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Journey to the Center of Safe Food Earth

Keith and I journeyed to Charlottesville this weekend, for the Farm Food Voices 2009 event sponsored by VICFA and the Weston A. Price Foundation. We went down a day early to visit the City Center Market–an awesome farmers market where a number of our recent guests on Hartke is Online (namely John Coles and Kathryn Russell) have exhibit booths.  We parked our Jeep right outside the Revolutionary Soup restaurant, which is a stones throw from the market, and boasts sustainable soup made from local ingredients in the window. We knew we were in the heart of locavore land when we saw their sign!

At the market, we ran into another of our recent guest bloggers, Bill Jones of forestfed.com. He was about to fire up his propane grill to make a young man a hot pork sausage, presumably his late breakfast. This was the first thing we noticed that was different about this farmers market, numerous vendors were selling cooked food, in addition to their produce and frozen meats.  In fact, Keith and I had a wonderful grass fed burger from another stall down the way from Bill’s, where we also bought a dvd of the Fresh! documentary.

After the market closed, Bill invited us out to see his pigs. It was a good 40 minute drive to his farm, but the trip was well worth it.  I got to pet the belly of his prize boar, Kevin Bacon, who sires all the piglets on the farm.  Then, Bill took us for a walk in the woods to search for his free roaming pigs.  We came across a way cool ancient tobacco barn in the woods, where the pigs hideout in inclement weather. Much to our surprise, a sow poked her head out of the barn, and Bill scolded her for being indoors on such a beautiful day.  She scurried back inside, and we looked in to see other mothers and babies hidden in the cool barn.

We walked on further into the woods, and eventually heard a pigs snort coming from behind us.  Several sows and their piglets were foraging for roots and nuts and just happened across our path. It was really fun to see them up close and personal.

We bid our pig farmer goodbye and headed back to town for a romantic dinner out.  The hotel shuttle driver suggested Maya, a restaurant that serves quite a lot of local food on the menu.  We didn’t ask, she just offered that up, which was another indication we were in a very locavore friendly town.

The dinner was awesome, I had local trout and Keith had local pork sourced from a farmer we had met earlier in the day at the farmers market. Wow, what a difference.  In DC, when you get sustainable meat on the menu, it invariably comes from many states away. Because that is all the distributors carry. But, in Charlottesville they are so much further along in making connections between restaurateurs, food distributors and very local sources.

We walked all over the historic downtown area, and so many restaurants boast local food on the menu it is stunning. Even the local kitchen store is named The Seasonal Cook in a nod to everything fresh and local.

Food, Inc. the documentary expose of corporate agribusiness is Now Playing at the main theater in downtown, the Vinegar Hill Cinema.  Chipoltle has the Food, Inc. movie poster in the window.  Even Starbucks is trying to horn in on the message with a marketing poster for a new smoothie calling it Real Food!

At the visitors center, we saw several local food magazines and a great color brochure for the Buy Local Charlottesville campaign.  Color me impressed (and a little embarrassed that Northern Virginia still has such a long way to go).

The next day, we toured Ashlawn Highlands, the home of our 5th President, James Monroe.  You really catch the American Revolutionary spirit when you go back into time with a guided historic home tour. Monroe was a farmer, as was Thomas Jefferson, his good friend and neighbor. They must be rolling over in their graves at the state of America today, in reference to our small farms.

Richard Morris, author of A Life Unburdened (about his journey back to the diet of his ancestors), and the keynote speaker at Farm Food Voices 2009, talks about our nations  “founding farmers”.  It is a profound concept when you think today of how removed the average citizen is, from the source of their food. Not to mention the average politician!

Another speaker at the Farm Food Voices 2009, gubernatorial candidate, Creigh Deeds spoke about how he knew things had radically changed for farms, when only one school child in a large group of students from a very rural area, Bath County, VA had ever seen a pig slaughtered. It was exciting to hear that our next Virginia governor is very aware of the plight of independent farmers, and in fact, has in the State House pushed numerous bills that would help the small farmer.

After the speeches, at a food tasting booth, we ran into the farmers of Double H farm, whose pork chop we had enjoyed for dinner the night before.  The farmers wife told me that they had been arrested for slaughtering pigs on their farm, which was headline news in all the local papers.  Now they have to take the pigs off the farm to a USDA slaughterhouse and then bring them back on the farm for processing.  Wouldn’t you think the small farm environment would be the safest place for abattoirs to be?  Wasn’t the original intent of the USDA inspection service to correct the worst abuses of the meat packing industry, not the small producer?  One would think that the inspection system could do house calls on small farms to train farmers in food safety and that it would be less burdensome for all concerned to encourage more local small scale butchering.

Here is a link to the front page story on the event from Charlottesvilles’ Daily Progress newspaper.  Due to some technical difficulties, I will add my photos for this blog post later.  So check back if you want to see them!

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  1. Charlottesville just moved to the top of my “retirement venues” list!
    .-= Local Nourishment´s last blog ..July 2009 Summary =-.

  2. I’m so sorry I missed it! I don’t live terribly far away, and I would have loved to be there. Hopefully next year!
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Wild Fermentation =-.

  3. Unfortunately, government isn’t about being “less burdensome.” They’re about increasing corporate coffers.

    Charlottesville sounds heavenly. I feel so alone here in Erie.

  4. Great Post.

    I live in Cville and was fortunate to see Fresh last week followed by a panel discussion which included one of the stars of the film – Joel Salatin – among other knowledgeable local folks doing a lot on this issue. I also caught Food Inc at the Vin. Hill. I feel truly grateful to live and be raising my children here (for many other reasons too).

    Now we just have to figure out how to 1) get the message out further and 2) deliver better, real food to the other 99.9% of the US population, particularly those who live in dense urban areas and poorer communities which are under served even by standard grocery stores.
    .-= Amy Webb´s last blog ..Get Fresh! =-.

  5. Larisa Sparrowhawk says:

    I moved 2 years ago from Virginia, was Secretary of VICFA and know everyone in the post except Bill. I moved to rural Oregon, where I thought everyone has a homestead with a few chickens and a garden. I was dismayed to find that even before the recession, one in six people here was on public assistance, that food stamps can be used at gas stations (for chips and soda!) and that even the homesteaders who rely on their products to feed their families are not politically active in protecting their food rights. It is a struggle to help people understand why they should care. I will be screening Fresh at the community center a block away from my local food store and I hope it will generate some press and serious discussion. I often miss my Virginia friends! If you can get Kathryn Russell on your blog again, definitely do so. She is a gem… very intelligent, very feisty. Other people who would be good to talk to from VICFA: Dick Stevens, who has donated a huge amount of time and money fighting NAIS. Also VICFA’s long time legal expert (although she’ll modestly deny she’s an expert in anything), Christine Solem, who shares a farm with John Coles. She has been to court over and over again for her own – and other peoples’ rights to sell or give away raw milk cheese and often uses her own money to help others. I believe she is the originator of the goat share concept, and I know she is the originator of the idea of giving away goat cheese and posting a sign asking people if they would like to donate to their legal defense fund. God, I miss them. Awwww, this post is making me homesick!

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