Reading material

Dear colleagues,

I’m sorry for the absence from this blog, but have been happily knee deep in surveys and resource development for markets. So first, if you work for an organization that runs markets and the organization has not taken the national State of the Market survey yet, here is the link. Do check to make sure someone else in your organization hasn’t already answered, as we need only ONE response per organization.

I hope the year has been productive and promising for your work and that there are big plans for 2019.

My plans for the new year include increasing my activity to connect our food system work more closely to resiliency initiatives (i.e. disaster mitigation, climate challenges, economic apartheid)  from the municipal level to the international level.

As short and long-term ecological and economic solutions are sought for water, energy, and land planning, it is vital that local food activists and practioners are at the table. I hope to be a bridge while also continuing my work with markets to increase their diversity of uses and of users and to articulate their own theory of change.

In the meantime, here are some wonderful hopeful titles on my current reading list around farming and farmers markets. I hope you find some of them interesting.











And this list of 10 podcasts is very helpful:


Citizens should lead

A link to my reviews of 3 new books that may inspire some to get thee to city hall or at least remind us of the possibilities of better design of urban places.

On a related note, I think every food system organizer (really, every organizer) needs to know Jane Jacobs.  One new book that I am still working my way through may help those of you not interested in reading about her life story or diving into her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Vital Little Plans is a collection of many of her shorter pieces and her talks, including some of what she wrote on her way to publishing Death and Life. One of the editors (Storring) works at Projects For Public Spaces (PPS),  a consulting firm well known for its market technical assistance, Placemaking tools, and workshops. (Exciting news: They should be announcing their 2018 Public Market Conference location very soon too.)


Readers will find classics here, including Jacobs’s breakout article “Downtown Is for People,” as well as lesser-known gems like her speech at the inaugural Earth Day and a host of other rare or previously unavailable essays, articles, speeches, interviews, and lectures. Some pieces shed light on the development of her most famous insights, while others explore topics rarely dissected in her major works, from globalization to feminism to universal health care.

Buy it near you at an independent bookstore.

Book review: The Invention of Tradition


I find this to be a fascinating subject. The traditions that we follow offer clues as to which tribe we want to join or those to which we already belong; they also indicate which authorities we follow.

As pointed out in the excellent introduction, tradition is a different matter than customs. Tradition is what has become unvaried or fixed, while customs “serve the double function of motor and fly-wheel.” Customs have more to do with the delicate give and take of civil society, and can become tradition and often do. For example, the author points out that much of what judges do is included under customs, but what they wear is tradition.

This collection covers some great examples of invented traditions from different colonial systems, the British monarchy and the European industrial age after 1870 to the start of World War 1. The term invented tradition in this book includes those constructed to assert authority or dominance, and those that simply emerged over a brief period of time. With those definitions, one can easily see how knowing how to untangle which is which (and devised by whom) is vital before adopting or defending them.  For example, it seems that recently the singing of the national anthem has become a place of protest at sporting events. While writing about the issue, many reporters began to examine this tradition and found it only became the custom around WW2,  with the song itself protested by citizens from its adoption as our anthem in 1931. Even Jackie Robinson wrote of his inability to stand and sing the song in his 1972 autobiography.  No matter how one feels about the protesting, one can see how it has been hardened into tradition that is now so dearly held by some that the flouting of it is seen as an unpatriotic act.

Upon investigation, it may  turn out that some of these dearly held traditions began from pure myth or even from the cooptation of another culture. But knowing which invented traditions are problematic may be difficult to uncover and in many cases,  may not really matter.  After all,  all traditions are manufactured by people and their meanings changing with the times.

In terms of community food systems, it seems to me that its invented tradition and customs should be at least understood before adopting. The adoption of some customs (old-timey signage for example) may presume an allegiance to a past that not everyone is excited about repeating or even remembers. Or the tradition of Saturday morning markets meant a smaller audience for our farmers than the modern world could offer us, yet still felt appropriate for the first founders to honor it by adopting it. Since then, by acknowledging that tradition and finding ways to pay homage without being wedded to it, the market field has vastly expanded its number of days and therefore its reach. Another example may be the traditional audience of the farmers market field: in almost all cases, our markets serve family tables and not larger entities. Could we invent a new tradition where we use the  weekly open-air market model to build another that serves intermediate and wholesale customers exclusively? As long as we made sure to  build transparency and  payment options for bulk purchasers, restaurant, grocery and wholesale customers couldn’t  the market serve the same role as curator and connector that it does in the traditional model?

In any case, installing meaningful traditions and customs into food system work is vital. After all, a generation is around 30 years in span;  this means that the kids and grandkids of the original visitors and farmers are using this new tradition of markets, and assuming the customs and routines of it. The more that those traditions are made to fit the values of the people that are using them, the more that we can clearly indicate the role we want the places of good food to play in civil society.

Book availability



The Seasons on Henry’s Farm

The first full morning back in town after my trip to the IFMA conference was satisfyingly spent on actual labor: helping my pals at Crescent City Books get the store moved to the new location by shelving their cooking and gardening sections. Afterwards, I came back to the Quarter to make a pizza with as many farmers market ingredients as could be crammed on, sided by local ale and all to be enjoyed in the sunny and warm courtyard. As background music from the drums and horns of the pickup band always working for tourists dollars in Jackson Square wafted over the wall, I continued to read a wonderful farming book authored by Terra Brockman, founder of The Land Connection, Illinois family farmhand, and clearly, top-notch writer.


I met Terra a few years back at the first IFMA-led Illinois farmers market conference and found her to be one of those doers who think with absolute clarity about the ecological and human impacts of the industrial agricultural age. That type of intellect,  paired with that determined pioneer spirit for building logical new systems, is always encouraging to find in one’s colleagues. I knew that since that conference she had put TLC in other capable hands (as I saw through their presentations and available materials at this year’s conference) and had herself gone back to working with her family farm and written this highly regarded book. So, I was pleased to see it available for purchase at the TLC table this year.

If you want to know what it it means for a direct-marketing family farm in a commodity state to live and work in service to their land and its seasons, as well as to their ancestors and their present community, I suggest you pick up her book, “The Seasons on Henry’s Farm.” It is absorbing, beautifully written and organized to give you a snapshot of the life of a farm, season by season, plant by plant, decision by decision. Like any good farmer, any talk of the food being grown also includes recipes and the ones in the book are so good that I dogeared almost every page with one. I think it should be required reading for every grower, marketgoer, market manager and every municipal and regional leader. In other words, everyone interested in food sovereignty and those influencing its future.

The Edible South-Book Review

While checking out the local/regional shelves at Lemuria Books in Jackson MS (yes you need to stop in there if you are a booklover. And if you live around Jackson, I might even suggest a nice trip one hot weekend to spend a half day in the bookstore, some time in the Fondren co-op and maybe a stroll through Eudora Welty’s garden), I spotted this large book facing out, published last year but one that I had not heard of previously. The title was underwhelming, but the subtitle did intrigue me, as did the identification of it being the same author as Matzoh Ball Gumbo, which I had read and appreciated.

The book is broken into 3 sections: antebellum and post antebellum Southern food (“Plantation South”), late 19th c/ early 20th c (“New South”) and post 1950 (“modern South”), which is a very useful way to think about food and folkways in any American region actually. Each section has fascinating information about growing food or cuisine and uses scads of citations from prior research and popular books to showcase each.

The author, Marcie Cohen Ferris is a professor of American studies at UNC Chapel Hill and is well known among local food activists across the South. She has taken a wide view of Southern food since Jamestown days, using a great many of our most respected scholars work to weave a compelling and absorbing narrative. What is tricky about the long history here is the need to address earlier inaccuracies and overt racism embedded in some of that scholarship. The author does a deft job addressing those shortcomings without deleting what is useful from her predecessors’ work.

The Plantation South section was less comprehensive than I had hoped, especially knowing the beginnings of my own region around New Orleans as a tobacco company for the French, which has led to a commodity and export agricultural system that extends to this day. I had hoped for more about that era and more details of the enslaved and forced labor system of the Southern agriculture system, but it is quite likely that the scholarship was just not there to use.

The New South section should be required reading for any researcher or embedded activist working in the South. The founding of the Extension Service, of the home economics and demonstration movement and the research into healthy foods to reduce diet-based illnesses across the impoverished South are examples of the rich tapestry Cohen Ferris does explore and, for my money, is the best part of the book. Many times, I found myself referring to the notes and bibliography to record the name of the book she refers to in the section. Additionally, I much appreciated the section on Old Southern Tearooms and the account of the deliberate development at the turn of the 20th c of the myth of the genteel South, where a “southern narrative of abundance, skilled black cooks, loyal servants and generous hospitality of gracious planters and their wives” was displayed at places like Colonial Williamsburg, Charleston and of course New Orleans and as a result was completely accepted as the true story of a much more complicated and less romantic time. I certainly hope that her detailed work here separating fact from fiction may help put these embellished or completely fabricated stories of the “old South” in their proper place.

The Modern South section adds history on civil rights (how does it relate to food you say? lunch counter sit-ins, men’s-only lunch rooms anyone?), and history on federal programs like national school lunch program which are thoughtfully offered. The pieces on organizing natural food coops and buying clubs were so very welcome as little is available in popular research about how important these efforts were to the beginnings of the current local food/farmers markets) movement happening today. That leads to my main disappointment with the book – the scarce information on the farmers market/community garden movement of the 1970s-1990s, much less over the last 25 years which has been a dizzying and somewhat gratifying time for food sovereignty work. I can understand how the author was able to extract more from the researchers and writers of the Southern food system who focused on home cooking rather than to the (largely) nameless and transient activists and ideas of those same systems, but still, much has been written in the last 45 years not covered here. I can only hope for another book from this author that has the same level of detail, covering the last era from a grassroots or even a policy point of view. In any case, as I told a market leader in one of those vibrant places of local food in the South, this book is definitely a keeper and one destined to be used extensively among researchers, activists and policy makers.
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