. Others could be categorized as libertarians, survivalists, and many are simply unclassifiable -- just feisty and independent.
The Food Circle volunteers now are largely young people in their 20s and 30s. The old are being replaced by the young, which makes for a bright future for the organization.
Food Circle farmers’ products are widely available now in mainstream grocery stores. Marketing products as “locally produced” is attractive even to the big guys now.
We buy eggs occasionally from Campo Lindo, a local chicken, beef and lamb producer. In each carton, there are little printed messages from either the hens or the Campo Lindo farm family, updated regularly. This was last week's message: