Category Archives: Local Food

How Local is the Future of Food

Today, never before has so much of the worlds food supply been controlled by so few people, giving a handful of elite executives an incredible amount of power over the rest of us.Along with this unprecedented vulnerability, our centralized food system also brings many other problems including…

  1. major depletion of our soils and eco-systems caused by mega-scale monocrops.
  2. the extreme carbon footprints caused by chemical fertilizers and extraordinary food Continue reading How Local is the Future of Food

Beyond Farmers Markets: Why Local Food Belongs on Grocery Shelves

By Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

When South Carolinians buy South Carolina peaches, there are unique regional benefits. Here’s how the USDA is helping make that happen.

farm-wide.jpgFood hub Keewayden Farms sells organic Wisconsin-grown products to grocers in the Midwest. (rufushau)

Several years ago, South Carolina dairyman Tom Trantham presented me with a conundrum. “We grow great peaches here,” he said, “some of the best in the country. But Continue reading Beyond Farmers Markets: Why Local Food Belongs on Grocery Shelves

Small Farmers Creating a New Business Model as Agriculture Goes Local

Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

Radishes are among the many vegetables grown at Alm Hill gardens near Everson, Wash., where produce is sold locally.

Published: July 1, 2012

SEATTLE — The cultivated rusticity of a farmers’ market, where dirt-dusted beets are status symbols and earnest entrepreneurs preside over chunks of cheese, is a part of weekend life in cities across the nation as the high days of the summer harvest approach.

Customers strolled through the Ballard Farmer’s Market in Seattle.

But beyond the familiar mantras about nutrition or reduced fossil fuel use, the movement toward local food is creating a vibrant new economic laboratory for American agriculture. The result, with its growing army of small-scale local farmers, is as much about dollars as dinner: a reworking of old models about how food gets sold and farms get financed, and who gets dirt under their fingernails doing the work.

“The future is local,” said Narendra Varma, 43, a former manager at Microsoft who invested $2 million of his own money last year in a 58-acre project of small plots and new-farmer training near Portland, Ore. The first four farmers arrived this spring alongside Mr. Varma and his family, aiming to create an economy of scale — tiny players banded in collective organic clout. He had to interrupt a telephone interview to move some goats.

Economists and agriculture experts say the “slow money” movement that inspired Mr. Varma, a way of channeling money into small-scale and organic food operations, along with the aging of the farmer population and steep barriers for young farmers who cannot Continue reading Small Farmers Creating a New Business Model as Agriculture Goes Local

Roll up your sleeves and start changing your own home town!

How “Small Change” Leads to Big Change: Social Capital and Healthy Places

By on Jun 6, 2012 

Families peruse stands offering a variety of fresh foods at a farmers market in downtown Milwaukee / Photo: Ethan Kent

According to Dr. Richard Jackson, a pioneering public health advocate and former CDC official now serving as the Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA, the idea that buildings, streets, and public spaces play a key role in the serious public health issues that we face in the US “has undergone a profound sea change in the past few years. It’s gone from sort of a marginal, nutty thing to becoming something that’s common sense for a lot of people.”

That’s good news, but as a profile of Dr. Jackson in the Chronicle of Higher Education notes, today’s click-driven media climate means that the message of public health advocates like Jackson is “often pithily condensed to a variation of this eye-catching headline: ‘Suburbia Makes You Fat.’” And while these pithily-titled articles may do some good in alerting more people to the problems inherent in the way that we’ve been designing our cities and towns for the past half-century, they oversimplify the message and strip out one the most important factors in any effort to change the way that we shape the places where we live and work: social capital.

Highways, parking lots, cars, big box stores–these are merely symptoms of a larger problem: many people have become so used to their surroundings looking more like a suburban arterial road than a compact, multi-use destination that they’ve become completely disconnected from Place. Real life is lived amongst gas stations and golden arches; we have to visit Disneyland to see a thriving, compact Main Street. To question a condition that’s so pervasive, as individuals, seems futile.

That’s why, if we want to see people challenging the way that their places are made on a larger scale, we need to focus first on developing the loose social networks that are so vital to urban resilience. This is the stuff Jane Jacobs was talking about when she wrote, in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, that “lowly, unpurposeful, and random as they appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life must grow.” When people are connected enough to feel comfortable talking about what they want for their neighborhood with their neighbors, it’s much easier to muster political will to stop, say, a highway from cutting through Greenwich Village–or, in contemporary terms, to tear down a highway that was actually built.

In Dr. Jackson’s words: “The key thing is to get the social engagement. Community-building has to happen first; people need to articulate what’s broke, and then what they want.” Serendipitously, gathering to discuss a vision for a healthier future is an ideal way to build the social capital needed to turn the understanding that our built environment is hurting us into action to change the existing paradigm. At PPS, we have seen first-hand how the Placemaking process has brought people together in hundreds of cities around the world with the goal of improving shared public spaces; it’s a process that strengthens existing ties, creates new ones, and invigorates communities with the knowledge of how they can make things happen.

The Healthy Places Program (HPP), which began last year as a collaboration between staff members working in PPS’s Public Markets and Transportation programs. “There are many different elements that make up a healthy community,” says Aurash Khawarzad, an Associate in PPS’s Transportation division, and a key player in getting HPP off the ground. “There are social factors, environmental factors, etc–and what we at PPS can do is take these people in our offices who are focusing on their own areas and bring them together.”

With that collaborative mission in mind, Khawarzad and Kelly Verel, a Senior Associate in PPS’s Public Markets division, set out on a trip across New York last fall to facilitate a series of day-long Healthy Places workshops with local, regional, and state public health officials and a host of community partners. In partnership with the New York Academy of Medicine’s DASH-NY, the PPS team visited a range of communities, from rural towns, to suburban stretches, to major and mid-sized cities. The workshops were designed to help participants understand how multi-modal transportation systems can be better designed to create a network that links a series of destinations, including healthy food hubs and markets, to create a built environment that promotes well-being by making healthy lifestyle choices (like walking, biking, and eating fresh food) more convenient and fun. They focused not just on what wasn’t working, but on brainstorming ways that participants’ communities could become truly healthy places.

Any expert worth their salt will tell you that maintaining good health is not just about exercise or diet, but both together. In much the same way, addressing the problem of bad community design and its impacts on Public Health requires that we not just promote better transportation or better food access alone, but that we focus on both simultaneously. “The reaction we got from the the Healthy Places training attendees was really good,” notes Verel. “I think people have been really siloed in their efforts. We would ask people what they were doing and they would say ‘access to food in schools,’ or ‘rails to trails,’ and that they focus exclusively on that area.”

Understanding public health within the context of Place is essential, because the problems created and reinforced by our built environment are so broad in scope. HPP takes that case directly to local decision-makers and creates a learning environment where they can build their understanding of how Place effects health together, in a cross-disciplinary setting. This “silo-busting” is absolutely critical; as Dr. Jackson writes in the introduction to his latest book, Designing Healthy Communities (a companion to the four-part PBS special of the same name):

“For too long we have had doctors talking only to doctors, and urban planners, architects, and builders talking only to themselves. The point is that all of us, including those in public health, have got to get out of the silos we have created, and we have got to connect—actually talk to each other before and while we do our work—because there is no other way we can create the environment we want. Public health in particular must be interdisciplinary, for no professional category owns public health or is legitimately excused from it.”

The emphasis, there, is added, as this phrase strike at the heart of the problem we face. To shift the default development model from “low-density, use-segregated, and auto-centric” to one that promotes healthy, active lifestyles and more vibrant communities will take strong leadership from people who aren’t afraid to work across departments, and “turn everything upside-down to get it right side up.” PPS is certainly not the only organization to recognize this, and we’re thrilled to be part of a growing movement. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own Healthy Community Design Initiative program. Internationally, Urban Age made designing for public health the subject of a major conference in Hong Kong held late last year (from which a full report is now available).

New bike lanes are just one part of Pro Walk / Pro Bike: “Pro Place” host city Long Beach, CA’s strategy to become “Biketown USA” / Photo: waltarrrrr via Flickr

Of course, individual citizens have hardly been waiting around and twiddling their thumbs. Active transportation, healthy food, and community gardening advocates have been working for decades on the ground, pushing for incremental changes to the way our cities and towns operate. Just through the robust conversations taking place online around issues like #completestreets, #biking, and #urbanag, it’s easy to see how well-organized and resonant these movements have become. Mounting public awareness is pushing more public officials toward programs like HPP, to learn about how focusing on Place can facilitate inter-agency collaboration around the common cause of improving public health.

Whether you’re looking at this issue from the top-down or the bottom-up, there will be several opportunities to gather with active transportation and public markets professionals, advocates, and enthusiasts from around the world this fall for debate, discussion, and more of that vital social capital development. As part of the Healthy Places Program, PPS is hosting two conferences, just one week apart: the 17th Pro Walk / Pro Bike: “Pro Place” conference in Long Beach, CA (Sept. 10-13); and the 8th International Public Markets Conference in Cleveland, OH (Sept. 21-23).

If you’re approaching Healthy Places from the transportation world, Pro Walk / Pro Bike (#prowalkprobike) will explore how efforts to advocate for safer and better infrastructure for active transportation modes are being greatly enhanced as more and more people learn about the benefits of getting around on their own two feet (with or without pedals). If you’re more of a “foodie,” the Public Markets conference (#marketsconf8) will highlight the burgeoning local food scene in Cleveland and throughout Northeastern Ohio, and will spotlight the iconic West Side Market, arguably the most architecturally significant market building in the US. Both events will focus on how supporters of active transportation and public markets, respectively, can grow their movements by busting down silos and thinking h0listically about how their chosen cause can be part of the effort to create Healthy Places.

If you can’t make it to Long Beach or Cleveland, there are plenty of Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper steps that you can take to get your neighbors together and talking, out in public space, building local connections. “Something like a playstreet or a summer street shows people that, not only do they like this kind of varied activity and flexibility and want more of it in their community’s streets, but that they can actually make it happen,” Verel explains. “It takes more basic manpower–putting up tents, handing out flyers–than actual lobbying or money to get the DOT to shut down a street for one day and focus on social interaction and healthy activity.”

And you can start even smaller than that. PPS mentor Holly Whyte once wrote that “We are not hapless beings caught in the grip of forces we can do little about, and wholesale damnations of our society only lend a further mystique to organization. Organization has been made by man; it can be changed by man.” If our problem is that we have become siloed and isolated, at work and in our neighborhoods, then the most immediate way for us to start re-organizing is to reach out to the people around us, with something as simple as a friendly “hello” on the street. An interaction like this might seem ‘lowly, unpurposeful, and random’–but at the very least, it will make you feel happier and more connected to your community. And guess what? That’s good for you, too.

So, here’s to your health!


A Playstreet-style fundraiser for cicLAvia in Los Angeles / Photo: waltarrrrr via Flickr

Related posts

  1. Early Bird Registration for Pro Walk / Pro Bike 2012: “Pro Place” is Now Open
  2. New ‘Healthy Places’ Training in New York State
  3. Cleveland Chosen to Host PPS’ 8th International Public Markets Conference
  4. A Place-Based Approach to Food Access: Creating a Healthier Future for Birmingham, AL

FROM:  How Small Change Leads to Big Change

North Amherst Community Farm offers self-guided cellphone tour

Visitors to the Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst, MA can now use their cellphones to take self-guided tours that explain what’s happening at 15 stops around the 32-acre farm.  Stops include information on the organic vegetable, livestock including chickens, cattle, pigs, and sheep, as well as farm history and ecology.

Instructions are available at the Simple Gifts Farm parking lot at 1089 North Pleasant St., across from Puffton Village and just south of the traffic light in North Amherst.

Visitors can point their smartphones at a QR code or dial a phone number that will activate the tour.

You may begin the tour at any of the stops, which are indicated by signs on green posts. However the best place to begin is at the head of the Simple Gifts parking lot on North Pleasant where you will find instructions and maps. You can access the tour from your phone by calling    1-413-242-9070  or on the web, and simply follow the directions.

Please bring a friend, kids or a dog (on a leash) and leisurely walk the farm to see the Children’s Garden, the greenhouses, vegetable fields, an explanation of the wildlife and geology, and of course the chickens, cows, sheep and pigs. Feel free to take pictures and please share these with us on our Facebook page.


This project is sponsored by the North Amherst Community Farm, a non-profit dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture and to creating more equitable access to local, organic food. NACF and SGF also work together to educate the community about farming and food and to help preserve the agriculture heritage of North Amherst.

The laying hens will come to greet you when you stop by with the kids!

Relocalize your money


Some activists claim the “American Spring” has begun with the resurgence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I hope so. But for those of us who are not likely to march in the streets, there is something we can do – relocalize our money – now!

Wall Street has rebounded quite nicely from the economic crisis it helped to create. Its recovery was achieved with assistance from a federal government that continues to support a “big corporation” economic policy. Want proof? Just follow the money.

According to Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the financial assistance provided to corporations exceeded $3 trillion.

The U.S. federal government Small Business Jobs Acts created a fund to spur local bank lending to small businesses, releasing just 10 percent of the amount provided to the big banks through TARP.

According to Amy Cortese’s new book, “Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It,” there are fundamental flaws in how the federal government (both Republicans and Democrats) have dealt with the financial recovery. The feds continue to underwrite big investment banks that play roulette with our money.

They have bailed out financial institutions and corporations deemed “too big to fail” and then allowed them to get even bigger. And they subsidize multinational corporations that continue to move jobs offshore.

Federal deregulation has made our financial system a casino for the rich, and they are playing with our money. When Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, the relatively conservative banking culture changed radically and became a free-for-all of risky speculation culminating in the collapse of 2008.

According to Cortese, the financial system supports “a massive misallocation of capital away from its most productive uses and toward unproductive, even harmful, ones, such as speculative trading, subprime mortgages, and the latest bubble du jour.”

Our trade, tax and bank policies create a business environment in which exploitative and speculative practices are the norm. Given the financial power of Wall Street, efforts to regulate this dangerous behavior have proven difficult. Politicians that try are labeled “socialist” and marginalized by the electorate.

What can the ordinary person do? Occupy Wall Street is one response. Another is to keep your money close to home. We need to relocalize our money.

Here are some ways to do it:

  1. Move your savings to a local bank or credit union (for help see the Move Your Money Project).
  2. Invest 5 to 20 percent of your funds in a Community Development Finance Institution or the Common Good Bank.
  3. Invest in and buy from local co-cooperatively managed businesses (see the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives for information).
  4. And of course buy local.

Our corrupt financial system must be reformed, but we can’t wait for the federal government to make the changes necessary. Federal politicians run for election full time and depend on corporate money to stay in office. Wall Street has too much money and power to be reformed by government.

We must take action ourselves and reclaim the power to make the economy work for people, rather than allowing the 1 percent to manipulate the financial system to serve short-term greed.

Impossible, you say?  I say believe it.

Begin with small actions like those listed above. Small actions taken by enough people will create a reinforcing feedback loop that can develop into a tidal wave of change. If we start a parade, eventually politicians will want to jump up front and carry our flag. One of the major barriers to change is that too many people just don’t believe it is possible to create real change. I say believe it.

To quote a classic….

‘I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

Can’t you?” the White Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again. Draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Believe it. And then relocalize your money – today.

John M. Gerber is a professor in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture and teaches courses in sustainable agriculture and sustainable living. His writings may be found at and  He is also program coordinator of the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture major in Sustainable Food and Farming which offers a 15- credit certificate, a 2- year Associates Degree, a  4-year Bachelor of Sciences degree, and several online classes in Sustainable Food and Farming.

Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2011 All rights reserved

Don’t miss the Wednesday Farmers Market in Amherst

Fresh vegetables and friendly vendors…

I finally got over to the Wednesday Farmers Market in Amherst at Kendrick Park today.  What a nice little, easily accessible and friendly market.  Fresh vegetables, locally made bread, grass-fed meat products, music and coffee too!

Western Woods coffee is brewed with intention…

Click here for a map to Kendrick Park

The prepared foods from Harvest Market are to die for…

Be sure and stop by next Wednesday between 2:00-6:00pm!

SNAP/EBT friendly!

Raising Backyard Hens

Thanks to everyone who came to our

Backyard Hens Workshop

David Tepfer and Katie McDermott shared their experience raising hens including information on getting started, housing, feed and health care, chicken biology and anatomy, harvesting eggs, and protection from predators.

For resources on raising chickens, please check out the following links:

Backyard Hen Resources

Pioneer Valley Backyard Chicken Association

The City Chicken


Simple Hen Houses


Nicer Hen Houses

Description of how to raise hens

Photos of a backyard henhouse  in Amherst

For a video on raising hens, see:

Raising Chickens in Your Backyard

For information contact John M. Gerber at (413)549-6949 or

Co-Sponsored by the North Amherst Community Farm and Simple Gifts


Simple Gifts CSA

Amherst Cooperative Market – Community Interest Meeting; April 21

You are invited to join with a group of local people who want to start a cooperatively managed market in Amherst.   Please share your thoughts and comments in the box below.


April 21, 2012

2:00pm – 5:00pm

Food for Thought Bookstore

Amherst, MA


Do you live in Amherst? Are you frustrated by the lack of a grocery store downtown? Those of you without access to a vehicle, are you tired of taking buses to Hadley to do your grocery shopping? Are you passionate about locally grown, healthy food?

We invite you to attend a community interest meeting about the Amherst Community Market, a food cooperative for our town. A cooperative business is one that is owned and operated by and for the community it serves. As the Steering Committee for the development of this potential food co-op in Amherst, we’d like to have your input as we move forward with this project!

Please arrive with eager minds full of questions and ideas. What is important to you in a grocery store? What would you like to see in a community cooperative?

The meeting will be held at Food For Thought Books, located at 106 North Pleasant Street in downtown Amherst. Ken, Laura, and Nora will be facilitating the meeting, and refreshments will be provided!

In addition to the discussion, representatives from the Valley Alliance for Worker Cooperatives and the Neighboring Food Coop Association will be there to share their insights about the cooperative movement and why a food coop would benefit Amherst.

The original Facebook invitation may be found here: Amherst Market Meeting.

Even Some Bankers Think Big Banks are Dangerous

Last week I published a blog titled Don’t wait for the federal government to fix the economy – relocalize your money now!”  Most readers agreed in general with the theme that we can’t afford banks “too big to fail” (of course most of my readers are progressives).   In conversation with some friends this weekend however, there was a sense that the big banks are inevitable “evil” and the Occupy Wall Street response too unfocused to matter.

While I disagree (as I suggested in the blog) I do understand the feeling that changing the situation given the federal government’s support of centralized power and money will be difficult.  Then I read this article that was published this weekend in the Wall Street Journal and felt a spark of hope!

I’ve reproduced the article in full below, but if you really want to understand this issue go to the source of this viewpoint which was published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas!


The Wall Street Journal

March 24, 2012, 9:51 p.m. ET

Too Big To Bank There


Columnist's name
We have finally reached the point in our financial history where even bankers hate bankers.Last week, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas issued its 2011 annual report with a 34-page essay, “Why We Must End Too Big To Fail—Now.” The report stops short of calling our nation’s largest banks terrorists, but it does dub them “a clear and present danger to the U.S. economy.”

It begins with a letter from regional Fed president Richard Fisher. “More than half of banking industry assets are on the books of just five institutions,” he complains. “They were a primary culprit in magnifying the financial crisis, and their presence continues to play an important role in prolonging our economic malaise.”

This is not the Tea Party. This is not Occupy Wall Street. This is not some disgruntled Goldman Sachs guy firing off a nastygram to the New York Times on his last day. This is a member of the Federal Reserve itself—an institution that bears responsibility for our banking system devolving into an untenable oligarchy that buys off politicians, captures regulators and eats up our money. This is a member of the establishment saying Too-Big-To-Fail, or TBTF, must die.

“The term TBTF disguised the fact that commercial banks holding roughly one-third of the assets in the banking system did essentially fail, surviving only with extraordinary government assistance,” the essay reads.

Their executives paid themselves fortunes to execute failed mergers and acquisitions and accumulate unimaginable piles of toxic debts. We saved them to save the financial system. But now we must break them up so they don’t put us in this ridiculous situation again.

These banks are “a hindrance to the very ideal of American capitalism,” Mr. Fisher writes. And capitalism requires “creative destruction.”

I would add that most of these TBTF banks are criminal enterprises and deserve the death penalty, anyway. The record is clear: They’ve paid millions of dollars to settle fraud allegations, often without admitting or denying guilt. And to crib a line from Gregg Costa, a federal prosecutor who recently won a conviction against Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford: “Fraud is just theft wearing a business suit.”

To keep everyone honest, capitalism demands the kind of competition that big banks love to crush.

“When competition declines, incentives often turn perverse, and self-interest can turn malevolent. That’s what happened in the years before the financial crisis,” the Fed essay says.

“A financial system composed of more banks—numerous enough to ensure competition but none of them big enough to put the overall economy in jeopardy—will give the United States a better chance.”

So how do we get there? The Dallas Fed doesn’t offer many clear solutions, but one way to go may be as simple as a variation on a 1960s anti-Vietnam War mantra: “What if there was a bank and nobody showed up?”

If you hear that your delusional, oversized banker is threatening the nation’s economy, why do you still bank there? Have you no patriotism?

You can’t wait for the next Democrat or the next Republican or the next Ron Paul to take action. There is only one thing you can do: Find a well-managed community bank or a credit union that hasn’t been bailed out or settled allegations of fraud and put your money there.

You don’t have to take it from the left or the right, or even me. Take it from the Dallas Fed: “Achieving an economy relatively free from financial crises requires us to have the fortitude to break up the giant banks.”

—Al Lewis is a columnist for Dow Jones Newswires in Denver. He blogs at ; his email address is