GROWING A REGIONAL FOOD ECONOMY

One of the workshops at the Midwest Organic Farming Conference we attended a few weeks ago was called “Creating a Regional Food Economy in Our Backyard.”

This is a topic Doug and I care deeply about, and it’s central to the plans we have for our future.

We’re lucky.  We live in the Driftless Area. This area is well-suited to small-scale agriculture because of its rough terrain, and many efforts are underway to build a diverse local food production network.

The Driftless Area  covers much of Southwest Wisconsin, along with some neighboring corners of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.  It’s a craggy clump of earth that somehow got bypassed by recent glaciers so it’s unsuited to the kind of industrial agriculture that is practiced around us in bigger, flatter fields.  Fields where subsidized corn and soy beans are grown and processed into food-like substances that bounce around the world until they are finally eaten, far from their roots.

So I was curious to attend this regional food workshop.

..Vineyard near Viroquoa WI (photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/41813589@N00/1032880098

Michelle Miller, associate director at the UW-Madison’s sustainable agriculture research center told us that the Driftless Area has been officially acknowledged by the U.S. government in 2009 as a wine growing region called The Upper Mississippi River Valley.  This is based on our steep hills, many ridges and thin glacial till that create a specific and distinctive environment for growing grapes.  At one time, a lot of wine grapes were grown here.   But Prohibition and wind drift from a new corn herbicide, 2,4-D were a one-two punch that hit grape growers hard.

New herbicides are not so toxic to grapes, new crop sprayers are able to contain the toxins to their intended fields, and new grape varieties that combine winter hardiness with good taste have spurred a rebound in Driftless Area vineyards.  The Upper Mississippi River Valley is our official appellation that wine makers can now use with pride.

This area is great for more than grapes.  Some call it taste of place. There is a Driftless terroir that comes through in the amazing cheeses made by local artisans. This is also an area where truck gardens are feeding thriving farmers markets.  And Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) contracts between farmers and their annual subscribers are on the rise.

..Map of CSAs. Use the link in the text, and you can click on any farm and learn about it.

The Madison Area CSA Coalition welcomed 11 more CSA farms into the group this year.   These farms are providing local chicken, turkey, duck, hog, lamb, eggs herbs and maple syrup, along with a smorgasbord of fruits and vegetables.   7 Check out this cool interactive map that shows where  49 local CSA farms are located.

People are working hard to make this happen.

Another example is the Making Good Food Work conference coming up April 19-21 in Detroit.  They are going to getting into to the nuts and bolts of how to build a local food economy with topics like:

  • Write a business plan for a mobile food market;
  • Come up with a marketing strategy for a multi-source CSA targeting underserved neighborhoods;
  • Develop a toolkit to help coordinated production among farmers selling into a food hub;
  • Define parameters for a free-open source software to support food hub logistics; or,
  • Research options for fruit and vegetable processing for a Farm-to-school hub.

On our own 44 acres, we are still learning and experimenting to see what we can best contribute to our local food shed.  This summer we will be trying our hands at cultivating elderberries.  More to come on that topic.  We’ve started three raspberry varieties and hope to grow seedless grapes we will dry into local Wisconsin raisins.

In the meantime, we support local food production by eating as locally as we can.

That is getting easier all the time.

A team of UW-Madison students have created an iPhone app called True Local .  Launched in February, it lets shoppers at Madison Fresh Market, a new grocery in downtown Madison, use their iPhone cameras to scan the barcode on any product in the store and learn if the food was produced in Wisconsin.  Claus Moberg, Jami Morton, and Matt Luedke began developing the app last year as an entry in the 2010 Climate Leadership Challenge, a UW-Madison student innovation competition hosted by the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, a competition that calls for innovative solutions to the causes or impacts of climate change.

Claus has shared how to download this great app.   If you want to download the True Local iphone app, go here: http://bit.ly/TRULOC

Support for local food seems to be coming from so many directions and building momentum.  It gives me hope for a future filled with local food connections.

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9 replies

  1. Thanks Claus, for sharing how to download this app, and even more for creating it.
    Your work really brightened my day!

  2. I’m looking forward to some wine and cheese now! I do have to say, though, that I found the local farmer’s markets very expensive last year. When the economy is down, it’s tough to pay higher prices. But I will make more of an effort this year… as well as cultivate my own garden.

    • Yes, it’s tough, but none of the farmers I know are getting rich selling at the market. Their prices are a fair reflection of what it costs to produce that food.
      If we don’t support local food production, it won’t be there when rising oil prices make the food in stores much more expensive.
      I believe we are what we eat and we vote with our dollars.
      And to me it makes sense to buy locally whenever possible.

  3. We’ll see increasing localization of the food economy as the price of oil goes up and the cost of Chilean grapes in the supermarket rises. Jeff Rubin’s book Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller is an excellent overview of the economics of peak oil. Food localization will be both a consequence of the increasing scarcity (thus rising cost) of oil as well as an important adaptation to that new world.

  4. That sounds right to me, Dennis.
    At the Midwest Organic Farming Convention I heard again that world grain markets peaked some time ago and we are getting smaller and smaller global harvests.
    I suspect that is going to affect the price of food too.

  5. Thanks for the article.I really enjoyed it and will come back for more.I don’t often find a blog worth commenting on and this one is worth a round of applause.This was very intellectually stimulating and can’t wait to see your next article.I know that sounds corny but I mean it I am considering raising cattle and chickens for a living and would appreciate any information anyone has on whether or not in todays market it is possible to start a new operation from scratch and actually make a profit.Please anyone can email me with ideas

    • Good luck with your plans. I’m not experienced with livestock. I hope you find the info you need. I would suggest checking with your local county extension for more informaiton.

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