Our Food, Economy and Community

  • Post published:11/19/2011
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Jim Barry

When I drove down the Greenfield Community College driveway last Saturday I passed ‘my tree,’ a weeping cherry that I donated when I left the College in 1989. I reveled in its good health, parked my car and walked towards the steps. A head popped out of the Sloan Theater door, calling to tell me I could take the elevator up. I called back, “No, no. Step to health. Step to health,” ever my motto as I was always up and down those stairs in my days with Continuing Education. A man right on my heels, asked me if I thought they were just being friendly or was the offer a reference to – and here he brushed his balding, white haired head and made me laugh. I had exactly the same thought, although I had a little more white hair.

My white haired companion turned out to be Jim Barry, Regional Coordinator, Green Communities Division, Western Region, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources who gave a great talk about what the state is doing in the areas of energy and the environment. His talk made me very happy that I live in Massachusetts. Although more remains to be done.

Shelly Beck

We trailed after a young woman in red to the front steps and met Shelly Beck. She represented Enterprise Farm and gave a presentation about the farm in the “How Can We Scale Up Our Food System?” workshop. These were just two of the ways that the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee found to inform and inspire an energetic group of area residents who were stepping up to action in a whole variety of ways.

I could not attend all the workshops at the Creating Greenfield’s Future: Our Food, Economy and Future conference, and was sorry to miss Youth as Change Makers where young people from the Seeds of Solidarity SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden in Orange shared their experiences, or Let’s Divorce the ‘Sick Care’ System that was about finding ways for us to take more responsibility for our health.  There were business workshops and the opportunity to spend more time with Ben Hewitt, author of “The Town that Food Saved,” who gave a thoughtful and engaging keynote speech.

It was the growing, processing and distribution of food that was of most interest to me on Saturday. Margaret Christie of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) led a discussion that made clear the challenges of our area, rich in land and skill as it is.

The first challenge is to find more ways to put potential new farmers in touch with people who have land available for farming. Start up costs for farming are considerable, especially land. It made me think that although Heath is not an ideal location in many ways, I would love to have some of our acreage under cultivation. I am definitely going to explore some of those linking resources beginning with local land trusts.

The second challenge is the need for more agricultural infrastructure. I know this from my own experience raising pigs and chickens for meat. Over the years we have been here the availability of slaughter houses has decreased – even as more people are interested in raising their own meat, and farmers are seeing a good local market.

Also if more food is produced here, we need more ways to process it to give farmers a year round income, not just during the growing season. That means freezing capabilities and cold storage.

I cannot begin to cover everything discussed, but the CISA report Scaling Up Local Food is available and downloadable on their website, www.buylocalfood.org.

In the afternoon, after a great lunch, I attended the Food Security: A Household Approach workshop. Eveline MacDougal talked about founding the Pleasant Street Community Garden and the benefits that go way beyond growing some vegetables, Jay Lord brought us up to date on Just Roots, the town’s new Community Garden space, Wendy Marsden gave advice about preserving our own harvests in a variety of ways, and Kimberly Walker-Goncalves gave an informative and amusing talk about raising chickens in town.

There are any number of people in town who might be happy to know that it is perfectly legal to have ten or fewer chickens in your backyard. Since I assume that anyone raising a backyard flock is more interested in eggs and the cheerfulness of the chickens, they don’t even have to worry about the lack of poultry slaughtering facilities.

Chickens are cheerful, domestic and productive. At least that is the way I have always thought of them. They are not much trouble, although as Goncalves pointed out, even in town you have to be aware of predators, not only neighborhood dogs but foxes and raccoons. I would add the caveat that you will not save any money, but the eggs will be unlike store eggs, and you’ll enjoy the chickens’ company.

Pigs are not quite as picturesque as a mixed flocked of silver laced wyandottes, barred rocks, and buff orpingtons, but it is legal to have two pigs in your backyard in Greenfield. And remember you must have at least two pigs in order for them to thrive. They are social animals and need a companion, and a little competition at the food trough.

Ben Hewitt

I left the conference to the rousing rhythms of Echo Uganda, but the words that were ringing in my ears were those of Ben Hewitt. “I want more than sustainable agriculture. I want restorative agriculture. Agriculture that restores our health, restores our soil and environment, restores our economy and restores our community.”

Thank you Greening Greenfield for an inspiring day.

Between the Rows   November 12, 2011

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