Young Adults Take Interest In Community Farming
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Now we open up the pages of the Washington Post magazine, which we do just about every week, to find interesting stories about the way we live now. This week, a story about local farming caught our eyes. Mainly because of who was working in the fields, namely young college students, recent graduates, and even some who have fled corporate America.
As reporter Mara Lee explained in her article, it's part of a growing consciousness surrounding sustainable farming and local agriculture.
Mara Lee joins us in our studio now, along with Renee Catacalos. She's the publisher and editor of Edible Chesapeake - that's a quarterly magazine about locally produced food in the Greater Chesapeake Bay region. It's not just about the crabs, right, Renee?
Ms. RENEE CATACALOS (Edible Chesapeake): That's right. It's a whole lot more.
MARTIN: It's a whole more. Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.
Ms. MARA LEE (Washington Post): Thank you.
Ms. CATACALOS: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Mara, talk about the movement in general. You say there's been a big rise farmers markets and community-supported agriculture or CSA's in the past few years. First, explain what a CSA is, and what do you think is behind this increased interest?
Ms. LEE: Community-supported agriculture is a system where consumers share the risk with farmers. So they give an upfront payment of some hundreds of dollars and then all season long they get a basket of vegetable and fruit. I think there's more interest because of "Omnivore's Dilemma" and people being concerned about the impacts of industrial-scale agriculture and wanting to use their money to support a way of life that they think is a better way of life.
MARTIN: Renee, how did you get interested in your field? As I understand it, you are the only person of color, for example, who owns and distributes one of these...
Ms. CATACALOS: One of the edible magazines.
MARTIN: ...edible magazines, which are available around the country.
Ms. CATACALOS: Right.
MARTIN: How did you get interested in this?
Ms. CATACALOS: I think just as Mara was explaining, just out of a personal interest for the way I fed my family, and I had recently returned to the D.C. area and found more farmers markets happening and was personally curious about it. But I will say too that I did read "The Omnivores Dilemma," which was a big influence on me, and it has - it kind of set my path.
But going down that path, I have found that you see plenty of people of color shopping at farmers markets and some folks involved in community-supported agriculture. But I think there could be more involvement at all levels of the community, not just when we're talking about access in low income neighborhoods, but folks across all socioeconomic spectrum can embrace this more fully.
MARTIN: Mara, you write about a particular farm in the area called Clagett Farm and they're making a particular effort to kind of reach out to communities that - where people might not necessarily understand what they're trying to do and where they are and so forth. But I wanted to ask just overall about the people who are drawn to doing this work. Is there any kind of self-consciousness about it, to say, oh, you know, you know, my mom didn't send me to - you know, your mom didn't send you to college to pick turnips?
Ms. LEE: I asked the workers about that and some of them did say that their parents were confused about why they would want to work so hard, because it is very physical work. But they're very motivated to do this work and they're not going to be dissuaded by their parents saying, well, you know, it would be easier if you would go work at a non-profit at an office.
MARTIN: Why are they so highly motivated?
Ms. LEE: Because they really strongly feel that our current path is unsustainable, that the way we do industrial agriculture now is responsible for our health problems, for the workers who are exposed to the pesticides. It's polluting water and earth, and they also feel that it's just more healthy to have a community that is producing the food, to know where your food comes from.
MARTIN: Could I ask why, though, these farms don't employ, you know, traditional migrant workers or people who come on, say, limited term visas and for whom this has been a source of employment going sort of back generations? We can argue about whether - you know, the politics of that. But I am curious to know why these farms tend to want this kind of participatory experience as opposed to just hiring people to do the work?
Ms. LEE: Well, some farms do a combination. They do have some college kids and then they do have some Hispanic workers, including some in our area. But Chip Plank, the owner of Wheatland Farms, he says he's always chosen to go this route because he likes having the same people sell at farmers markets as are planting and harvesting and weeding.
And the reason that is, is he says that when you're selling at the farmers market, you can see that a scratched zucchini doesn't sell as well. And so that makes you more careful when you're picking. You can also see what kinds of things sell well and that can tell you what to plant next year.
Now, where I shop, at Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, there's a large Latino community and they are some of the sellers, they're also Latino because they like to have the Spanish language skills.
MARTIN: And also, do they have a way to, as you pointed out earlier, to identify products that people want?
Ms. LEE: Yes. Like, for instance, they sell squash blossoms, which is a common ingredient in Mexican and Central American cooking.
MARTIN: Hmm. Interesting. Renee, why do you care so particularly that people of color be participating in this experience?
Ms. CATACALOS: You know, I...
MARTIN: There are some who would say, well, why does it matter? Whoever wants to participate should participate and who cares?
Ms. CATACALOS: Right. Well, I mean first of all, because, you know, everybody should eat in a way that makes sense for our bodies. Everyone should be eating well. This is where sometimes you get back to, you know, the charges that come up about elitism and or things like this. And you know, I think that access to this kind of food is as much as about education as it is about the location of a farmers market or something like that.
And that somewhat goes back to what folks like the Planks and projects like Clagett Farm do by having people who are in the community come out and work on their farms that way. They learn more about what it actually takes to bring this food to the market. They learn how it's produced. They learn why that's important.
And I think that in the African-American community there may be an additional, you know, bit of a stigma you get for young people when talk about going in farming. There's, you know, some long-seeded issues about, you know, working in the fields and that kind of thing. But...
MARTIN: Yeah. Exactly. We talked about this earlier. We were talking a lot about Earth Day...
Ms. CATACALOS: Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: ...and the push by many people to kind of reintroduce environmental sort of sound principles into some communities. And people have pointed out that black and brown people were some of the original recyclers, as it were...
Ms. CATACALOS: Right.
MARTIN: ...but there are some people for whom there is a stigma attached to that because they saw that as something that their parents were trying to get away from.
Ms. CATACALOS: Exactly. Exactly. I mean it's similar for, you know, several years ago I did some research on black chefs at executive chef sort of positions, and some of those folks were into the same things with their families. What, you're going to be a cook? You're in the kitchen?
So I think we need to get past some of those things. But especially when you see that the way things in sustainable agriculture are being done today, it's very different than the way they were done, you know, the 50 or 60 or, you know, just 20 years ago, and it's a worthwhile thing to be doing.
It's a worthwhile thing to do for yourself personally and for your family and for the community that you can serve through that. Not everybody's cut out to be a farmer, but those who are interested in it should be encouraged to try that.
MARTIN: Well, what about your family and your extended family?
Ms. CATACALOS: Uh-huh.
MARTIN: What do they think about what you're doing?
Ms. CATACALOS: Well - they, you know, at first there was a little bit of, you know, what's this about or, you know, everybody goes through those sorts of cycles where when I was young, my grandmother who, you know, raised 14 children almost on her own, you know, coming up from Alabama to D.C., you know, everybody was eating the collared greens and the kale and the things that are, you know, popular at the markets now.
And then you get out of those habits. People think that you've moved forward and you're doing TV dinners. And then it kind of comes back full circle and people actually are rediscovering what they liked about those things before and, you know, tossing away the stigmas that were attached to those things.
MARTIN: Well, what's your favorite thing that you've discovered locally as part of your Edible Chesapeake? Very briefly, if you would, what's your favorite discovery?
Ms. CATACALOS: Carrots. I always go back to that. Discovering the taste of real carrots that have just come out of the ground and been, you know, grown with love in the proper way. It's a completely different experience than eating a peeled baby carrot out of the grocery store.
MARTIN: So when you inviting me over?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CATACALOS: Any time, Michel. Any time.
MARTIN: Renee Catacalos is the publisher and editor of Edible Chesapeake. It's a quarterly magazine about local food in the Greater Chesapeake region. It's part of a chain of edible magazines that are available nationwide. She was kind enough to join me in our Washington, D.C. studio. Along with Mara Lee. She's a journalist based in Washington, D.C. Her article on the rise of local farming and community-supported agriculture appeared in this weekend's Washington Post magazine.
We'll have a link on our Web site if you want to read the piece.
Thank you both for joining us.
Ms. LEE: Thank you.
Ms. CATACALOS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.