Connecting Movements and the Wisdom of Farmers

This week’s guest post comes from Annie Myers, a fellow Gallatin student at the forefront of the sustainable food movement at NYU and in the city. This article, about an event last weekend at the Park Slope Food Coop, is a modified version of a recent post on her own blog Thoughts on the Table.

Last Saturday night was about knowledge, straight up. Knowledge that could easily be lost. Valuable knowledge that gave our sweet apples their crunch, and left salted, roasted pecans melting on our tongues.

When I first saw the flyer for Connecting Movements, I predicted the event would be packed with familiar optimism, and lined with ambiguous buzzwords. Though the movements to be connected were “Fair Trade” and “Buy Local” – precisely the two themes I most often strive to blend into my work and home – a random evening focused on bringing them together struck me as having only mild potential for productivity.

Thankfully, though, the night wasn’t about high-minded ideals and social solutions. It was about the red of an apple, the shake of a pecan tree, the dimensions of a well-grown banana. The gathering, hosted by the Park Slope Food Coop, was part of “Faces of Fair Trade,” a national tour put on by Equal Exchange, Red Tomato, and Oke USA to unite the global and the local elements of the sustainable food movement. Equal Exchange strives for this unity within itself, having recently started up a domestic program to complement its international Fair Trade partnerships. Red Tomato (founded by an owner of Equal Exchange) connects Northeast family farmers with valuable markets, and Oké USA (owned by Equal Exchange and Red Tomato) is a certified Fair Trade banana company with a growing market in the US.

The tour group includes farmers supported by each group, and the office representatives of the host organizations spoke very little. They didn’t feel compelled to explain Fair Trade, and they didn’t need to show off for publicity or press. Instead, they let the farmers just speak about what they know: the down and dirty everyday, scouring the orchards for pests, clearing the branches (and snakes!) from piles of pecans. Barney Hodges, from Sunrise Orchards in Vermont, talked about how Macintosh apples need cold nights, and this year the prolonged warmth meant a record late harvest. Dianne Johnson, a pecan farmer from the Southern Alternatives Agricultural Cooperative in Georgia, described the way a smooth pecan feels in your fingers, just before its roasted, and Yocser Godoy Carranza from Costa Rica demonstrated the misshapen form of a banana if it rains too much as it grows. He explained that it takes seven to eight workers to tend one hectare of bananas – an expensive fruit to cultivate. A crop like palm would be cheaper to produce but would require only one or two workers per hectare. Yocser’s cooperative has stuck with growing bananas on their land, because its most important to them to keep the community employed.

The sort of conversation we had at Connecting Movements could be the next step in both the local and fair food-related movements. As awareness and knowledge about Fair Trade and locally-grown products increases, farmers will become authorities. They’ll be familiar faces who have answers to our questions, who have personal knowledge (not lost!) that is infinitely valuable.

By recognizing the value of farmers’ passion for their work, their history, and their expertise, we’ll end up giving them space to share what they know, and the love they have for what they do. We’ll get to know firsthand the care that goes into producing what we eat. And, of course, we’ll be able to taste and share the ever-pleasant results.

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