If you can recall, a month ago I wrote a post called The Blog Assignment. In that post, I explained the impetus for starting this blog was a very cool mid-term assignment for a very cool class I’m taking this semester called the Sociology and Political Ecology of Agro-food Systems. The directions were to visit two farmers markets, two urban gardens/farms, two grocery stores and one food pantry in the Bay Area and create a blog about my experience. I wasn’t sure when I sat down to bring this site to life which farms or which markets I would visit. I wasn’t sure how I would structure each post, or what angle I would take. And I definitely wasn’t planning on publicizing my site, nor expecting the incredible feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I guess that’s all part of the adventure, and if you know me, you know I love a good adventure. Yo ho!
It’s been exactly one month to the date from when I started Beyond the Plate and I’ve somehow managed to visit all seven places! (Whew!) My first stop on this local food system adventure led me to a very unique farmers market as well as a sweet community garden tucked away in a quiet corner of the bustling Mission District of San Francisco. My visit to the Free Farm Stand and All in Common Community Garden revealed the organizing power of a few committed individuals who’ve prioritized feeding their community with healthy, locally grown produce. While it takes an incredible amount of work to gather and grow all the food that is offered at the stand, as well as a tremendous effort to coordinate all of the volunteers and supplies needed for a weekly market as well as garden maintenance, everyone I met at these two locations were laughing, smiling and clearly enjoying taking part in meaningful work. The same could be said about my visit to the Gill Tract Farm near Berkeley, a 10 acre plot owned by the University of California with a history of resistance and fierce perseverance to maintain the land in order to grow food for the community. Dirtying your hands with the soil from which food will grow that will feed the people in your community is powerful, honorable work. I am deeply grateful to these people for giving so much of their time and energy to nourish their community and for sharing their story with me.
My next stop landed me in the middle of San Francisco’s largest farmers market located at the famous Ferry Building, talking food justice and farmworker’s rights with the Farm Manager of Swanton Berry Farms. While the push for using organic farming practices and fair methods for international trade of our fruits and vegetables has been popularized, the important conversation missing from the food justice movement is the treatment of the workers who are doing the back breaking work of planting, harvesting and tending to the food that sustains us all. With my visit to the Ferry Building Farmers Market, I became aware of the Agricultural Justice Project and the Food Justice Certificate program that has put forth standards of fair and humane treatment for farmworkers. I encourage everyone to familiarize yourself with this and start asking your grocer, restaurant manager or market vendor if their produce is Food Justice Certified.
My next two destinations were quite a different experience from my previous stops on the food system track, but likely the places we are all more familiar with: Whole Foods and Safeway. Large corporate grocers feed the majority of the US population and employ all sorts of marketing messages to vie for your food dollars. With Whole Foods being known to sell unblemished local and organic produce but at a high premium, I wanted to test if the “Whole Paychecks” reputation was actually true. Interestingly, you all were curious as well because my post on the investigation results had over 100 views! While I don’t claim the produce at Whole Foods is anything remotely close to “cheap”, I think we were all surprised to learn that the selection and price for some of the most common organic staple items were actually less expensive at Whole Foods than at Safeway.
My final stop for the food system adventure assignment was an interesting example of the intersection of some of the places I had previously visited. At the Berkeley Food Pantry, you can find boxes and cans of food from Whole Foods as well as fresh picked produce from the Gill Tract Farm. As a means to provide food to Berkeley residents who are in need of extra support to feed themselves and their families, the Berkeley Food Pantry is also keeping perfectly good food from going to waste since oftentimes grocery stores and markets have to throw away items that are near expiration or aren’t selling quick enough. The Berkeley Food Pantry is run almost entirely by volunteers and helps to put food on the plates of nearly 2000 Berkeley and Albany residents each month. ‘Thank you’ just doesn’t feel sufficient.
As this blog assignment project comes to a close, I wanted share my sincere thanks to everyone who gave me their time and shared their stories with me. It has been an incredible privilege to be entrusted with people’s stories and to share what I have learned. I am also deeply grateful to everyone who has read my postings, left comments and participated in the conversations on social media. Thank you for the support and encouragement.
So… that’s a wrap folks!
Just kidding! 🙂
I’m having too much fun with this. Plus, it seems you all are interested in learning more about our food system (my people!) and I am eager to share what I am learning throughout my scholastic journey. So I’ll continue to update you with riveting news (and of course my completely unbiased opinions… ha!) pertaining to your food and how it winds up on your plate. I invite and encourage you to leave comments, agree or disagree, tell me what you know, and share! share! share! the information as these topics impact ALL of us!
And if you’ve made it this far down the post (gold star!), I’ll leave you with a fun treat: my favorite vegetable joke!
Here it goes:
Why do peppers make bad friends?
Because they get jalapeño business!