Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, the web we weave - the many connections of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

There is a lot of talk in the sustainable, organic, and local food world of Food-webs. It begins in the soil and extends out to all the living organisms dependent on that soil for sustenance. As a grass farmer, I could speak in depth on the importance of diverse and vibrant Food-webs; but, just as important to our sustainable farm is the network of human relationships that are just as vital to our survival – and our ability to thrive.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will write about the human connections and interactions that enrich OUR farm and community. There will be many branches, cross-connections, and circling back. You will see farms that both compete and cooperate. I’ll detail relationships that are rewarding, synergistic, and multiplying. I’ll contrast the cooperative nature of local foods with conventional corporate agriculture as well as highlight the need for conventional and sustainable/organic farmers to interact in order to move our food system to a healthier model.

Several months ago, Richard Wood of the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) -  contacted me about a new project he and FACT were working on. Richard wanted to see if I would serve as a farmer/advisor for a modest grant program to encourage farmers to move towards more humane livestock growing practices. Of course, I said “yes,” because I know Rich and support FACT’s mission, and I know the effectiveness of small grants given directly to farmers.

I met Rich and staff from FACT in 2008, when Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm hosted a Sustainable Agriculture tour. The Sustainable Agriculture Tour is a project of the University of Illinois Extension’s, Illinois Small Farms. CVSF was on the tour schedule because we were awarded a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) producer grant in 2007 to explore and expand direct to consumer retail marketing of our farm raised meats. The success of this grant project prompted us to start the first Meat CSA in Illinois.

Since that first meeting at our farm, Rich and/or FACT staff and I have run into each other several times at various local food and sustainable farm confabs in and about Chicago. Not surprisingly, our relationship has grown.

With help from fellow farmer, Greg Gunthorp  and whole lot of work by FACT staff, the Healthy & Humane Farms Funds Project came to fruition. It was feted in October at a launch party held at Uncommon Ground( in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. FACT invited me to speak about our farm, the health and humane benefits of grazing animals, and the grant project. I look forward to reading grant applications this spring and seeing the first grants awarded.

Another farmer, Harry Carr of Mint Creek Farm, also, spoke at the launch event. Richard and his wife treated me and Harry and his daughter, Rae, to dinner after the event. Free flowing conversation followed – it’s always nice to get to be social with otherfarmers. The discussion included Harry mentioning that he was marketing holiday turkeys. CVSF has raised turkeys in the past for our members, but did not this year. Of course, we get requests for turkeys and since we didn’t raise them – suggestions on where to buy. From our dinner talk, Harry agreed to offer his turkeys to our CSA members at the same discounted price (25% off retails) he was offering to Mint Creek’s CSA members. Win/Win!

While at the launch party at Uncommon Ground, I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Cameron, co-founder with her husband, Mike, of two award winning, green, farm to fork establishments. When we were introduced, Helen exclaimed, “I can’t believe we haven’t met before.” Having been involved in Chicago’s local food scene for nearly ten years, I felt the same way. I found that the Cameron’s share our passion for local and sustainable foods and work just as tirelessly promoting it as we do. From this brief meeting springs another relationship.

In January, Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm adds meat share deliveries at both Uncommon Ground locations in Lakeview and Edgewater. Beer pairings with Revolution Brewing beers and CVSF meats promote the new sites. The first was held at the Lakeview location on December 7th, and one is planned for Edgewater on January 11th tickets are $20 and half or the proceeds go to Uncommon Ground’s charity, Uncommon Cause. Also, new CSA members signing up for the new delivery sites can have $30 go to the Healthy & Humane Farms Funds Project by putting FACT in as the promo code on their sign up form ($15 dollars from CVSF & a matching $15 from Uncommon Ground).

Revolution Brewing’s participation flowed from connections to both Helen and CVSF. Uncommon Ground has some of Revolution Brewing’s beers on tap. The tie to CVSF goes back even further. I met Josh Deth back in 2005 as one of the inaugural vendors of the fledgling Logan Square Farmers Market ( Then Josh was a partner in Handlebar working with the Logan Square Chamber of commerce to get it’s farmers market established, brewing beer at home, and dreaming of opening a world class brew pub. As with Richard and FACT, Josh and I have had many interactions over the past few years, and again our relationship has grown. In fact, Revolution Brewing serves pork from our neighbors Mark and Kristin Boe of La Pryor farms. La Pryor farms is from whom CVSF, also, buys stock. We introduced the Boes to Josh a couple of years ago after he had asked about sourcing locally raised meats.