Beaufort News

The Local Life: Farmers offer connection to land, food

Born in 1970, I am a child of the broken food chain. Vegetables came from a can and were cooked to taste like meat or anything but the can from which they emerged. No one ever spoke of the land that produced the food, nor of the very real people that nurtured that food to fruition.

It wasn't always this way. Once upon a time people knew something about the farms that produced their food -- usually in their own town. How did the connection to our food get so broken? And how do we find our way back? Fortunately the desire to reconnect is sweeping the country and there are many ways for Beaufort residents to plug into these opportunities.

When I came along in 1970, the changes in our food system were firmly in place. My mother was a '50s bride -- the first generation of women to be "freed" from the oppression of the kitchen.

Author and community food expert Mark Winne aptly described the changes that hit American kitchens in the '50s and '60s in his 2008 book "Closing the Food Gap." "The children of that era," the book reads, "are uncompensated victims of the Good Housekeeping promise that canned, frozen and prepackaged food would free humanity from hell's kitchen. If there is a generation in history that is entitled to bring a class-action lawsuit against the food industry that first invented this food and then manipulated our mothers in to serving it, it is ours."

Fortunately, to every action there is a reaction. And now, in this new millennium our reaction has taken root: We want to know our farmers.

In the late 20th century, the prevalent story was of young people striving to "escape" the farm. This new century is being ushered in by a generation of 20- and 30-somethings working to escape to the farm. "Farmer D," Darron Joffe, is perhaps one of the most famous of these new young farmers.

He is based in Georgia and in addition to running his own biodynamic farm, he has set up dozens of organic farms and gardens around the country in prisons, schools, residential communities and community centers. Farmer D is on a "town-by-town mission to re-energize the food culture," and he is going to do his best to re-energize us at 6 p.m. July 20 in Beaufort.

He'll be at the Technical College of the Lowcountry as a part of the Congress for New Urbanism 2011 lecture series, sponsored by the Coastal Conservation League, the City of Beaufort, Brown Design Studio and the Beaufort Tribune. Come to be inspired -- especially if you don't believe me about these young people working hard to get back to farms.

For a more hands-on opportunity to connect to our local farms, try volunteering on one. The Coastal Conservation League has played a pivotal role in starting up a Crop Mob in our region. Crop Mob Savannah is a monthly volunteer event that visits farms within two hours of Savannah, which means they come to Beaufort. Crop Mobs are a little like barn raisings -- one day on a farm to help a small sustainable farmer knock out a big day of labor. "Wannabe farmers" spend a day on a farm, connect with others who have the agrarian urge, and learn a bit from the host farmers.

Food is life and land -- reclaim it. Learn from Farmer D. Go to your closest farmers market and talk to the farmers. Ask to visit their farm. Go to www.cropmobgeorgia.com and volunteer for the next Savannah mob (the July mob will be in Beaufort County on July 30). Take a canning and preserving class with Clemson. Buy local dairy, meat and grains from Sea Island Local Outlet (www.silo-beaufort.com).

The connections to our farms are back -- reach out and grab them.

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