A Day in the Life of a Food Systems Change Leader

Guest blog post from Linda Phillips, a student in UVM’s 2012 Breakthrough Leaders Program for Sustainable Food Systems. Linda is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she studied government and urban studies. She has worked for 25 years as a community planning consultant. In the last several years, her work has concentrated on coordinating two Harvest of the Month Farm-to-School programs as a means of growing the local food system.

Last month, I spent a day on the road in two neighboring counties networking with food system folks and recruiting participants to our two Farm to Cafeteria initiatives:  the Finger Lakes Farm to Cafeteria Yahoo!group and Harvest of the Month.

I met with Susan Noble, Director of the Agriculture and Food Technology Park.  I shared with her a graphic of the Hardwick, VT food system, my indispensable visual aid in communicating the idea a local food system, and discovered she already had plans to visit the Food Venture Center there.

Once I was 55 miles from home it also seemed logical to visit the Finger Lakes Produce Auction (pirrunginc.com/FLPA.htm) if I wanted a better understanding of the existing local food system.  I talked with Amish farm families, farmers/farm market operators, and others like the coordinator of an upcoming Yoga retreat.  I was shocked to learn all produce offered is identified only by number, so you have to be a regular to know what is produced locally and what is leftovers from larger regional produce markets, or as one person said “last week’s produce bought at a bargain with hopes of reselling at a higher price.”  I also met a man who hauls produce for Amish farmers who do not drive.

Next I pull into a bulk food store I passed on my way to the auction.  As a food coop member, I associate bulk food with healthy organic food but not so here.  Nevertheless I am hungry and lulled by the presence of Amish staff into thinking my tuna sandwich will come on homemade bread, again not so.

My next stop is a farm market which I now look at with jaded eyes wondering where the food actually came from.   Between our CSA share and my husband’s weekend visit to the farmers market we don’t need any fruit at home and so I leave the market with a bag of sesame sticks because I am not satiated after the tuna sandwich.

Will the hauler I met or others I connect with through him prove important in solving local distribution difficulties? Did the time I spend at the auction count as work?  Did it contribute to my goal of expanding the local food system?  I don’t know.  Maybe I am an essential part of growing the local food system, like an enzyme or earthworm or whatever it is that re-establishes the vast network of soil microbes necessary for soil health, but some days I sure don’t feel like I am making any progress.

On my way home I enjoy homemade organic strawberry rhubarb ice cream in a hand made waffle cone at Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile (pymercantile.com) and find the owners of Leaf Kitchen painting their new location and excited about participating in Harvest of the Month!  Finally with satisfying local food in my belly and one small increment of progress toward my goal I head home hopeful about this project of growing sustainable local food systems.

Posted in: Economic, Environmental, Health, Social.