Making Food Choices to Transition to a Healthy, Local Food System
Community gardens, urban food forests, foraging, canning, fermenting, bee keeping, cider-making, beer brewing, chicken befriending, pollinator protection, soil building, composting … nowhere is the transition to a new way of living more apparent – and appealing – than with food. There are many dozens of organizations working on issues of food in the Twin Cities (as you’ll see in the resource list), so what can Transition bring to the table?
The Energy Perspective
The American agriculture sector is one of the largest users of energy and one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases. Fertilizer use, on-farm fossil fuel use for crop production, animal feed, food storage, food transportation – these add up to a big carbon footprint.
The Climate Perspective
For all the talk about food in our media, you’ll have to dig deep to find a conversation about our food system’s vulnerability to a changing climate. While Minnesota has several extra weeks of growing season, can we really put it to use?
- Spring comes earlier but when temps plunge after plants and trees have started to bud, a year’s worth of fruit and flowers can be irreparably damaged.
- Surprise snowfalls and longer periods of rain make it hard to know when to plant and harder to get crops in the ground.
- More intense heat and higher humidity test the perseverance of plants and people alike. We can turn on the AC, but what can we do to protect plants?
Research is only beginning to be done on how our major food crops will be affected by climate change, but people around the globe have been working on a new vision of food growing and plant care …
A Regenerative Vision
Sustainable agriculture is a system that doesn’t damage the environment and can be sustained for generations. It’s a goal some farmers have already achieved. But there is a step beyond sustainable – it’s called regenerative agriculture. It focuses on rebuilding soil health, sequestering carbon back in the ground, improving water quality and increasing biodiversity of wildlife and insect life. Regenerative landscapes can happen in rural and urban areas.
An area of study that many Transition people look to for increased understanding of sustainable and regenerative practices is permaculture (designing plant/animal systems that work together).
A Way Forward – Whether You Live in an Urban or Rural Area
Transition groups can have a significant impact in this area with activities that support and encourage food growing, habitat protection, thoughtful food purchases, and investing in a new, more sustainable and healthy food system. These are just a few of the possibilities for action:
- Offer a gardening or food-related class or taking classes together
- Study permaculture together and tackle a garden redesign
- Host a regular garden Q&A in your neighborhood (Get to know your local master gardeners! They are an incredible source of science-based information)
- Invite speakers from groups working on food issues on a bigger scale, like the Land Stewardship Project or Renewing the Countryside
- Get involved in the Slow Money movement. Consider investing in the food system we need.
Skill shares provide an opportunity for people to learn new skills in a fun, social setting that can include people of all ages. It builds the community as well as the individual!
Gardening Skill Shares
- Build a rain barrel or a rain barrel system (one rain barrel isn’t enough to feed a garden)
- Sow seeds in winter in cloches (milk jugs will work)
- Learn to prune, to save seeds, and natural ways to protect plants from bugs and disease, from weather and animals
Food Skill Sharing
- Teach water bath and pressure canning - join together for a canning day to save energy and water
- Teach pickling and fermentation – low energy ways to preserve the bounty
- Teach healthy cooking techniques and ways to incorporate healthier food in a family’s regular menu
Making a significant behavior change is difficult, especially when it involves food. Challenge activities give people a specific amount of time to try a new activity. After they’ve done it, participants can report back on their experience. Food challenges can include:
- Having a meat-free day once or twice a week
- Going vegetarian for a week or a month
- Eating a diet grown within 100 miles of home (the Seward Coop makes that a bit easier by labeling the source of many foods)
- Shopping at the farmers market for all produce
- Joining a CSA and committing to eating all the food in your box (maybe join with a friend and share the bounty)
- Committing to wasting no food for a week, or a month
Partnerships for Action
Transition groups can connect with other groups to expand the impact of their work. Transition Longfellow partners with its neighborhood association to install raised bed gardens in residents’ yards at cost in a program called Chard Your Yard. In three years, the group has installed 83 new gardens and matched new gardeners with garden mentors.
Food IS a justice issue.
- There are areas of the city where it is hard to make good food choices because there just aren’t that many places selling fresh produce and fruit or restaurants with healthy food options.
- There are parts of the city where the soil is contaminated. This contamination may not affect all food crops, but it will be important to know what is in the soil and how to work with the soil you have – or know you need to replace it.
- There may be city rules and regulations that unnecessarily restrict food-related activities. Citizens can work together with their city council members to remove restrictions.
Food and Farming Resources
Urban Farming & Gardening
- Twin Cities Urban Ag Connection
- Minneapolis Parks & Rec Urban Agriculture Activity Plan
- St. Paul Urban Agriculture Ordinances
- Homegrown Minneapolis – community gardens, leasing land, food rules, food businesses
- Gardening Matters
- Master Gardeners
- Metro Blooms
- From the Ground Up North
- Yards to Gardens – land access
- The Good Acre
- The Beez Kneez – beekeeping classes
- Gandhi Mahal restaurant - growing food in local gardens and using an aquaponics system to grow food and fish
Our Rural Food System
- Land Stewardship Project
- Renewing the Countryside
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
- Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA)
- Permaculture Research Institute for Cold Climate
- Southwoods Forest Garden permaculture classes
- Midwest Permaculture
- Ecological Design – a permaculture landscape design firm
Buying Sustainably-Grown Food
- Minnesota Grown Directory
- Minnesota Food Association
- Dovetail Partners Local Foods, Farms & Business Listing
- Tips on Foraging from Stephen Saupe of St. John’s University
- Minnesota Mushroom Forum
- Minnesota Mycological Society
- Gentleman Forager
- Kelley Hagenbuch foraging forays
- Midwest Wild Edibles and Foragers
Sustainable Farming Training
- Sustainable Farming Association
- Food Alliance Midwest
- Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter
- The Minnesota Project
- Green Lands Blue Waters
- Slow Food Minnesota – where to eat, where to shop for sustainably grown food
- The Perennial Plate
- University of Minnesota Extension Service Food Safety
- ForagerChef – cooking foraged foods
- Appetite for Change – community cook workshops
- The Heavy Table
- Wild Fermentation website
Other Food/Growing Resources