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 House. Though 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
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!
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.
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.