Ohio Valley Maple Syrup Production Starts to Flow Again-Belt Magazine

Northeastern states like Vermont, New York and Maine produce the vast majority of American maple syrup. Ohio produces far less, but still consistently ranks among the top maple-producing states in the country, with 708 producers reporting in the last agriculture census. (Experts say there are likely far more small-scale producers, since they are less likely to be counted in official data. All that makes tracking maple production a particular challenge.)

West Virginian producers are building an agritourism economy around the novelty of the seasonal crop. And producers in Kentucky are just beginning to explore how big maple could be. Shad Baker, the agriculture extension agent in Letcher County, Kentucky, was always looking for ways to make the best of eastern Kentucky’s hilly, forested terrain. He knew that agriculture in Letcher County would never be large-scale, high-volume production, but rather multiple niche crops that didn’t need much flat land.

“My mom worked in the mines,” Baker said, “And we had this old mining sticker that said, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ Well, maple syrup is a great example of a bird in the hand.”

Although Kentucky and West Virginia are not traditional maple country, the particularities of the landscape make the crop an unlikely fit. The steep grade means there’s no need for the costly vacuum systems often used in more traditional maple states like Vermont and New York.

Sap flows when the days are warm and the nights are cool, so Kentucky and West Virginia have a longer production season and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles. And, Baker said, maples release sap in January and February, a time when a small farm operation wouldn’t traditionally be able to turn a profit.

Tapping into Tradition

Pirate ships, untie.

Some of you may have heard the news earlier this year that Slow Food USA’s  Executive Director Richard McCarthy was stepping down from his command after six years. Of course anyone who reads this blog knows he was the founding visionary and 18-year E.D. at Market Umbrella* which is the NGO that manages the Crescent City Farmers Markets in New Orleans, and where I was lucky enough to work as Deputy Director and then as Marketshare Director for a decade.  I had departed its solidity and dynamic programs in 2011, feeling as if I needed to use the skills and resources I had gained to build the field of markets across the US and to focus on Farmers Market Coalition’s development, an entity that Richard had raised the initial private funding for and had served as the first board president when it became its own 501 (c) organization. He very graciously allowed me to take most of the materials we had developed at MU to grow my consulting business (Helping Public Markets Grow) and to use it later on as the basis of my current work as part-time staff at Farmers Market Coalition.

Since his move to NYC in 2012, we have kept in regular contact. I had even attended both of the Slow Food Nations events in Denver that happened under his leadership, partly to see if there could be an alignment between the work I did with FMC and with SF, but also to experience some of the synthesis he was famous for orchestrating between NGO leaders and chefs, private foundations and practioners, savvy media types and farmers, and a slew of others who share the theory of change that put farmers and markets in the democratic center of food systems. He always introduced me with the description that I know he had carefully crafted for me: “Darlene is a market guru and my colleague from the New Orleans days of running markets…” Like much of his wordsmithing, it was carefully open-ended and charmingly odd.

Whenever we met up, it was very much as if we were back in the cramped offices of Market Umbrella, discussing both the minute details of the work to put on a market, and the systemic trends and changes we noted and those we hoped to see. I often told him that I wished he would STOP running non-profits, and start to write, speak, and work at a different level on behalf of the entire system of organizers in the food and civic systems.

Now he is happily unmoored from his tether, roaming the world looking for places to put his efforts in the coming years.  My goal is getting him visiting the port of farmers markets regularly, and so I am doing my best to get him to work on a farmers market anthology with me, with part of the proceeds benefiting FMC and other worthy orgs. Maybe that will happen, but in the meantime, he is beginning to use the blog format to share his thoughts and to raise his flag.

The blog is called think like pirates, and I can offer a tiny glimmer as to why it is called that, although Richard has developed this idea in new ways since its unveiling. But here is the beginning:

Some years back, I watched a Charlie Rose episode with  Tori Amos and found this resonant:

Charlie: Now, this tour with Alanis Morrissette, tell me about her. Do you like her? Do you admire her? Is she good?
Tori: She’s a lovely person, good heart. She’s good at what she does.
Charlie: That’s it?
Tori: That’s good!
Charlie: I mean… well, was there conflict, was there tension? Or was it just a lovefest?
Tori: No tension because… I think honestly, she approached me and she did it in a way that was like, “Hey, lets be creative and put two shows together, two separate shows and um… I had to bring my own production. I didn’t want to do anything where I couldn’t bring my own production because that’s not how I work. I have a pirate ship, I have a captain…
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: I’m the ship. (giggle)
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: I have loads of chefs.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: And all sorts of people floating around. Thieves, fantastic. A few harlots.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: All on my ship.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: And we all had to come and be respected that, you know, no compromise on any level. and, she has her captain, she is her ship, and of course that’s how it had to be approached. And, because of that mutual respect it worked out really well.

I went to the MU office the next day and told Richard about this interview. He immediately connected to it to our work, and came up with his pirate ship anthology for markets. (It is my memory that he had long been obsessed with pirates and maybe that’s why I told him. I believe he already flew a pirate ship flag on the front of his house.)

He began to say in presentations that we have to work as pirate ships, with our own flag, shanties and crew, but mooring together when needed. One day we even came up with a button that said, “Sail Alone, Anchor Together”; I still have one and wear it to market events where it is universally understood.

So I am pleased to introduce my readers to my pal’s new blog. His writing is practical, literate and metaphorical, and will encourage you to ponder it later on that day or week. Maybe over grog on your yardarm…

 

  • Market Umbrella was previously organized as ECOnomics Institute, and was a project of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University from 1994-2008.

Deserts, swamps, or apartheid: the language of food organizing

Brilliant interview with Karen Washington as she breaks down the institutions and words that deflate the potential of our food work. I agree whole-heartedly with her assessment that the term food desert does not describe the actual problem that communities face. I remember when a local academic dismissed it some years back but only substituted the term food swamp because as he said, it is not a lack of food that is the issue, but a swamp of bad food choices. I thought then well maybe that’s slightly better but it still doesn’t define the issue.

In contrast, the term food apartheid is properly defiant and active. Apartheid is the system of segregation, most often based on race, and as such does describe the structural issues with food, in consumption and production, in rural, urban, and suburban places. The solution includes food sovereignty (and health to be understood as the most important type of wealth), but of course in the US, the structure of sovereignty and self-care has been entirely warped by our corporate food structure and our statist political structure.

It is hard for many, but it is vital that all people see the food apartheid that has always been present in the US for people of color and now stretches to every  community. How to see? Look down: note the rolls of fat and the chronic illnesses inside; look around: see the lack of actual food growing in your public spaces and neighbors’ yards; look to City Hall and your state capital: see the policies that discourage or criminalize the production and sale of good food by neighbors. Once made, these observations can lead to action and unity and should become the core of our messages as farmers market leaders.

From the Karen Washington Guardian interview.

The conversation around actual food value is a conversation that we don’t have in low-income neighborhoods, regardless if they’re black or white, rural or urban. But things are changing. People are talking more than ever about food. It’s such a major shift, so you’re seeing major corporations offering different options, like fast-food chains offering salads. The consumer is starting to understand the relationship between food and health. It’s also happening in low-income communities. The rise in school gardens impacts children and they shift their parents’ perspectives. In my neighborhood, every year, we have a block party and they don’t serve soda anymore. The kids are asking for water! Education is working.

I think that food activists who see the work they do as truly measurable in terms of justice or of successful resistance to the dominant system are most likely to achieve actual change and will find themselves less frustrated by small disappointments and failures in their daily work. I also think that those food activists who see their work as organizing -and who see organizing as leadership development at the grassroots level – are also more likely to find allies and to be good allies, which to me is the primary goal of creating public entities like farmers markets or non-profit organizations.

I’ll leave the last words for agricultural leader LaDonna Redmond who eloquently said in the foreword to Professor Monica White’s Freedom Farmers:Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement:

While the white movement describes my community through a deficit model, Monica’s work describes agriculture as a site of resistance…The book is a conduit of those stories and memories that restore our dignity. I hope it will forever remind us that we are people of this land.

Charlottesville vendor Good Phyte Foods talks value-added product development

My great pal Stacy Miller is always in constant learning mode, especially interested in learning through the experience and ingenuity of farmers and other entrepreneurs in her local community. This podcast is fascinating for the detail that she offers about product development, marketing concerns, trends in snack foods, and the props to farmers markets and FMC of course (and an honestly humbling plug for the Dar Bar but let’s leave that aside for now although I remain grateful that my name rhymes with bar.)

This is a great example of how a value-added business can offer authenticity to market messaging,  how these innovative vendors can illustrate the market farmers story through storytelling and through lovely presentation of their ingredients offering healthy, delicious snacking. So let’s remember what those vendors offer our markets and honor them too.

Day carts bring new faces to Reading Terminal Market

“We found ourselves in this incredibly competitive environment where you want to test new concepts and give customers something new,” Gupta said. “We needed a way to bring in some of these hyper-local entrepreneurs, these small-batch products that you can find at farmers’ markets. And the way to do that was to lower the barriers to entry.”

The wheeled carts, left over from the market’s days as a train station, already were being leased to a few businesses that needed no refrigeration — like Lansdale’s Boardroom Spirits and newcomer Birdie’s Biscuits — for use as pop-up stands in the center of the building. The feedback from customers and owners was good, Gupta said, so last fall he and members of his team started working with the Health Department on turning the former Wan’s Seafood into a flexible space for multiple kiosks. The space has no built-in cooking station, but other than sinks, refrigeration, and the proper permits and licenses, it turned out little was needed for businesses to start selling ready-made food.

http://www.philly.com/philly/food/reading-terminal-market-day-carts-20180124.html

Beating the Monopolies: Barry Lynn Explains How We Will Win 

 

The first thing we have to say is, “I’m not a consumer. I am a citizen. I produce things. I produce labor. I produce goods. I produce ideas. I will have open and free markets into which to sell my goods, my ideas, my labor. There will be competition for my goods, my ideas, for my labor, and there will be no intermediary standing between me and my neighbors telling us how to do business with one another, just the way Sam Adams and John Hancock said back in 1773.” That’s the first thing we have to do.

The second thing is, for anyone who’s in a position of authority, a position of power, a position of leadership, this could be within your community, within your town, within your church, is just go out there and talk about this. You don’t have to figure out what the fixes are. There’s going to be a thousand fixes. There’s going to be 10,000 fixes. That’s the beauty of antitrust law, of anti-monopoly law, is we have an immense number of tools that we can bring to bear. What we have to do is see the problem, and help our fellows see the problem. We have to make it safe for other people on the Hill, on Capitol Hill, to talk about this.

 

podcast

Emerging City Champions to lead innovative food projects – Knight Foundation

I highlight the food choices, but really all 20 of them should be approached to have a partnership with their farmers markets. Here is the list so you can see what else is being proposed.

Macon, Georgia
Morgan Wright: A new community garden planted on an abandoned lot will serve community members and feature weekly farmers markets.

Miami
Danielle Bender: Public Hives will provide beehives in public places, with a protective fence surrounded by native wildflowers and fruiting trees, to ensure residents can remain a safe distance away. Programming will encourage discussions about pollinators.

Tallahassee, Florida
Jacqueline Porter: “Thrive Tallahassee” will be a series of neighborhood meals hosted in underused, historically significant spaces.

Source: <a href=”https://knightfoundation.org/articles/20-emerging-city-champions-chosen-to-lead-innovative-urban-projects”Knight Foundation

“…That everyone will believe they are worth that.”

 

“It is a ridiculous business model,” Jennifer admits. “But we have pride in doing this accurately. No corners cut.”

The women are doing something right. At their last farm dinner, guests were shamelessly smuggling the handmade butter off the table into their purses. This budding success fills the trio with hard-won satisfaction. At the Mister Canteen truck, Anna gives impromptu baking tutorials about spelt to curious doughnut buyers. Misty breaks down the myths about lard. Jennifer shares tips for pasture-raised eggs and chickens.

“We talk all the time about how we are broke and poor, but we are rich in ways most people aren’t,” Anna says. “We have six gallons of milk every day. Four dozen eggs every morning. And we have purpose.”

Source: Back to the Land

Will This New Labor Classification Save Gig Workers’ Careers? 

A new proposal by MBO Partners, which provides back office services to independent workers out of Herndon, Va., aims to alleviate those concerns. Under the proposal, released this morning, independent workers would be able to seek a special certification signifying that they have formally declared their status as independent workers and have opted out of the protections given to traditional employees. Companies who hired the certified workers would be safe from having the workers reclassified as employees.

“We’re not trying change any laws that exist today,” said Gene Zaino, founder and CEO of MBO Partners. “We want to create a safe harbor for people who acknowledge they don’t need the rights of an employee. For those people who don’t want to go through the process, the current laws still exist.”

There are some potential challenges with the proposal, he acknowledges. One is the potential for employers to pressure freelancers to get the certification–or lose out on potential work. To prevent the most vulnerable workers from being exploited, MBO Partners has proposed that only workers who earn $50 an hour or more could be certified.

Source: Will This New Labor Classification Save Gig Workers’ Careers? – Forbes

A Pissed-Off Tampa Chef Explains The “Farm To Fable” Controversy

Greg Baker, chef-owner of the Refinery in Tampa, Florida, is a 20-year kitchen veteran, having worked in Portland, Oregon, and Austin before opening his James Beard–nominated restaurant in 2010.

So does local matter? Yes, but that begs clarification. I buy produce from a variety of local farms, some certified organic, some with organic practices but not certified and some that are conventional but utilize best management practices. As different as they all are, I know that I am buying produce that is fresh and nutrient-dense because of the short trip from farm to my cooler, and grown in a manner that doesn’t harm the environment. This is where “sustainably grown” comes into play. Organic doesn’t mean a damn thing to me if it refers to a lemon that was organically grown in Israel and traveled halfway around the world to get to me. Nor do I give a rat’s ass if something is labeled organic but grown in a monoculture. I’ve toured Big Ag tomato farms a couple of hours south of me while visiting with the Coalition of Imokkalee Workers; the type that Barry Estabrook wrote about in Tomatoland. I found myself in what was essentially a desert of tomatoes — no border land, no birds in the sky to be seen. I asked the meaning of a segregated tomato desert and was told “that’s our organic section.” So local doesn’t necessarily imply sustainability. That doesn’t mean that sustainability doesn’t exist locally to you, but you’re probably not going to find it in Big Ag growing operations.

…So for anyone who is still with me, you’re probably wondering why I’m so fucking angry. It’s because there are real-world economic consequences to lying about sourcing. Not for the liars of course, who got caught lying and have lied more to cover their own asses. I’ve been scratching by for six years on very narrow margins, living up to what I claim, while others have rolled it in by lying to their customers. That’s one thing. But people saying that they’re okay with being lied to?

Source: A Pissed-Off Tampa Chef Explains The “Farm To Fable” Controversy – Food Republic

Securing or Expanding Your State Cottage Food Law 

BY far, the most visited posts on this blog over the last two years have been those on cottage food laws. As someone who ran markets in a city/state with byzantine rules and a total lack of clarity for producers, I was gratified when a cottage producer took it upon herself to push for such a law in Louisiana, following recent adoption of one in neighboring Mississippi. That law had been championed by a task force headed ( I believe) by a researcher from Harvard.

Markets can help this process even when not leading it by maintaining and sharing their internal process for inspections, permits and on-site pricing/labeling rules with those advocates working to begin or expand their cottage food laws.

In addition, markets can collect qualitative data through Marker Surveys (allowing them to write a quote on the sheet) from shoppers about how they feel about the short chain system that relies on the deep and regular relationship they have in their markets and then to share those stories with those advocates.

In addition, I’d be happy to share the template of the mystery chef project that I employed at my markets which encouraged selected market community members to purchase products already at market and gave a written  assessment on the taste, display and labeling of that product. That assessment was sent via postcard to the vendor via mail and a copy was put into their file. The most common result was a positive assessment and so we also encouraged them to display the postcard at their table if they wished. Send me an email to dar wolnik at gmail if you want me to send you that template-that is if I can find it. Additionally, the other piece of that system was the mystery shopper surveys that we also created; one of the templates is available on the http://www.marketumbrella.org site on their Marketshare page. All it requires is the creation of a free log in and password to see all of the resources they offer on their page.

Here are the results from my posts about cottage food laws; and the link below leads to a very good framework for those states (or cities or counties) to plan or expand their own systems: Securing or Expanding Your State Cottage Food Law – Real Food – MOTHER EARTH NEWS