Tag Archives: personal challenge

How A Locavore Executive Director Came to Be

20 Sep

We are so excited to have words from Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director of NOFA-NY to cap off this week’s Take Action theme.  Read on for her story of becoming interested in, and then highly passionate about, organic farming.  We know not all our readers plan to become executive directors of organic farming organizations, but we believe that this example of an (ahem) organic pathway from passion to action is a realistic form of inspiration.  Let it help you tune in and react to your surroundings, perhaps taking some unplanned leaps of faith about those issues that stir your soul (related to organic farming, we hope!).

Those of you who have grown up in the country know that the cycles of farming keep you sane and grounded. Although I did not have the opportunity to grow up on a farm, my little Iowa hometown was surrounded by miles and miles of farms—mostly corn, soybeans, and hogs. Watching the fields be prepared for planting, the corn and beans grow, and the combines out until the wee hours of the night harvesting were incredibly important in creating a landscape of comfort while I was growing up.

Because I didn’t grow up on a farm and farming happened around me, I was only peripherally tuned in. However, I did notice change happening in the 80’s. By the time I graduated from middle school, the farm crisis had caused almost all my friends who had grown up on farms to move into town. There was a heavy sadness about farming that I couldn’t quite understand, but I did start to put the pieces together. The size of farms was growing, the hog operations were growing and smelling more, and farm houses were removed to make way for more soybeans. Little towns in the middle of miles of corn were putting boards on the windows and surrendering as ghost towns. Schools were consolidating at an alarming rate, which to a small town can be the kiss of death. What do you do on a Friday night if you can’t root for the home team? When I expressed interest in studying ecology to someday become a farmer, I was told that there wasn’t a future in farming. I left Iowa for college feeling sad that the once thriving rural agriculture and the family farm were dying.

A young Kate Mendenhall hangs out with some big pumpkins.

A young Kate Mendenhall hangs out with some big pumpkins.

all grown up, still in costume!

all grown up, still in costume!

 

When I landed in Maine for college, I first was blown away by not being surrounded by the cycles of farming every day. I missed seeing for miles over tassels of waving corn. But what I did find was a thriving farmers market in downtown Brunswick, Maine where I peppered the organic farmers with questions about their farms and the food they were growing. At MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine I saw hope for a new way of farming. I saw that while the Farm Crisis of the 80’s was destroying rural family farms in Iowa, the Northeast was paving the road for a different way of farming—one that worked with nature instead of against it, promoted small farms to support small rural communities, and supported each other as farmers. I was inspired. There was hope. And I was convinced that organic farming was the answer. I feel called to help grow this organic farming movement. It is our hope for a better future.

This movement is innovative, responsible, and creative! The community of organic farmers that make up New York State and NOFA-NY are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. They are scientists, explorers, botanists, ecologists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists. They grow delicious food and make eating fun! NOFA-NY is also driven by incredibly dedicated eaters who vote for a better food system with their dollars at the farmers’ market, CSAs, farm stands, and co-ops. Together we can inspire a culture of change that is healthy for our soils, animals, plants, and people. This Locavore Month is a great opportunity to really revel in the glory and bounty of New York State’s delicious organic movement, and to thank our farmers for all their hard work in stewarding our open spaces and providing their communities with local organic food. Next time you buy organic food from your local farmers, give them a firm handshake and thank them for carving a better way forward. Eat up!

Thanks, farmers, for the delicious organic corn (and for keeping our communities small and intact) this September!

Thanks, farmers, for the delicious organic corn (and for keeping our communities small and intact) this September!

Interested in reading more from Kate?  Check out the Director’s Outlook in each issue of the New York Organic News (it’s mailed to you when you join NOFA-NY as a member, which supports our organization’s mission to keep organic farming part of our present and future lives, and you can access the archives online).

Wednesday Worksheet #3: Analyzing your Locavore-ability

18 Sep

In a new move for this blog, we’ve come up with four printable worksheets, which we’ll post on Wednesdays this month.  We all need a little back-to-school type fun this month, right?  So download, print and enjoy!  If you feel so inclined, snap a photo of yourself and your worksheet and share with us on Facebook and Twitter!  Make sure you tag, tag, tag!

locavore tags

This third worksheet challenges you to identify characteristics of an entity you’d like to make more local-food-and-farming friendly.  Could be your household, your group of friends, or even your own self.  A Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat analysis is a classic way for any group to get a quick picture of their situation, and we highly encourage you to try it out and share with others.  It’s hard to TAKE ACTION if you haven’t brainstormed some of the main characteristics you’ll encounter within your locavore challenge.

Download week 3’s worksheet here: Activity Week 3 LC 2013

Week 2’s worksheet (creating your Locavore mission statement): Activity Week 2 LC 2013

Week 1’s worksheet (planning our your Locavore strategy): Activity Week 1 LC 2013

Wednesday Worksheet #2: Spread the Word!

11 Sep

In a new move for this blog, we’ve come up with four printable worksheets, which we’ll post on Wednesdays this month.  We all need a little back-to-school type fun this month, right?  So download, print and enjoy!  If you feel so inclined, snap a photo of yourself and your worksheet and share with us on Facebook and Twitter!  Make sure you tag, tag, tag!

locavore tags

This week we are providing you with a worksheet that is very near to our hearts at NOFA-NY.  As we are constantly interacting with people who are new to our organization, we’ve learned the value of concise messaging about the our mission, vision and any program we run.  Similarly, you’ll be able to talk with confidence about the Locavore Challenge if you’ve crafted sort of an elevator pitch to explain why you just refused the boxed (and not from a source you’re including in your local-foods diet) cookies at your staff meeting.

Week 2 Worksheet: Activity Week 2 LC 2013

Missed week 1? That’s this worksheet: Activity Week 1 LC 2013

breadandbutterplate

Wednesday Worksheet #1: Planning a Strategy

4 Sep

In a new move for this blog, we’ve come up with four printable worksheets, which we’ll post on Wednesdays this month.  We all need a little back-to-school type fun this month, right?  So download, print and enjoy!  If you feel so inclined, snap a photo of yourself and your worksheet and share with us on Facebook and Twitter!  Make sure you tag, tag, tag!

locavore tags

Your first worksheet is all about creating a strategy.  We’ve been focused on ways to incorporate Locavore actions into your lives, but this worksheet might help link all the ideas you want to try to how you’ll make it happen.  Think about a few concrete actions and strategies that will really work into your life, then think of a few ways to stretch yourself.  That’s what this worksheet wants you to do!

Download week 1’s worksheet here: Activity Week 1 LC 2013

(and open this link to help you answer the questions in the worksheet)

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Sweetness (Intro to Rachel’s personal Locavore challenge)

23 Aug

Sweetness! (Rachel looks into sweeteners as part of her personal Locavore Challenge: Introduction)

Rachel’s Locavore challenge: Investigating how some of our luxury/cheat items are produced and make it to our stores and plates, and seeing what alternatives we might choose for everyday use. I love to make things the “old-fashioned” way, and I love to research the path of foods to our plates, so this seems like a great personal challenge for me. The 250-mile diet challenge is less of the issue for me this month, though I’ll be working on that as much as I can. It’s less of a stretch, however, for someone who attempts that year-round. For me, the challenge is about highlighting what is available around me, and forgiving myself for not being able to be perfect at it, while simultaneously figuring out what steps I can take to have a positive impact on my local food/farm economy. My major cheats, I already know, will be nuts/seeds/exotic dried fruits and probably tea, some spices (though I’m going to use less since we have such fantastic local herbs and seasonings right now) and coffee.

When I have a local-ingredient question, I grab the oldest cookbook I can find. Usually that will give me a hint about what might be substituted for an expensive or exotic ingredient when it’s not a special occasion that necessitates use of such an ingredient. In my Rochester apartment, it’s a very quirky Mennonite cookbook (see here: Mennonite Community Cookbook) that seems really old, but which was apparently published in 1992.  It includes recipes from the Mennonite (and Amish, I believe) communities in the Eastern United States—Pennsylvania and Ohio especially.  [A bit of personal history: my family history is centered in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My childhood long weekends were spent in the midst of some of the East’s most fertile farm land, waving at horse-drawn buggies clip-clopping down the highway in front of my Aunt Barbara’s house (an Amish family lived across the street), buying baked goods, cheeses and jams from the Mennonite, Amish and “Other” farmers at the Lancaster Central Market on weekends, eating my grandfather’s simple, elegant home-cooked foods. My grandfather grew up as a foster child on a farm in the Great Depression; even as a self-built wealthier man, his food never seemed to stray too far from these roots (which he’d pronounce “ruts”). There was always something from a jar on the table, even if it accompanied store-bought foods and shrimp cocktail.]

I feel that I can trust that whatever is in this cookbook is based in a tradition of non-excess, values similar to my own, and a locavore/eat-from-your-land mentality. Then there are strange convenience foods thrown into the mix, but I’ll overlook that since those are mostly dinner/casserole dishes that I wouldn’t use from this cookbook. The recipe proportions are generally off, and rely on the fact that you should know what looks and feels right, even with chemistry-based baking!  Basically, I treat this cookbook as cultural reference/interesting reading, though there are some winning cookie/cake recipes once I learned to trust my instinct on measurements.  On the question of sugar, it seems these traditional-esque recipes (the recipes are generations-back-passed-down sorts of recipes) still call for things that are luxury imports (spices, sugar). Sometimes molasses is used, which I’m learning could be made by farmers melting down sugar from their beets…but probably isn’t what was used even a few decades ago when this was published. Sometimes it’s honey or maple syrup, but generally it’s white and brown sugar, even corn syrup (though I have heard that this was considered the cheapest and least-quality sweetener, and you could base poverty on “not even being able to afford Karo syrup”). Obviously, this cookbook doesn’t go far enough back to a time when sugar was extremely limited, but my investigations are not even close to done!

Sugar is an interesting character on our pantry shelves: it’s a non-local luxury, but we treat it as a very necessary ingredient and accept its usage in our homes and in the foods we buy in restaurants and from store shelves. It’s in every jam, jelly and fruit-canning recipe I’ve ever seen (though with some pectins you can substitute honey or use much less sugar). In terms of the Locavore Challenge, we can at least start by trying to limit our consumption of sugar-using sweet treats, and we can certainly eliminate sweets (and even savory foods) from packages that use more refined/processed sweeteners. That’s usually my modus operandi, anyway.

In September, I’m challenging myself to at least look into this sugar question, see what the options are for alternatives (specifically for baked goods, as I find it’s pretty simple to do a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup in otherwise savory dishes), and of course reward myself with some baking. The experimental subjects will be: a cake, a cookie, granola and a confection/candy type thing. I have some lucky or unlucky friends and coworkers. Too bad my cat is too picky for any horrible results. Stay tuned for results of this and other installments of Rachel’s Highly (un-) Scientific Ingredient Experiments throughout September!

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