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Sustainable Agriculture in Springtree Territory

by Jay on March 1, 2010

Slow Food Around Here

“The underprivileged tend to have disastrously unhealthy diets and no wonder: $1 will buy you 100 calories of carrots — or 1,250 calories of cookies and chips.”

The quote is from an article entitled “Crimes of the Heart” in a recent edition of Newsweek.   It sums up the challenge of  guiding people into healthy eating in our society.

As often happens when startling facts like this start clanging around in my head they seem to become a magnet for other complementary information. As the Imperial Potentate on three blogs and a contributor to a couple of others I’ve gotten sensitive to information that might be part of a future post.

One of my major sources for insights about living in the Research Triangle region and especially Durham is the Downtown Durham Rotary Club…over 100 years old and more than 200 members strong.   I have the privilege of heading the PR committee for the club which means that I often do the write up for our  bulletin on the  weekly program.

Another reason to buy Durham real estate

A recent program  included three presenters from the local slow food/sustainable agriculture movement.

Diane Daniel is now putting the finishing touches on an upcoming travel guidebook, Farm Fresh North Carolina and is organizing a farm tour in the Piedmont this spring. Diane can be contacted at about the book and the tour.

Phoebe Lawless, represented Slow Food Triangle. Phoebe is also the owner of Scratch Baking and used to ply her craft at the Magnolia Grill, one of Durham’s most proclaimed eateries. Phoebe described programs that were taking place in several Durham Schools educating children on healthy eating. Slow Food Triangle has a very interesting web site with a great links page to numerous farmers markets and other resources at

Finally, Lucy Harris, the Executive Director of SEEDS gave a short description of that local organization’s efforts to introduce gardening and healthy eating in less advantaged neighborhoods. SEEDS also has a great website at that describes their efforts on the 1.5 acre garden they maintain on Elizabeth St. just east of Downtown Durham. She also talked about the desirability of teaching mindfulness and paying attention to what you eat.

There is some really interesting stuff going on with these groups. Sometimes the question period at Rotary actually proves to be the most substantive part of this type of presentation. However, when the question arose about the relationship of Slow Food to “corporate farming,”  I found myself biting my tongue.  One of the presenters ( I won’t mention which one) responded with some propaganda that is inaccurate and, unfortunately, undermines the credibility of her cause.

Years ago I worked  with large agricultural interests in the economic “corridor of concern” east of I-95. Since I lean a little left on social issues I thought I was going to have to hold my nose (literally and figuratively) to work with these clients. What I found was that many of my well intentioned tree-hugging friends were simply ignorant and often the victims of calculated demagoguery about the evils of “corporate farming.” This includes their impact on the environment, the economy, and romantic notions of family farms.

I found they were also wrong on the treatment of the animals on hog farms. The producers clearly realize that the less stressed the animals are the healthier they are and the faster they grow. As one corporate farmer told me, in the “good old days” when hogs were fed garbage, foraged and defecated in the fields and streams and had little or no shelter, their lives were sickly, brutal and short. Now, he told me, they’re just short.

For all our pride in refashioning our region into a high tech mecca, it turns out we also have a very active sustainable agriculture movement.  This was further confirmed by an article in the March 1 New York Times Sunday Magazine called Field Report: Plow Shares which describes the “Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious decend on a farm for an afternoon” to work on any of 15 farms doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of the ground. ” The article described an afternoon at a farm near Silk Hope which is somewhere near Pittsboro and Siler City.
As the Newsweek article and our guests point out, many of the health challenges we face in this world are directly related to the quality as well as the quantity of food that we eat.  The Slow Food movement is one approach to bringing the cost of 1,250 calories of carrots more in line with the cost of the same energy from junk food. It also burnishes the region’s reputation as enlightened…and, oh yes, a good place to buy a home.

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