Our Conference keynote speaker was Anthony Flaccavento, of SCALE, Inc. (www.ruralscale.com)The title may have bewildered a few folks, but “What’s Love Got to do with it?Channeling Passion for Local Foods into a Movement for Community, Economic and National Renewal” went straight to the heart of who we are as sustainable farmers, foodies and Southern SAWG.
Anthony Flaccavento began by talking about Uncle Benny and a remark about farming, “Dis here organic gardening… If you got bugs, you gotta spray em!” Anthony’s life of research, education, and providing technical assistance has been to refute Uncle Benny and his generational beliefs. This history includes great economic changes and the lack of organic programs with few markets and small towns losing their downtown businesses. He quoted a TVA Economist from the mid 1990’s, who said, “We don’t include agriculture in our statistics because it is not considered part of the economy”.
Flaccavento went on to share some of the deadly health statistics we face related to the amount of corn sweetener consumed in the United States, 1996 – 2002, political issues and government subsidies, along with the stark fact that “by 1990, over half the US population lived within a 3 minute drive of a McDonalds”. Our “land of opportunity”, he believes, “is now the most unequal country of all the developed nations in the world”. He feels that we have been losing ground because of the disconnects between local actions and state and federal policy; between community conversations and “public debate”; and between rhetoric, values and spending”.
Our inspiration and hope comes from the recent USDA ag census in 2012, which was the “first census in generations to show net increase in number of farmers”. With the USDA reporting that in 2011, “Local, regional food sales exceed $5 Billion, and Organic sales approach $30 Billion” we can have hope for the future of sustainable agriculture!
As Anthony called out the list of grassroots initiatives, such as “Local marketing, season extension programs, the emergence of “food hubs”, both rural and urban, CSA-based food hubs, and the fact that farmers markets not just for “foodies” anymore, I could feel the weight of our movement.
Another exciting aspect of today’s good food movement is the use of EBT at farmers markets. This “reached $11,750,000 in 2011, 300% more than 2008.” At SCALE, Inc. Anthony and his team performed a study in 2011 that showed “At 75% of farmers markets in the Southeast and Appalachia, everyday foods are at or below supermarket prices.” These provide many opportunities beyond economic, but social and of revitalization.
To his point, What DOES Love have to do with it? To answer, he quoted Wendell Berry, “Love is not a feeling.Love is a practice”, and then asked the audience, “How do we put love into practice to build a better world”? He noted that the Essential Elements of Love are a lot like learning to farm – practice, empathy, acceptance, humility, patience AND urgency!
Anthony called on each of us to change the negative political situation by “Building a strategy that is grounded in Love, Based on Connections, Focusing on Shared Realities; Local foods, from big cities to tiny towns. Together we can make the “love of local eating become the foundation of a new politics of love, connection and commonality”!