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My Experience at the Home Grown Local Food Retreat

Homegrown Food Retreat, Keynote speaker Andy Nowak.

This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Durango’s Homegrown Local Food Retreat, which was put together by the Environmental Center’s local foods team, as well as numerous other students and community members. The food retreat was not only educational and informative, but also featured a lot of tasty foods. It was great learning about the importance of eating locally grown foods, and even better getting to eat them.

The food retreat kicked off on Friday night, with a lecture by Andy Nowak from Colorado Farm to School. Andy did a great job of highlighting the work that he and his organization have done to bring locally grown foods into public schools, particularly in the Denver area. It was very impressive to see the progress that he and Colorado Farm to School have made in both spreading consciousness of local food and sustainability, and making local healthy foods available to all students. One of the major points Andy made was that anyone could get involved with the food sustainability movement in schools. Many people are very enthusiastic about helping their community schools flourish, and are willing to put time into efforts such as taking care of community gardens for schools. This lecture was very informative and inspiring, and hopefully it got people interested in pushing local sustainable food systems in schools.

Saturday was full of informative lectures, workshops, and panels devoted to linking community members in their passion for growing and eating local foods. One of the major highlights of the morning was Janine Fitzgerald’s lecture titled “Why We Can’t Afford Not to Eat Locally”. Janine Fitzgerald, Professor of Sociology at FLC, delivered a highly thought-provoking and inspiring lecture on how eating locally is absolutely imperative, and how we can take a proactive role in our future by focusing on our local food system. Janine brought up the often overlooked issue of Peak Oil, and just how dependent our current agricultural, political, and economic systems are on cheap oil. As the amount of cheap oil available begins to decline, we could see collapse or crises, and in order to feed ourselves, eating local food will become not only more sustainable but a practical necessity. She stressed that no matter what we do, eventually eating locally will ultimately be our only choice, and in order to create a better future we must begin to take a proactive role in sustaining our relationships with the earth, our food and local farmers. The quicker we begin to localize our economies and food systems, the better off we will be in the end. Professor Fitzgerald ended her speech with a poem that she wrote.

My personal favorite out of the workshops I attended was the one given by Katrina Blair of Turtle Lake Refuge. Katrina provided an abundant amount of information on local wild plants that not only can be eaten but also provide a tremendous amount of sustenance and nutrition. She emphasized that harvesting these wild plants could easily save a person from having to buy expensive supplements, as many of these plants were chock-full of nutrition and essential vitamins and minerals. Among these were Dock, Dandelion, Mustard Greens, Grass, and Clover. It was very interesting that many of the plants she mentioned were considered by many to be weeds, even though they provide so much nutrition. Clearly we need to become more knowledgeable about the wild plants around us, and learn to nurture them rather than seeing them as invasive or something to be eliminated.

Next was lunch. Several different soups were available, each of which were excellent and nourishing. I was able to sample each. Also available was a very tasty frittata, and a huge selection of greens. Almost everything was grown locally and tasted great. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this meal, as it was the best meal I’ve had in some time.

In the afternoon I attended a workshop given by Katy Pepinski, Andy Nowak and Erin Jolley, which dealt with eating locally on a budget. They gave many helpful examples of meals and recipes that can be made using local foods, and how these foods can be obtained at reasonably low prices. This workshop was particularly useful for anyone on a budget, and provided a lot of practical knowledge.

After a quick break, there was an interactive panel working with Colorado Farm to School. Andy Nowak, Krista Garand, Jim Dyer, and Kim Cotta all shared their experience and expertise with working with Farm to School and answered questions from the audience. Each person had a unique perspective to bring to the table from their work and helped to give people ideas on how they could get involved with similar projects and issues.

The last major educational event of the day dealt with sustainable snacking, and was given by Jess Kelley.  Her presentation brought a lot of things to mind which I hadn’t really thought about. She opened up the slide show with a picture of Tostitos corn chips and salsa, as an example of a non-sustainable snack. I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised, as I had never really thought of chips and salsa as being either unhealthy or unsustainable, yet Jess elucidated us on how everything from the genetically modified corn seeds used, unhealthy oils, and even gasoline were found in the product. Instead of snacks that use GMO’s or contain a lot of sugar, she gave us recipes for meatballs and instructions on growing sprouts. Both of these choices can provide a lot of protein and can be quite healthy and sustainable, as well as easy to make or grow.

All in all, the Food Retreat was something I’m glad I was able to go to. Everything from the delicious local foods to the guest speakers, workshops and panels provided a valuable experience. I learned a lot about food, plants, and the environment, and got to eat in the process. The workshops brought up a lot of new ideas that I hadn’t really considered, and they were all quite thought-provoking. Now that I’ve gotten to experience the food retreat, I think I’ll definitely try to be there again next year!

-Randy Newkirk

Check out more pictures of this event here.

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