Monday, July 12, 2010

Grandpa Ed was right...

My maternal grandmother's name was Dessie Mae Tucker. My grandfather's name was Ed Hall. She was tall and raw boned and plain spoken- some would say ornery. He was tall and thin, quiet and patient. They lived in Paris, Tennessee so we only saw them for about 10 days in the summer when we were kids. I always think of my grandparents this time of year when my garden really gets going and I start thinking about the process of canning, drying and freezing produce for the winter.

Every summer, my family would drive down in the family's station wagon to spend a couple of weeks with my grandparents. My sister and I would always sleep in the back bedroom when we would visit them. The double bed was against the wall so when the sun rose, the light would come in the window behind us. The opposite wall was lined with canned goods from their farm-- tomatoes, green beans, pickles, beets, carrots, pickled watermelon rind, corn, okra. It had a certain smell that I now recognize whenever I can my own garden surplus.

Their farm was considerably smaller by the time we were born but still way bigger than anything we ever saw in Detroit. At one time, my grandpa raised animals as well as vegetables and fruit. What are now called "heirloom" tomatoes were the same ordinary, sliced tomatoes that my grandmother served at every supper, still warm from the garden. We always loved going out to the garden after the evening meal where Grandpa showed us how to pick a ripe watermelon. (It falls off the vine when you tap it.) There was nothing like it!

It's amazing what has happened to our country's food system in the last 50 years. I remember hearing Grandpa Ed talk about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides, factory farming and genetic engineering (I seem to remember his saying something like "I reckon them scientists think they can tinker with nature") back in the 1980's. At the time, I didn't really understand the scope of the issues or the impending disaster but I certainly got the message that Grandpa thought it was a bad idea. I am sure that he would not be happy to see how our environment, our economy and yes, our national security, is being destroyed.

So, what can we do about it? First, we have to recognize that the current food system is broken. And, many of us do. There are more and more informed consumers making the choice to buy locally produced food that is raised in an environmentally responsible way. From this position of engaged consumer, we need to become enraged activists. This is a little tougher but we don't have to sell our stuff and move to a commune (now called intentional communities, more on that at some other time) or handcuff ourselves to the gates of Monsanto Corporation. But, we can do more than Know your food, Know your Farmer as the slogan goes ... in other words, go beyond shopping at the Farmer's Market and growing our own food.

A couple of organizations that I support are:

Organic Consumer's Association. The link to their website is They work to keep organic standards from being watered down and will help you keep up-to-date on federal and state legislation affecting our food system. They send email action alerts when legislation is being considered with clear ways to make our voices heard.

The Farm to Consumers Legal Defense Fund. They actively support family farms and work on policy issues related to our right to purchase raw milk and other nutrient dense foods directly from farmers. In the State of Michigan and in many other states around the country, it is illegal for farmers to sell unpasteurized milk. My family has owned a share in a dairy cow for more than a year now as a way to get access to real milk. The milk is wonderful and it is our way of being both an engaged consumer and an enraged activist. The corporate food companies feel so threatened by these farmers that they have launched aggressive campaigns to defeat any legislation that would loosen the current restrictions. Their website is

So, from my little corner of the world, we will keep gardening, shopping at the Farmer's Market, canning, freezing and drying our own food. I will also write letters and emails to our elected officials, spread the word to friends and family, donate money to organizations like OCA and Farm to Consumers Legal Defense Fund and pray that the changes will be made.