Each spring season, community volunteers host a gathering for people interested in locally grown food. Farmers, gardeners, educators, agriculturists, and many others in the Ann Arbor area teach each other about the sustainable development of a local food system. The Local Food Summit, sponsored by Slow Food Huron Valley, draws hundreds of participants in southeastern Michigan. The 2017 Local Food Summit was held March 20 on the Eastern Michigan University campus. A special youth session designed for elementary school-aged children was a key highlight of this year’s event.
Farmers’ markets and local food economy
Educators from several farms came to talk with the children about the value of local food, and how farm markets have an important economic role. While community supported agricultural farms (CSAs) share weekly yields with shareholders that stop by the farm, local farm markets provide a way for people to shop at a store. The Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor is a popular choice. Noka Farm, Sunseed Farm, and Land Loom Farm are all CSAs, and each farmer shared unique knowledge.
Farmer Noelle from NOKA Farm discussed how farmers’ markets are like a personalized grocery store. You can get just about anything you need – just be flexible about what is available locally! Strawberries, cherries, apples, bread, maple syrup, arts and crafts were all items the kids imagined at the market. Farmer Noelle lead a farmers’ market activity, with the kids running booths and shopping with currency they dubbed “veggiesticks”. Afterwards, everyone came back to circle to talk about how it went: some kids went right up to the tables, some kids ran out of money, some had some money left, and everyone had interesting items from the market.
Social connections and the science of farming
Social connections are highly valued in the farming community. Farmer Jeff from Sunseed Farm emphasized the joy in the farming community, celebrations and working outside in the sunshine– “it’s kind of like being at recess all day!”.
A taste test of spinach from Farmer Hannah’s Land Loom Farm revealed the kids favored the local spinach, and Farmer Jeff explained that spinach grows sweeter the colder the winter season. He asked the kids to think about the food they eat, to ask themselves questions about how they feel, how much energy they have, to be their own self-scientist. The farmers emphasized the value of science in farming: weather, climate, soil, microbiology, ecology; each of these factor into farming. The kids learned that farming requires a diverse set of skills and expertise, and that everyone should have a local farmer on speed dial, in case you have questions, or to check in and see how the farmers are doing.
To demonstrate the energy it takes to transport food, a comparison between California and Michigan was conveyed through a physical exercise– 10 jumping jacks for local food, 100 jumping jacks for food from 2,500 miles away. The farmers and the kids talked about how sometimes the food might not even taste good, and is then thrown away as waste. So why not rely on local food?