Just because I live in the suburbs, doesn’t make me any closer to clean food, farm milk and eggs or a neighborhood butcher everyone trusts. When you hear “Good Community”, what things come to your mind? Honestly I am drawing a blank. That is why I am really excited to introduce you to LaManda Joy, Founder of The Peterson Garden Project.
LaManda, I would love to be closer to better food without moving far away from civilization. Please help me understand what is a good food community?
I grew up in rural Oregon. Everyone had something to offer to their neighbors. We’d go to the grange hall for community events and find out who needed what and how we could help. This wasn’t a formal process, it just happened. The Grange motto is “In Essentials, Unity – In Non-Essentials, Liberty – In All Things, Charity” and I always loved how that slogan allowed people to fight together when necessary and be open minded the rest of the time.
My mother would buy eggs from the lady down the road and sometimes we’d get them free if we tended the chickens when she had to be out of town. Often the men from church would bring my parents a big salmon they had caught or a bucket of smelt. Our nearest neighbors had more blackberries than a whole village could eat and all the kids would get together and pick them. Personally, our family was involved in the strawberry fields, so summers were full of making jam and strawberry shortcake. Many hands made light work in the kitchen hulling flats and flats of strawberries for a social. My hands were permanently stained red every summer from the time I was 12 until I left home at 17.
Chicago is clearly nothing like rural Oregon. But I do recognize elements of what I remember and consider a good food community on the north side of Chicago where I live. I have friends who now have chickens so we get eggs in return for extra produce from my garden. Friends with bees share honey in exchange for canning lessons. We stroll to the Farmer’s Market on Thursday nights in Lincoln Square to not only get bread from our favorite restaurant, but to catch up with friends and talk about the goodies we all brought home the week before or just to stop by Tracy at Provenance and get some really special cheese.
The nut of all these experiences is people sharing what they’ve grown or crafted themselves and the joy of a special product or relationship. These experiences are more than just things you get from the store – they have the power of pride attached to them and that makes all the difference. These are some of the shared values that make a good food community!
What does it take to become a good community
Good communities are focused around common values. In our garden, that means operating by a shared set of rules or goals, helping one another and giving. Gardening is a great equalizer – the sun shines on everyone, the rain falls on everyone. Your crops won’t grow any faster if you’re rich or poor. Nature creates a level playing field. On top of that, the wonder of watching things grow creates generous attitudes. It is hard not to share the extra food you’ve grown yourself – you don’t want your work to be in vain! Gardeners are naturally generous people in this regard. I find the attributes that make a good community garden are applicable to any community – focusing on the collective good, getting joy from your labors and sharing with others.
I live in the apartment building and can’t contribute to the good food community unless I start growing potato in a bath tub. Are there other ways to contribute and can I possibly benefit from a local good food community?
Everybody eats, so we have many options daily to vote with our dollars. It may require a little self discipline to spend the same amount of money on high quality, organic, farmer raised food vs. a bag full of cheap processed food but the long-term benefits of supporting good food outweigh the short term cost implications of a cheap, quick unhealthy fix.
By focusing on how we spend our time and dollars, we can make a difference every day. When we started The Peterson Garden Project, people were concerned they wouldn’t have enough time to tend their gardens fully. My suggestion was to make a list of all the things they did at night and on the weekend – TV shows were a big item on most lists – and to pick the thing they liked least and substitute it for time in the garden. It was a silly exercise really because people quickly became hooked on garden time. They voted with their time to participate in something healthy and healing for the community. That’s what it takes, mindfulness one choice at a time every day. Like any other habit, thinking through your decisions and their impact becomes second nature after awhile.
LaManda, would you be able to suggest our reader where to start their search of a local Good Food community?
Check out one of these places as a starting point: Peterson Garden Project, The Talking Farm, Learn Grow Connect (Angelic Organics Learning Center). Even if you don’t live in these areas, it would give you an idea of what to look for.
LaManda Joy is an award winning Master Gardener, author of the popular urban gardening blog “The Yarden”, a Square Foot Gardening Certified Instructors and Founder of The Peterson Garden Project a community and edible garden education program in Chicago, Illinois. She is a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, member of The Culinary Historians of Chicago and a national speaker on Victory Gardens, both historic and modern, and other edible garden topics. Her recent lecture at the Library of Congress can be seen here: http://ht.ly/8z7k5
Thank You Good Food Festival for making this interview possible.