Monday, July 16, 2007

"No Farms, No Food."

So says the new bumper sticker on my car. I picked it up this weekend at the annual 4-H fair held down at the Glen in Portsmouth. While the fair was so-so, I really want to tell you about the bumper sticker.

It’s a promotion for a great national non-profit organization called the American Farmland Trust (AFT). Founded in 1980, it aims to protect farmland and farmers through a variety of policy, community planning, and environmental stewardship advocacy and member education programs.

Here’s the kicker stat that got me: Each year, the U.S. loses around 1.2 million acres of farmland to development. To put that into perspective, the state of Rhode Island is around 775,000 acres in size. When you think about it in terms of food security, loss of community resources and prosperity, and the livelihood of thousands of farmers and their families, that kind of loss is huge.

There are a few features I’d recommend checking out:

  • The World as an Apple. This quick little Flash video puts it all into perspective and helps you realize why protecting our farmland is absolutely critical.

  • Farm Bill 101. Every five years, Congress debates and passes a new set of nationwide farm legislation. Think it doesn’t affect you? Think again. This year’s legislation is as critical as ever to the health and prosperity of small farmers from Sakonnet to Seattle. From farmers markets to CSAs to roadside stands, all those things that we love so much about summers in New England could be at stake.

  • Rhode Island Farming Overview. AFT’s overview of issues affecting Rhode Island farmers and an introduction to Rhode Island’s agricultural profile. According to the 2002 USDA Census of Agriculture, Rhode Island boasted over 850 farms occupying over 61,000 acres of total farmland worth a agriculture production market value of over $55M? That’s nothing to sneeze at, though I wonder what those numbers look like five years later.

Now, what happens when we protect all that farmland but don’t have enough farmers to work the land and provide for us? We need to seriously think about that. Given the bounty of farms and farmers here in Sakonnet, we should be giving thought to cultivating that next generation of farmers through new partnerships with our schools, summer work programs, and heck, even starting a Future Farmers of America chapter in these neck of the woods.

I volunteered one summer day a couple years back at one of our local organic farms. It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever worked, but I tell you, I walked away with such an appreciation for those men and women who put the food on my table. Call it crazy, but it was life-changing in a way.

We need to continue to do whatever we can to secure the future of our Sakonnet farms and farmers, to embrace and support the local food security they give us, and never lose sight of the fact that with no farms, there is no food.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Help Promote Recycling

Here’s a great step for recycling in Tiverton:

The Tiverton Recycling Committee has partnered with the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation to create a new sponsor-a-public-recycling-bin program to help improve recycling rates at some our town recreation areas.

Anyone who has spent time at one of our town’s youth sports events knows how much trash is left over after a game -- and how much of that waste is in the form of recyclable cans and bottles. That’s ground zero for the new effort. I think it’s a great partnership between the leagues and the town to help make a difference.

According to the press release, the new CycleMax program runs like this: For a $65 sponsorship (or 5 units for $300), you help the Recycling Committee put a ClearStream(R) CycleMax container (picture from manufacturer) at one of our local recreational areas. This bin is printed with your sponsorship information and monitored by the appropriate youth sports league (e.g., Little League), who transports the recyclables to the Town Farm facility after am event.

It seems the program works. The press release states that CycleMax containers are in use by over 1,500 communities nationwide. The clear nature of the bin helps ensure the public uses it only for recyclable materials (fingers crossed). They are sanitary and portable, making them even easier to use.

This is a great move. Kudos to Steve Rys and the Tiverton Recycling Committee for making it happen. For small businesses in town looking for a worthwhile -- and different -- kind of sponsorship opportunity, this is a win-win.

The Committee needs commitment for at least five sponsorships before the bins can be purchased. If you’re interested, send an email to Cheri Olf at

Come on. They only need five. Sustainable Sakonnet is going to chip in for one. Can four other readers of this blog commit to the same?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rethinking the Land of Plenty

It’s the Fourth of July. Quite an apropos time to pause and ponder just what it means to live here in the land of plenty. The moniker itself brings on glorious visions of a bottomless pot of proverbial gold; resources to last a lifetime; a to-hell-with-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mentality. Do you remember that bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins?” (Insert overt gagging sound effect here.)

What function does consumption – both our own and society’s collective – have to do with living a more sustainable lifestyle? If we do chose to buy more, does buying "green" make it any better? What impact does the stuff we buy have on the environment? What is a better means to a greener end – personal purchase decisions or broader policy or legislative initiatives (that just can’t seem to get much momentum)?

That’s the premise of a great article that recently appeared in the New York Times online edition. "Buying Into the Green Movement" gives a somewhat humorous at times, thought-provoking presentation of how far being eco-chic can get us. Not very far is the general conclusion.

To an extent, I agree. Think about it. From a socio-economic point of view, the reality is that most of us –whether here in Sakonnet or globally for that matter – just can’t afford to travel down the road of $250 organic jeans, pricey hybrid vehicles, or that $1000 reclaimed shipyard wood coffee table from the Sundance catalog to lessen our environmental footprint. Just no way, no how.

Lessening unnecessary consumption is a topic that could easily go beyond the scope of this blog. But at its core, there is merit to it. Let’s face it, we’ve become a society that equates quantity of stuff with quality of life – no matter the financial or environmental cost. Few people stop to think about all the resources (materials, energy, transportation) that go into making "X" or "Y". We’re desensitized to the true cost of things. Sooner or later, that’s going to come back to bite us.

Call it old fashioned, but it makes me yearn for yesteryear where a community pooled its resources and shared it amongst it citizens. Maybe it’s commune-like thinking, but why couldn’t we pull together a Community Free-cycle center, where instead of throwing that old chair away, we could try to give it a new lease of life. (Envision a local Free Market RI.) Or a Community Tool Center? Come on, do we all need six different shovels, two sizes of hedge trimmers, and I’m-only going-to-use-it-once-but-I-need-buy-it specialized tool that only the contractors have use for?

That’s my take. What’s yours? Is lessening consumption the yellow brick road we need to take to get to the new eco-emerald city? How could we foster that here in Sakonnet?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Georgia Corn? Heck No.

On the heels of yesterday’s post, I had to share this story with you. It drives home how you just can’t beat local produce.

I was at Lee’s Market this evening grabbing a few things for dinner. Now, Lee’s does a great job at giving its customers local produce during the summer, and beyond that, posts the state/country of origin for many of the fruits and vegetables it sells.

I’m grabbing some portabella mushrooms when I overhear a woman ask the produce clerk where the corn came from. He said quite plainly, “Georgia.” With that, she did an about-face and left the corn in the dust.

Maybe she just didn’t feel like corn, but I have to imagine the fact that it wasn’t local had something to do about it. Kudos for having the patience to stick it out a few more weeks until the local stuff is coming in fresh from the farm down the road.

Granted, we all like to indulge now and then with some out of season fare. I know – my kids love apples 24/7/365. That’s fine; I’m not trying to strong-arm anyone. But if you’re going to buy fruits and vegetables at any point over the next few months, try to do your part to support our local farmers and save the environment at the same time. Buy local and organic when you can.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Local Food Made Easier: Edible Rhody

A belated Happy Summer to everyone. After some down time, Sustainable Sakonnet is back. The reasons why are too long to discuss. But it’s summer and the time is perfect to expound on one of my favorite topics: Supporting (and consuming!) local food.

The benefits of local food are obvious: From supporting local farmers and market growers to the health benefits of eating all those wonderful fruits and vegetables to the environmental win-win of locally produced (read: less energy used to package and ship), organic fare. If you’re a Sakonnet Local, I don’t have to point out all those tasty stands. But to get the wonderful community experience of the farmers market, check out a local listing at Farm Fresh RI (my favorite is the Aquidneck Growers Market, followed by new kid on the block, Striper Moon Farmer’s Market)

Earlier this spring I stumbled upon a new publication that celebrates and promotes the bounty of RI: Edible Rhody. This pub is the newest installment in the long line of Edible Communities editions.

The new summer edition (only their second) is chock-a-block full of great stories, recipes, and interviews celebrating the wide diversity of food and fare we have here in RI. I don’t even mind perusing the ads because you can find so many new options when it comes to eating local. Subscriptions are $28 for four issues annually (by season), but if you can find it for free, even better (I get mine at Sakonnet Vineyards).

Out of all the stories, I encourage you to read the one on the new Farm Bill being crafted right now by Congress. It’s a good overview of why this piece of federal legislation is important, where it needs to be improved in order to better support our local food producers and infrastructure, and what you can do to help. The more I read about this topic, the more it brings home the need for doing all we can to secure our local food future.

Here’s to good eating!