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Shared Inspiration

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Shared Inspiration

After nearly a full week of writing, I’m aching for some discussion. Or perhaps some good old fashion show and tell!

I truly believe we are all creative beings. It is how we express this creativity that makes the world a delightfully variable collection of human endeavors.  This post is an opportunity for my readers to engage and share. I’m looking forward to knowing what makes your world go around. What inspires you? When to you feel that fire of life? How do you express yourself? Do you draw, write, act, play music, make old things new, work with clay, or sing? Do you enjoy cooking, caring for plants, or finding a quite place in nature? Do you gain a sense of inspiration for reading others work or visiting museums and then developing your own ideas? What is it that you do that helps you feel at ease in the world? cropped-dscn7677.jpg

From the Ground Up

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I cannot begin to express how great it is to begin feeling a sense of community. To have come to make wonderful friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. It gives me such a sense of arrival and acceptance. Having learned to accept myself, I have also learned that others accept me. It sounds so simple, but this is such a distinct shift in my mind.

I’m learning how to be myself and how to share myself. I’m learning how to build and sustain healthy relationships and how to see myself a part of a community. The piece that seems to bring that all together is the article I wrote for the local newspaper’s lifestyle column, Live Local: The Pulse of New Rockford. 

I share it with you now and hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

From the Ground Up


Planting the Seeds of a Local Foods Movement

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Planting the Seeds of a Local Foods Movement

Convening with others at the 2013 Dakota Grown Farmers Market and Local Foods Conference made me realize that the most vibrant local foods systems grow from the ground up through collaborative relationships. The local foods movement in North Dakota and throughout the country is driven by a variety of people with varied motivations for a common cause. Often, motivations are health related. Individuals and families want access to fresh and healthy food. They want a diversity of food choices available. This group includes both urbanites who have access to specialty co-ops and CSAs as well as rural families who have to drive more than 10, 20, or 50 miles to even get to a large grocery store.

Photograph from the Northern Plains Sustainable Agricultural Society

Others are motivated for environmental reasons, they are uncomfortable with the reliance current conventional agricultural systems have on fossil fuels, pesticides, herbicides, and irrigated water. They see their choices in the food they eat as a powerful stance against environmental degradation.

Photograph from the Northern Plains Sustainable Agricultural Society

A third reason people make the choice for local foods is the economic benefits for communities. Produce available in commercial grocery stores can be expensive. Some choose to grow their own food to help off set food costs. Others would rather pay 5.99 a pound for kale or Swiss chard if it was grown by someone in the community. The economics of local foods benefit small family farms and food business, but it also adds the value of relationships. Buying local foods builds resiliency in communities.

The one thing that people from each of these categories (or others I failed to include) have in common is that they are creating a demand for fresh, whole foods grown and produced in their region, state, and community. They are the consumers. They are driving the system. They are the main ingredient for building a local foods movement in an community. They are the seeds in the soil, they are the feet on the ground.

If you are one of these people, please know that you have influence in so many ways. The first thing you can do is find others in your community and share your concerns, interests, and hopes. Find folks who have similar ideas. No matter how small or large the town is, no matter where your community is on the path to increasing access to local foods, there is the potential for local foods to be a greater part of your community.

One example is the story of Sheyenne, North Dakota. This is a tiny town of just 200 people. A few years ago a young girl wanted to start selling the produce from her garden. Her mother helped her make a plan, they connected with an older couple who also had a bumper crop and a high school girl with a talent for baking. A farmers market was created and continues to grow, as does a community garden and orchard. Each Saturday, community members visit the farmers market, visit, snack on home baked goods, buy produce for the week, and catch up with their neighbors. On Monday nights, many of the same community members spend time in the community garden, tending to plants, pulling weeds, and finding fellowship and a sense of community. These simple acts of including local foods as a community priority grow over time.

Photo by Sarah Smith Warren

Photo by Sarah Smith Warren

But sometimes even the grandest efforts can hit a standstill. From my experience, standstills happen because a shortage of resources. Sometimes the resources are economic. Some communities get stuck and find themselves saying, if we just had the money to do this… Sometimes the resources are social and communities find themselves looking at each other saying, we just need someone to do that…

Both issues become an issue of capacity. A new avenue must be taken, to either secure resources or pursue education. This is where tapping into the larger networks is invaluable. North Dakota is a vast state and support can sometimes be hundreds of miles away. We live in a digital age, and so much can be shared through email and social media. With a little work, needs can be documented, assistance can be found, and progress can be underway. In addition, sharing the burdens of roadblocks opens the lines of communication and help develop truly viable plans.

This being an area I am experienced in, I know how difficult it can seem to figure out the next step. My mantra for capacity building is, “Focus on what you do well, and make small steps to make it better.” Keep in mind that “better” is a relative term and to fully get a sense of what is “better” for a community, it is imperative to get community member input. With true collaboration, expansion will come in time, like a blossoming flower. Again, please feel free to share some of your challenges or concerns for your community in the comments area below. Be sure to reach out and explore the resources below and consider what could benefit your community in dynamic ways.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

Purple Beans

Again, this is not a definitive list of resources for community projects in local foods. It is simply a starting point. Additional resources and support can be found at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, the North Dakota Farmers Market & Growers Association, the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture, the Northern Plains Sustainable Agricultural Society, or your local NSDU extension office or research center.

Review the 2012 Local Foods Directory- The 2013 directory is being prepared for the upcoming growing season. In the mean time, this is a great starting point to identify markets and producers in your area.

Start a Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project- Grow a Hunger Free Garden and donate extra produce to area food banks to increase access to fresh healthy foods. Steps to start a community garden can be found here.

Find the Best Seeds for Your Region- North Dakota does not have the most forgiving climate when it comes to growing plants. We have a short growing season. The chances for frost continue last into the year (around May 20) and begin early in the fall (about September 10). The season can be critically dry or overly wet. Some varieties of crops will do better than others for our region. In fact, there is a seed farm right here in North Dakota that produces a variety of vigorous vegetable seeds. I highly recommend them at Prairie Road Organic Seed.

Start a Community Orchard-The North Dakota Dept of Ag put together a fantastic resource on creating a community orchard of fruit and nut trees.

Start a Farm-to-School Program- Build relationships between youth, schools, and area farmers and provide children access to local, healthy and nourishing foods. Learn more about this nationwide grass-roots movement to develop community support and awareness about local food systems.

Understand the Regulations for the Production and Sale of Poultry and Livestock- If you are interested in integrating the production of poultry and livestock into your local foods community, it is essential that you understand the North Dakota meat laws and regulations. ND Century Code §36-24 andND Administrative Code §7-13 require that meat or meat food products offered for sale must be safe and wholesome. To prevent contamination, meat must be prepared under sanitary conditions, and the equipment used must be suitable for the product being sold. Requirements differ depending on the type and degree of meat slaughtering/processing and sales of products involved. The different types of meat businesses include custom exempt, retail exempt, official slaughtering, official processing establishments, or combinations of these. This document provides information on the guidelines for opening a meat-processing business. 

Get Familiar with Farm to Market Strategies- This brochure provides an in depth look at the opportunities to sell farm grown produce or livestock, as well as any regulations or requirements to do so.  Get familiar with topics such as business licensing, sales tax collection and permitting, and food safety and health districts.

Find Grants for Sustainable Agriculture-The program for Sustainable Agriculture Education & Research is a great resource for organizations looking to build their capacity for sustainable action through professional development and program enhancement.

Explore Opportunities for Growing Specialty CropsThe North Dakota Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications for the 2013 Request for Proposals for the Specialty Crop Block Program. Applications are due May 24, 2013. Specialty crops are defined in law as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.” This includes a vast array of products, ranging from apples and asparagus to sweet potatoes and spinach. Projects should benefit the specialty crop industry and/or the public rather than a single organization, institution, individual or commercial product. Single organizations, institutions, and individuals are eligible to participate as project partners.

Conduct a Variety Trail There are many varieties to choose from to grow each year. When we choose what we want to grow each year, we might look at variety traits such as the height of the plant, how many days to maturity, and its yield. If you live in an area with a short growing season, like North Dakota you’ll also want to be sure that the varieties you select to grow have early season vigor, grow quickly, mature early, and yield well. There are opportunities to conduct variety trails. This past year, Marv Baker of North Star Farms in Caprio, ND did just that. At North Star Farms, they planted and monitored 14 varieties of carrots and then did a taste testing to determine the right variety for their farm and their customers.

Explore Opportunities in Agri-Tourism-  Agri-tourism is one of the buzzwords of our day. Agritourism is the practice of inviting guests to visit and/or participate in normal farm or ranch activities. Farms and ranches participating in agritourism activities are most often working farms and ranches, and tourism activity is a secondary income for the family. Explore the opportunities to see if there is room for you to integrate agritourism into your local foods community!

of wine and wisdom

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Some people have a tendency to avoid the opportunity to enjoy themselves. With quite irrational reasoning, they are convinced that they don’t really deserve it, want it, or need it, they are afraid the let go and share themselves with others, or they are certain that something bad will happen. I am one of those people. My upbringing influences this tendency to deprive myself of good times. But in the rare chance that I let go, the latter reasoning runs pretty strong, especially if enjoying myself involves alcohol.

Living in small town, there really isn’t a whole lot to do when it comes to date nights. My husband has tried to encourage me more than once to go out to the local establishment for dinner and a drink. But the moment I hit the door, my sensory alarms go off—fried food, cheap beer, stale smoke, dim lighting, classic rock—the entire feeling of a bar tells me that this is NOT a place that I want to be. It tells me that this feels like a place that something “bad” could easily happen. I have a very low tolerance for drama. I’m one to cut right through bullshit and tell everyone involved how they are wrong. I’ve been there too many times. So I opt to stay home, where I can cook up just about anything that we can’t get in town and enjoy drinks in a comfortable space.  But still, young parents need date nights! What’s a girl to do?

549356_115586761905745_246648430_nI have been slowly tuning into the local community activities and events. I have been hearing an increasing rumble about wine tastings that are going on every two months or so. I figured that would be a different atmosphere, and while I regrettably know very little about wine (a shameful confession of a self-proclaimed foodie) I might just find some folks to fit in with.  I have an allied relationship growing with the one who oversees the wine club and tasting events. So, I was sure it wouldn’t seem completely foreign and I had a pretty good sense that at least one person likes me enough to be glad I had come.

We arrived fairly early, which is completely out of character for me… but seeing as our babysitter was there, the kids were ready for us to go, and we only had to walk 2 ½ blocks, being early only seemed logical. The atmosphere was so elegant, with tables set up in bistro fashion. But, the feeling was casual. And even though I missed the hidden step in the seating area TWICE, I felt comfortable with being me and meeting other people. This event was a special one in the works, in that only one wine was featured, a common table wine from Spain. But, the wine was used to make three very different drinks. Kalimotxo, Mulled Wine, and Sangria.

After sampling all three, we were entitled to a full glass of one of the featured wines or a selection from the bar. Since this experience is about trying new things, I opted for a selection from the bar and had Vinho Verde.  We returned to our seats (and yes, that is when I stumbled down the hidden step for the second time!) and chatted for a while. Then my husband left to get another selection from the bar and GASP! I was alone. I gathered up some courage and went over to a crowded table of ladies who were busy chatting and giggling to introduce myself.

I felt like the awkward high school girl approaching the popular table. I suddenly became aware of my lack of self-esteem. Little did that inner critic, full of cynicism and lies, know it was about to get a jolt of a lifetime.

In some of my previous posts, I have eluded to the dysfunctional families in which I grew up. I use the plural form of family because the two sides were so extremely different from each other, that it is no wonder I often felt bipolar. But as I learn more and more, I see that fundamentalism and alcoholism are not that different from each other.

The denomination of Bible Believers Baptist that predominately influenced my understanding of spirituality had some very distinct “rules” when in came to women, family, and obedience. The underlying theme of self-sacrifice was apparent in the dressed down “modesty”, the simplicity of wool and denim fashion, and the common mannerisms that made me feel like I was going to burn in hell for using the slightest element of slang. Dancing was a path to temptation and drinking is not even spoken of. I learned that as humans we are worth nothing without the light of Jesus to guide us. I learned that any other version of spiritual understanding that did not align with the gospel of God’s word was as good as evil. I learned that it was my responsibility to help those who were lost on the path of life become saved. That is an overwhelming amount of responsibility for a child to bear. Especially, when deep down I wasn’t comfortable with living the way of life that was set before me.  I could not accept the rhetoric that said enjoying oneself led to the temptations of Lucifer, that being submissive to men is the best place for women, and that disregard to the worldly things will bring eternal happiness in the glory of heaven. Amid the promises, something was missing. Something very important was missing.

And the same thing was missing on the other side of the spectrum.

In alcoholic systems the rules were more complicated, they were not written. In the mind of a child, they felt something like this—life is miserable, drinking makes it bearable. But don’t drink too much and don’t get angry, because that is when things get broken and people get hurt. And don’t ever tell anyone else if that happens, because we don’t talk about our mistakes. Don’t call the police, because someone will get taken away. Don’t state the obvious. Don’t try to ask for anything to change. Never ever try to argue with someone who is drunk. I could have easily fallen into that trap as well: as humans we are not worth the possibilities of life, being destructive is the only way to maintain control, and silence is the only way to ensure that no one gets hurt.

Now that you know the rules, lets go back to the wine tasting event, shall we? I was approaching the table of ladies, feeling nervous, scared, and certain that something was about to go wrong. Instantly, I connected to a woman who has lived here in town just a little less than myself. We shared a little about ourselves, talked about the wines we liked (or maybe didn’t like so much), we joked about how bad we were at organizing and maintaining a routine. I teased my husband—“If I ever have her over for afternoon tea, I’ll be in trouble… the house will never get clean!” She chimes in, “Yes, but we would have a wonderful time! And that is what is most important to me is the relationships and the connections.”

That was what was missing in the dichotomies of my early existence, the value of relationships! That’s why I studied anthropology and ecology! That’s why I fell in love with my husband! That is what I wrote my thesis about! That is what kept me going when I was burning out! THE VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS! Even more, the value of myself in relationships! I still want to scream it to the world and drown that cowering self-esteem forever.

The rules have changed. The rules never applied. I didn’t believe in them, but I was still grossly in tuned to them. What shattered all this in the moment was not just what this woman said, but who she was. She had come to our town to serve as the pastor at a church, she had worked as a missionary in Japan, she was drinking wine, she valued relationships, and she was beautiful and vibrant. She did not preach to us. She appreciated us for who we were. I wanted to hug her at that point. (And maybe would have if I had one more glass of wine.) She gave me another version of reality that I didn’t fully realize was possible. She gave me permission to enjoy myself and my own spirituality, in a way that worked for me.

We walked home, unchilled by the subzero temperatures, enlivened by the world around me, and holding on to the words that kept me afloat as I bounced between dysfunctional extremes. Grandpa Pepper would tell me, almost every time I saw him, “You are so special to me, Rachel. God made you special because he loves you.” I didn’t understand how that would all work out when I couldn’t foresee myself going down the paths ahead of me, but it gave me a secret weapon against that inner critic of mine, some bit of truth that I could believe in. And even now, as I am getting more and more comfortable with being myself and sharing that true self with the world, Grandpa’s words remain in my heart. I am worth something. I am something worth sharing.