Excerpt from Food Fights, Cville Weekly July 10, 2007 by Meg McEvoy
>> Two professors in the department of urban and environmental planning have twice taught a course in community food systems.
Food system planning has become a very new, cutting edge part of the planning field, says Tanya Denckla Cobb, a professor with UVAs Institute for Environmental Negotiation who teaches the course with sustainable communities professor Tim Beatley. A few graduate students have even enrolled in the department specifically to study food issues.
And EAT Local brings groups of activists, retailers, farmers and academics together regularly for potlucks and discussions at venues like Feast! market in the city.
That the educated liberal elite take an interest in food issues isnt surprising. But, when the liberals meet the libertarians, an everyone at the table philosophy means sometimes there isnt enough elbow room.
For starters, theres the question of whether government will help or hurt the local food movement.
The academics, no surprise, are more inclined to speak the language of the establishment. In fact, one of the bullet points of the class-produced Charlottesville Region Food System preliminary assessment reads: Provide governmental incentives to transition to sustainable methods.
Beatley brings up the example of Woodbury County, Iowa, which, in 2006, became the first county in the U.S. to mandate that all food purchased for government departments and schools be local and organic, shifting an estimated $281,000 of annual food purchases to the local economy.
Earlier, in 2005, Woodbury County became the first in the country to provide incentives to farmers who switched to organic growing methods. The action gives tax breaks of $50,000 a year for five years.
But, the website for the rural economic development department of Woodbury County reveals where all the support is coming from: USDA Rural Development, which provides grants, Iowa Department of Economic Development, the Iowa Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which gives export assistance to Woodbury County.
Its hard to imagine our local farmers accepting such handouts while resisting regulations handed down by the same agencies.
Even smaller, localized solutions can be met with opposition.
A popular idea among members of the EAT Local group is that of a community kitchen, where farmers could bring bruised or extra tomatoes, for example, to make into tomato sauce to up profit margins on sales. Local users would split the costs of kitchen inspections and regulation compliance.
But Russell says shes not interested in hauling her produce into town to use a kitchen thats not her own. Shed rather spend her time chipping away at the rules that say she cant make and sell tomato sauce in the first place.
Russell also points out that a recently held Food Security Summit at UVA, sponsored by the department of urban and environmental planning, cost $45 and took place on a workday during harvest season, which suggests to her that academics are out of touch with the basic requirements of a farmers life.
Even the Buy Fresh, Buy Local guide distributed by Piedmont Environmental Council is, in the eyes of some, too selective and focused on pricey restaurants and markets. VICFA has long published a plainer-looking producers guide that lists member farms in Albemarle and surrounding counties.
Beatley thinks these differences arent prohibitive: Im a teacher, and an important part of this is an educational mission. So we want our students to understand all sides, all points of view, and we do have to be a bit more balanced. But this local foods movement, sustainable foods movement, is a large tent, and it can accommodate lots of different positions.
Additional Information: "Food Fights" - full article in Cville Weekly
Published: October 22, 2007