2014 what a year you have been – for me, for many. I split this Christmas season between the hustle and bustle of my home in Raleigh, and the peace and quietude of the Great Smoky Mountains. This dichotomy facilitated both excitement for the holiday festivities, but also the necessary time and space for contemplation and reflection. On Christmas Eve I attended the Festival Eucharist of Christmas service at Christ Church near my apartment in downtown Raleigh. The service was beautiful. The congregation was dressed in their very best with suits and dresses, reds and blacks, and a Scottish kilt or two. Amongst the vibrant poinsettias and golden accents, weaved the spirit of Christmas, of reverence, of peace, of hope, reverberating with the chants of O Come All Ye Faithful and harmonious whispers of Silent Night. The Reverend James P. Adams gave an amazing sermon about the hopefulness and vulnerability that pervades us all, as well as our faith in the fact that everything will be OK.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2
This year was one that I marked, “the year Eva would find herself”. Did I find myself? How do you even measure that? But, the people I met, the adventures I went on, the chances I took, and the many new, hard, crazy, and joyful experiences I had – they all pushed me. They pushed me out of my comfort zone, out of former conceptions of reality, and out of doubt in myself. I don’t know if I found all of myself per se, but I did realize a whole heck of a lot about who I am, what I believe, and what I want to do with this one life I’ve been given. A light of sorts shining from above and within.
The UN marked 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), emphasizing the importance of traditional agricultural practices, international food security, and the fact that family farming is deeply and inextricably linked to national and global food security – out of the 570 million farms in the world family farms make up 500 million and are responsible for at least 56% of global agricultural production. Clearly, our world’s small scale farmers are vital to our global subsistence, especially in the good ol’ USA, where 83% of our land is managed and farmed by family farms. Through their local knowledge and sustainable farming methods, these family farmers can improve yields and create a much more diversified and nutritious food system. But, as the IYFF and organizations like Civil Eats, Food Tank, Wholesome Wave, the Greenhorns and a host of others emphasize, there is still much to be done. Small scale farming is still highly underestimated, unsupported, and, quite frankly, assaulted and overshadowed by the global corporate food system. But awareness is growing, support is spreading, and change is happening. How do we measure this change? I don’t know that either – I don’t set the metrics, the scales, the quotas, or whatever else those who check off and say, “OK, yeah things have changed” use. But the beautiful thing is, we don’t really need all of that. When we see change in our communities, when we assist in its occurrence, when we feel it, we know that it’s happening.
An abundance of projects and movements have occurred over the past 12 months all over the nation. This year saw the USDA awarding over $52 million in grants to grow organic and local food, Vermont’s continued support of its GMO labeling law, the National Young Farmers Coalition petition for farmers’ student loan support, the commission for the nation’s largest food hub in Louisville, Kentucky, Todd Workman’s plan and progress in revitalizing the poorest city in New Hampshire using permaculture philosophy, the continued support of farmers and good food at the well loved Farm Aid concert, the continued drive to sustain family farming into and throughout 2015, and many conferences in support of farmers, good food production, and access to that good food, such as Slow Food, Slow Money, and Slow Tools, all in an effort to ease the struggle of humanity’s slow death. The beautiful thing about all this, the thing that outshines the quotas, the scales, the metrics – is that these efforts are only a minutiae of the food system efforts that are occurring on national and global levels.
The teachings of permaculture now grace more flyers, libraries, classrooms, and organizations than ever before. I’ve encountered so many this year who either have their PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) or are hoping to pursue one in the near future. Urban gardens, farmers markets, farm-to-fork restaurants, exposing documentaries, compelling books, eye opening studies, and the ‘organic’, the ‘sustainable’, and the ‘green’ – it might just be me, but these entities seem to be in almost every city, on every social media interface, and bridging all generations. I’ve never seen the words ‘local’, ‘farm fresh’, or ‘all natural’ in basic grocery stores more in my life, but as many of us know, those terms are tricky when it comes to corporate food production. But, as 2014 demonstrated, corporate food production is having to put up a fight – to either sink or swim, to either change their practices or face the music and suffer losses. Why? Because of change. Our nation’s people no longer want food that is harmful to their bodies, harmful to the people who produce it, and harmful to the environment it is grown in. They have voted for better, for slower, for fairer. They have voted for change. Great things are happening, with much more to come. The light is definitely shining.
As I write this, I think about the many inspiring and provoking articles and news pieces I’ve read this year. They detailed various projects and progress made in various locales, and I smile now as much is occurring in my own locale of Raleigh. During the Christmas eve service, Rev. Adams noted that the offerings from all 5 Christmas services would be made towards the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, an organization that responds to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families. Businesses like Happy and Hale, Poole’s Downtown Diner, Videri Chocolate, Wine Authorities, and Yellow Dog Bakery, and organizations like the Raleigh City Farm, Slow Money NC, and Interfaith Food Shuttle celebrate another year (some celebrating their first or second years) of providing local, sustainable, and wholesome food products to our community, while raising the necessary awareness about family farmers and the plate of hunger.
This past Monday, my partner Patrick and I spent the day volunteering with Interfaith Food Shuttle. We woke up to a dark wintery sky and headed out to the organization’s headquarters. We were “Warehouse Warriors” for the day, and would be accompanying a staff member of the Transportation and Distribution department on their driving route. Our volunteer leader was Erik, an energetic, friendly and dedicated member of the Interfaith team hailing from Brooklyn, NY. We had 8 stops, 4 hours, and just enough room for 3 in the front of the truck, rendering quite the recipe for quick friendship!
Erik and his family moved to Raleigh about a year ago so that his children could benefit from the North Carolina education system. Since we were spending the day collecting food donations, I asked him what his views were on natural and organic foods. Though he admits that organic and local food is often more expensive, he thinks it is important to incorporate what you can into your diet. He also emphasized that many people cannot even begin to think about buying natural, organic, or local, they are just preoccupied with getting any food at all on their plates at all, which is one of the aims of Interfaith – to increase local food knowledge and access through their teaching farm and by sourcing donations from local businesses.
Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, BJs Warehouse, Walmart, Fresh Market, and the Butcher’s Market were some of the stops on our route. Our day consisted of driving to each of these locations, pulling up to the loading dock, walking into the business and loading the prepared food donations into the truck. At every location there were carts full of produce, baked goods, meats, and other food products – and to my pleasant surprise, the majority of these donations were natural, sustainable, or organic products. Also surprising, was the quality and amount that was donated. Many popular holiday items like pumpkin pies, hams, and salad mixes, and other favored products like coffee, milk, fresh fruit and veggies, and various other snack items were in abundance. These were not the traditional canned or boxed items that I have often experienced with organizational food drives. We filled the truck by the time we arrived at the last pick-up location, but the day was not without struggle. At one location we encountered donations that, despite Erik’s strength and experience, would have been far too heavy and poorly packaged for one person to handle and were difficult even for the 3 of us. But, we managed what we could and were grateful to each business for their gifts.
After 4 hours and 6,226 pounds of mostly natural, organic, local and wholesome food products loaded into the truck, we drove to our delivery location at Catholic Parish Outreach (CPO). After unloading the many boxes and pallets stacked with food, I asked a CPO staff member about where the food goes. Their organization feeds just over 11,000 families and distributes about 250,000 pounds of food each month. As I looked around while we unloaded, I saw many families rolling carts to their cars with bags filled with the very items we had unloaded. It was apparent. I could see it. I was participating in it. I could feel it. Change was and is happening, and the light is spreading – through awareness, support, and, most importantly, faith. Faith in God, in local food, in those who produce it, in those who distribute it, in those who advocate for its justice, and in the hope that everything really will be OK. Thank you Erik and Interfaith Food Shuttle, for such an uplifting and enjoyable volunteer experience.
2014, looking back at you, I am filled with much joy and gratitude, as well as the faith to say goodbye and turn my gaze forward to the coming new year.
Wishing you and yours an awesome, adventurous, and happy New Year!
*The views expressed in this article are not affiliated with any of the mentioned business or organizations, but are those of Erik, who agreed to participate, and Our Hungry Food.