As major league baseball teams enter the playoffs with dreams of reaching the World Series, fans are soaking in the last games of the season. I am one of these fans, who at press time, is worried about the chances of my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, earning a Wild Card spot. While focused on baseball, I thought it was a good time for me to write about two of my favorite things: baseball and local food.
Surprisingly, there is a very direct connection between baseball and local food. Baseball stadiums do not close down once the world champion is declared. Many have developed community partnerships and programs that operate in the off-season and focus on improving nutrition and community health. That is why several big league teams including the Boston Red Sox, the Washington Nationals, and the Colorado Rockies’ have installed edible gardens that are helping to educate fans about local food systems.
America’s farmers and ranchers are aging. Half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade while the number of entry-level farmers has fallen by 30 percent since 1987, according to the Center for Rural Affairs. The average age of American farmers is 58.3 years, and new farmers are needed to carry the torch. However, for aspiring and new young farmers, challenges abound – from obtaining access to land, procuring loans and credit to being saddled with student loan debt that forces them to pursue alternate careers, and a shortage of apprenticeship programs to arm first generation farmers with the knowledge that farmers typically receive from their forbears.
The innovative and comprehensive Vermont Farm to Plate food system strategic plan unveiled five years ago has borne fruit.
A little more than halfway through the 10 year strategic plan, Vermont has seen increases in food system jobs and local food purchasing, but still faces challenges related to farmland access, food insecurity, farm viability, and local food availability.
The VT Farm to Plate strategic plan, created in 2011 by the Vermont Sustainable Job Fund (VJSF) per legislation passed in 2009, focuses on developing and implementing solutions to create more jobs in the state’s farm and food economy, augment economic development in Vermont’s food sector, and increase food access. The Farm to Plate food system plan aims to not only support Vermont’s long established dairy product and maple syrup industries, but also to encourage the growth and diversification of the state’s food system economy.
In her quest to educate others on how to prepare and enjoy meat, Camas Davis of Portland, Oregon, seeks to change eating habits and help people see, and taste, the benefits of the whole animal.
“We’ve lost our knowledge of how to cook meat, and many people don’t know that all of meat is edible. We want to shift the way that people think about what’s edible, and we want to change habits,” Davis says.
A former food writer and magazine editor, Davis now leads the Portland Meat Collective, which has offered classes in meat preparation since 2010.
“Our main goal is to inspire responsible meat production with experiential education,” she says. The collective advocates meat slaughter that’s humane and transparent—no mystery meat here. Use of the whole animal means less meat goes to waste, and informed eaters have a better understanding of what they’re eating.
A middle school in Tulsa, Oklahoma is now home to an aquaponics system. The endeavor comes courtesy of nonprofit Global Gardens, which sees garden education as a way to not only help students in low-income communities become more knowledgeable about science, health and the environment, but also to become more confident and forward-thinking leaders.
Aquaponics is only one facet of Global Gardens’ focus. Its middle school site and three elementary school project locations not only teach broad-based gardening skills to kids, but also depend on wide community participation. As such, all four projects are education-centered. Each brings together members of the community and offers participating students much more than gardening education.
“The community’s really running this thing,” Hajjar says. “We have one volunteer at each after-school program, and we’re always on the hunt for volunteers. The focus is on the people—food really brings people together. A garden is a great equalizer—it’s magic when it comes to community.”