Blog: Jeff McCabe

Food, glorious, food... as long as it's local. Jeff McCabe is all about the stuff you put in your belly - where it comes from, how it's grown, and what you know about it. It's why he started the Selma breakfast salon and why he's involved with the Local Foods Summit and the Homegrown Festival. If you can't guess what Jeff will be blogging about you haven't read a thing we've just written.

Jeff McCabe - Post 2: From Plot To Plate

Close your eyes for a minute. No wait, that will make it tough to read the rest of this! Well, maybe just soften your gaze slightly as you imagine with me the transformation of our community that we will create together as we pay attention to, and come into relationship with, the source of our food and how it gets to our table.

Over the coming year or so, the changes will be subtle. A few new faces at the farmers markets as Tomm and Trilby Becker of Sunseed Farm, Kate Long and the rest of the freshman class of Washtenaw County farmers come into full production. A few more restaurants and a few more stores begin to feature and prominently incorporate local foods into their businesses. The HomeGrown Festival draws 10,000 people and spills into 4th Avenue and the Kerrytown Shops with food, demonstrations, music, beer and wine, theatrics and other festivities all in celebration of the bounty that we have produced and enjoyed here in our own community.

But moving a bit further along we begin to see the fundamental shifts in our surroundings. Hoop-houses that can grow food year –round, producing greens and root crops sweet from winter temperatures, now number in the hundreds. St. Joe’s Hospital has one with more on the way. USDA grants and other community funded projects make these hoops available to all farmers who want to adopt four-season farming, and in turn make this produce available to all who want to eat it. Area schools adopt hoop-house gardens as a way to let kids discover the magic of growing food and feeding people in their lives. And four-season community gardens are established as a way to bring this opportunity to individuals and groups.

As other communities try to claw their way back out of the economic collapse with more business-as-usual (tax-base giveaways that attempt to lure outside development, and the construction of ever more sprawl, that eats up more than generates tax dollars) we plan for something different; something more resilient and livable.  All of our governmental planning bodies come to the same table and take responsibility for the direction of our future development across the county (ok, we might have to push them up to that table and let them know what happens if they don’t get the job done!)

As wise land use planning and community finance options grow, aspiring farmers are drawn to our county for the opportunities we present and demonstrate. And dozens of new farms begin to aggregate their production into stores, restaurants and institutions. Entrepreneurs see the other inefficiencies that currently exist in our food supply chain and start value-added businesses to process and preserve this production. As they offer premium pricing to farmers who grow organic, non-GMO crops that their customers demand, we see wholesale shifts from commodity crops. These farmers can now make a living from their own land (a very illusive current prospect), instead of needing to have an off-farm job. We reach a tipping point that again can prioritize paying for livelihood instead of Round-up Ready seeds (and a whole lot of Round-up!). And we measure the impact this change has on our waterways and other natural resources.

Banking, one of the most entrenched institutions in the status quo is slow to catch on. In the mean time, individuals in the community begin to work outside the traditional financial models to make investments that facilitate this change. Using social media and other technology to make direct connections between capital and project, people can assess their own needs for return on investment and risk-aversion and put a face onto the impact that their dollars can lever so close to home.

Now we begin to see the benefits of our leadership in taking these initiatives. Educational and agro-tourism become a reality as we model these practices to other communities. The Erb Institute initiates a “New Farming Campus” partnering business and tech programs with innovative farming models. Besides building new tools for marketing and maximizing current crops, they pioneer new production models such as hydroponics and aqua-culture. They build a new perma-culture model that combines composting, vegetable fish production with waste-heat from the University. The ratio of food value to fossil fuel input has never been matched. The combination feeds the student population, greens the campus and models a multi-disciplinary approach to sustainability and retention of graduates into the community. Other interdisciplinary benefits include advances in root-cellaring to store and distribute these large harvests with little enegy.

Zingerman’s launches Zing Farm which houses the Cornman Institute -  A rural hotel-conference center that teaches sustainable farming practices and all of the craft food practices that it has incorporated into it’s businesses.

Hooptown, the new co-housing community, clusters pockets of homes, light industrial space and offices around a hundred acres of farming. Learning, teaching, earning and enjoying are all available right outside your front door. Bicycle trails from Ann Arbor and other cities lead to the restaurants, markets, parks and jobs that Hooptown offers.   

The price of crude oil hits $300 per barrel for the first time, but rather than panic, the residents of Washtenaw County smile, knowing that they are on track to kick the addiction and are in control of their own destinies.

World peace and the end of global warming quickly follow. Well ok, I drifted off there for a moment. But these changes, right here, at hand, within our own reach, are the things we can effect. Living locally and idea-sharing globally can be a very satisfying substitution for the current absence of sane, progressive leadership from our national and state governments.

And the most fun will be in hearing each other’s ideas, working together to shape this mission and discovering the possibilities that none of us have quite yet imagined.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the food just tastes really good? See you at the table.