Posted by: amelia | August 18, 2010

Some New, Some Old

By Ben

August 9th – St. John’s MI
Have you ever bitten into a peach so sweet and incredibly soft that it melts to pieces before you have a chance to get your mouth around it? That’s what it’s like to eat a fresh-off-the-tree peach. About 40% of nutrients are lost from fruits and vegetables in the first 24 hours that they’re picked. When you harvest food it instantly begins decaying. It is also at its peak nutrient content when it is most ripe. So can somebody comment on why we pick bananas over a week before they are tree-ripened and then wait until they’re almost brown to eat them? Additionally, we could be eating raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples or pears locally. Food grown in your region can be eaten within the first 24 hours it’s picked if we build our local food infrastructure correctly.

At Brian Phillips Orchard, we tried fresh food that was actually fresh, and it was fantastic. There, the 158-year-old orchard actively strategized how to keep their food local. The couple just finished a newly remodeled rustic-style storefront where they sell cider, apples, donuts and honey. The two are aiming to open a second place just off US highway 127. Phillips Orchards & Cider Mill is expanding in order to do more direct marketing. They plan to diversify their apple and fruit products in order to avoid a second closing of the orchard.

Back in the ‘80’s, Brian’s father had to close down the orchard due to bottom-out prices brought by a globalized food price. Traditionally, apples that were unfit for sale were sold to juice companies, but Chinese imported apples were sold at such a low price that making money off of the damaged apples became impossible. So, in order to ensure the long-stability of the place, Brian aims to keep selling his food directly to his consumers. This helps localize the price of his product. As a side effect people near Kent City eat healthier. Just another example of how keeping our food systems local benefit the producer and consumer.

August 17th – Rochester NY to Syracuse NY

“You’re not gonna change the world. What do you think is gonna happen when we run out of food? The guys with the biggest guns are gonna come and kill all the ethnicities they let into this country ‘til they get what they want. Those workin’ the land now are gonna get pushed off the land. Hell, Reagan began a mission to kick small farmers off the land in the 80’s. My family’s dairy farm was a part of that.”

This was the gist of what a volunteer at the First United Methodist Church of Rochester said to me. We were outside of the church where we spent the night in Rochester, NY. It was a great place that used the community’s wealth to provide those in need with free breakfast 5 days a week. We ate better than we do on the road: French toast, fruit juice, cereal, sausage and hash browns. But what stuck with me most was the conversation after breakfast. It’s not often we get a harsh, cold reality check on this ride. Regardless of negative perspectives akin to the church volunteer’s, we do not believe in sitting back passively while small farmers are pushed off their land. However futile the struggle for food independence seems, it is better than not struggling at all. The men we met later that night can probably agree.

We unexpectedly ended up at the Teen Challenge Center in Syracuse. We were greeted by an extremely welcoming group of men recovering from drug addiction. These men live together in close confines struggling to overcome a rough past. We didn’t plan on staying the night; we only came for dinner. But after meeting them and being offered a place to sleep, we graciously accepted. The food there was amazing. They had so many donations coming in that they didn’t know what to do with it all—unfortunately much of the food went to waste. They have chapters all over the world and in every state in the US. It is led by graduates of the program. To me it seems that it was a sign of a strong organization. We ate like kings both at dinner and breakfast.

Later in the AM, an idea to alleviate the food waste problem at Teen Challenge came to our attention. We visited the Kwanzaa Village Community Garden down the block. They had a need for more compost. We suggested that the two groups work together to find a solution. It is not necessarily our place to tell this community what to do but we thought a mutually beneficial suggestion wouldn’t hurt. The women of the garden there were strong advocates for building community. In the middle of a rough neighborhood, they were a beacon of hope for the home-renting community. When the drug addicts kicked in the fence, they rebuilt it and told the entire city they weren’t going away. When we rolled into Midland and Furman on bikes, they were out there gardening and stopped us to say hello and chat. It was an inspirational place to visit only dampened by our short stay.

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