The USDA Wants You To “Know Your Farmer”

This morning I was fortunate to attend new media press event with Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. A small group of us took a short trip outside of Washing DC to Tree and Leaf Farm. Which is exactly 47 miles away from the Dupont Farmers Market in the city, according to co-owner Georgia O’Neal.

The reason for this farm adventure was to launch a very special program for the USDA, called Know Your Farmer Know Your Food. The details of which are still coming out. DepSec Merrigan did clue us in on the plan which includes a weeklong series of programs, announcements, and events. With the culminating event being the official opening of a farmers market one block away from the White HouseThough for new media fans, on Friday Kathleen Merrigan will be entertaining a live facebook chat.

I am betting that for the rest of the country the white house farmers market will be the big hit. It’s an easily condensible byte of news and I expect it to hit all the major networks this Thursday and throughout the weekend. The news for farmers should be a big hit as well since it announces many new plans for grants, guides, and programs. All in support of the campaign promises of Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s idea of “wealth creation” in rural communities.

Tree and Leaf

Tree and Leaf Farm

News aside, it was quite refreshing to visit one of DC’s regional farms the Tree and Leaf. The farm is run by Zach Lester and Georgia O’Neal who offer their bounty on Saturday’s at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market and on Sunday at the Dupont Market. They have 5 acres of land and according to Zach produce a wide variety of crops.

They are definitely into the Organic movement, though I would say they better align with Joel Salatin’s credo of “beyond organic”. Even in our short time Zach dropped into biodynamics, the five folds of nature, the importance of compost, and more.

Their story gets more interesting as you dig into it. Their farm operations include several employees and one farm manager who helps with the direct marketing (getting the food sold), on only five acres of land!

Georgia and Zach

The land is is rented on a year-to-year lease. This is causing them some hardship since Organic farming requires a few years investment to get into place and not having a multi-year deal means they may expend money and sweat for no reason. It also deters them from making infrastructure improvements to increase their food quality, type, and length (growing in deep season, winter).

Their food is sold in markets and CSA’s in DC, but rarely in their own county. Both lamented the fact that the new Loudon County residents rarely get out of their cars to participate in the community. They are locked into the same problem the rest of the country has, trucking their food outside of their community while others simultaneously truck in low quality, unhealthy food for supermarkets.

The farm was truly a beautiful place to be. Zach’s landscaping skills make it a beautiful scene. Both he and Georgia make quite a team on the farm and their little boy, who I really thought looks like Conan the Barbarian in training.

Politics as NOT Usual

It seems that the politics of food has changed. It is now okay to talk about the inequities in our food system. It is even okay to till your own organic garden, start a farmers market, and even shop at one. This is reflected in the seemingly out of nowhere White House push for organic gardening and a farmers market.

Still the vast majority of Americans are lost in these markets which means we have a long way to go. A large amount of education is needed to bring back proper eating into the consciousness of the public. Hopefully, this new USDA program and high profile maneuvers from the White House will start the awareness. Like my Mom always reminds me, its a process, and we can’t erase bad habits overnight.

photo (2)
From Zach: "the structure is a rebar bean tunnel with swiss chard growing underneath"

Keep an eye out for more news as the week rolls on. Check out fellow foodie and blogger Obama Foodorama who also joined us on the farm trip.

DC Mayor’s Conservation Corps

As summer comes to a close and school begins anew I wanted to take some time to highlight something special in DC. The Mayor’s Conservation Corps.

This is a city sponsored effort to provide district youth with social employment. They get paid $7.25/hour and participate in programs like graffiti removal, cleaning parks, community projects, outreach, and more.

It is really a fantastic program for our fair city, which is in need of some beautification. Especially the non-NorthWest affluent areas. Then our kids, oh gosh, have you seen some of these youngsters. If so you would appreciate any sort of mentoring and productive leadership directed their way.

So, it surprises me that so many folks are decrying this effort. Nearly every article, and I mean every article except one or two, knock down this effort. They focus on the mistakes, goofiness, and sometimes rebellion that occurs. Which begs the question, have you ever hung out with the youth?

That is exactly how they are. Even the good ones will act tough and cool. But beneath it all is a sincere desire to help, find guidance, and grow as people. Maybe your ‘tough’ articles would be better if you actually looked beneath the surface and learned about our youth.

Even worse, the city’s world renowned newspaper, the Washington Post, has not published one article about this. Not one. This is embarrassing for them since they have time to write about our Metro failings and crime issues.

As a former middle school teacher I understand this problem better than most. These children are in desperate need of leadership and guidance, not more oppression and problems. I once saw Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of DC Public Schools, speak on this topic. It nearly brought me, her, and everyone else to tears as she told a story of her mentoring program. One that links up a child with an adult. It is very successful and always in need of more help.

The story she told was of one child who said he would do whatever it took to participate. He offered to ride his bike every morning and evening clear across the city. He begged and cried to be a part. Then when given the opportunity he actually did bike all those miles.

So, I challenge this city and its residents to look beneath the cover of this book. Learn about these kids and talk to them. Support these initiatives and maybe even get involved. They are the future of this city.

Finally, I want to salute the DDOE, District Dept of the Environment, and their team for doing a great, unheralded job with this years Conservation Corps.

We’re Throwing Party!

A Clean Life has partnered up with Amy Senger of 1X57 to bring you our first charity event!

It will be on Thursday, May 21 during the happy hour of 7pm.

The location is in Washington DC, soon to be announced. In attendance will be anywhere from 100-150 interesting people.

Register now to attend!

Since it is a charity event there is a suggested donation amount of $25 that will be tax deductible (and include a receipt). Never too early to get your tax deductions..

Tell your friends and relatives 🙂

Also, we are looking for interesting people to contribute. Our needs are:

  • Sponsorships
  • Raffle Items (gift cards, cheap and expensive bottles of whisky, etc.)
  • Amateur Photographers (and videographers too)
  • Chef desserts, fresh made
  • Tech angle (twttr mash-up, live streaming, etc.)
  • Also, send any interesting ideas you may have…