Gastronomically food cannot be separated into tidy compartments. Growing food cannot be separated from the land, people, and culture wherein it came forth. Eating food cannot be separated from the “hands that made the food” (as the Irish would say). Discussions about health – from nutrient deficiency to the obesity epidemic – cannot be separated from the industries that provide the connection between grower and eater. Food justice conversations – from food deserts to land grabbing and forced famine – cannot be separated from local and global political and financial decisions…as well as our own choices at the grocery store.
Many days I am frustrated at the slow, sometimes glacial, movement I experience working to cultivate the mission of Feed Denver. The question that began Feed Denver was: Can we grow the food we eat in and near the City of Denver? Immediately I realized there cannot be a negative answer to that question. Redirected as a statement this must be our quest: to grow the food we eat in and near the City of Denver.
Spending time in the Piedmont Region of Italy reminded me that food production can be small and independent. It can be personal and reflect the culture and community. It can be productive and profitable. I was able to attend a wine tasting of seven cru designated wines from the local Barolo region. We tasted how different one wine was compared to the wine from the next hill over. Same grapes, similar soil and landscape profiles, and very controlled processes but each wine was completely different though all from a very small area.
Vineyards dotted the hills but along the roads field after field alternated between hazelnut groves and polenta corn. Nearer peoples’ homes large gardens flourished. In Colorado small production is so rare I stop to stare when I come across it. Here in Peidmont it is the norm. Each town has small groceries and coops as well as weekly farmers markets. And at the same time I met farmers who were developing coop distribution organizations to provide fresh food to nearby Milan and Turin, with concern that fresh food is not very available in the big cities…just down the road.
My career day co-presenters were from large and small companies, farmers and food companies, and represented six countries and four continents. There were new farmers dedicated to good, clean, and fair production. There were global food corporations wanting to grow but still be at the sustainability table. There were market buyers needing farmers and their production in a world where small is no longer supported as an industry. There were organizations supporting the sustainable food conversation through communication, education, and support networks.
What I learned is Feed Denver stands side by side with these others from around the world. We are all dedicated and passionate. We want to support the “new” gastronomes being shaped by the programs at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. We are simultaneously discouraged by the state of the world yet encouraged by the state of our commonality and shared need for engagement in making that world tastier, cleaner, and more fair.
The students asked me, will there be jobs in the Good Food Movement when they finish their program. My response was, there must be but you might have to create them yourself. If you can’t find a job that supports good, clean, fair food you must make one. I challenged each one that I spoke with that even if they found a great job but it is removed from actual food production that they consider finding a way to engage with food production on the front line. For every person I meet interested in becoming a new farmer, I have already met fifty new food writers, local food website developers, food delivery companies, farmers’ market creators, and local food restaurateurs. More than anything, we need new farmers. And we all need to do what we can to encourage, support, and nurture them so that more new farmers will feel this is a good, clean, fair and profitable career.