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Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible... Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones. The Amish question, what will this do to our community? tends toward the right answer for the world. --Wendell Berry
At the Harrison Center, we are thinking about our community and how our eating both impacts that community and is impacted by it. This Friday night, the Harrison Center will host its fourth annual FoodCon, “an unconventional convention for food.” Urban neighbors will share creative ways to live in the city and grow both food and community in a vibrant, sustainable way. Some ideas require no more effort than sitting at home and having locally grown produce and glass-bottled milk delivered right to your door . . . or you could build yourself a chicken coop and gather your own eggs.
My eggs come to me from my neighbor, Emily, who lives down the street from me and has built herself a glorious coop for a dashing rooster and a flock of elegant heritage-breed hens who lay eggs with yolks the color of tangerines. I tell my children that supermarket eggs and backyard, free-range, pastured eggs are two different food groups. There is just no comparison. The neighborhood raccoons and possums have managed to nab four of the hens this week, so egg production is way down in our corner. As Americans, we are so used to having what we want whenever we want it that we rarely consider the possibility of waiting, of going without. Yet, our farmers and producers live constantly with this tension, depending on their wits and skills, but also on the capriciousness of weather and natural disaster, and threats from neighboring predators, too. Not an easy life.
For some mysterious reason our lettuce didn’t grow this year, so last week I biked over to visit a neighbor a few blocks away who had offered me some of his abundance of greens. Behind Greg’s Bates-Hendricks home, edible flowers anchor the corners of several gorgeous raised beds, packed to the brim with multi-colored lettuce, swiss chard, kale, sweet peas, even bok choy. Greg could stock half the restaurants on the southside with dazzling salads, but instead he hands bags and scissors to his friends and neighbors. On that hot June day, Greg poured me a glass of wine, pulled up two chairs and we talked and thinned his prolific crops until I had two overflowing bags of greens. A gift.
Two days later, I drove 20 miles to the Apple Family Farm in McCordsville where our friend Mark Apple works the land that 5 generations of his family have farmed. Mark raises dutch belted dairy cows on pasture, producing some of the finest milk in the Midwest. In fact, Mark can’t come to FoodCon this year because he’ll be farming, single-handedly milking and caring for his girls. When I bring my kids to pick up our milk, they love to see if Mr. Apple is in the milking stalls. Mark keeps a notebook out there where he records the details of every milking of each cow by name . . . not number, but name. The cows all basically look the same to me, black with a big white Oreo stripe in the middle and soft eyes, but to Mark they are Mariah and Edith and Vera. This is no anonymous feedlot, for Mark knows each cow’s personality and temperament, her babies and her relatives. The Apple Family Farm has faced quite a few challenges lately. Last year, they were charged 18 months worth of Township taxes on their farm (almost $12,000.00) to help the local schools recover. Mark says, “the business we run on our 5th generation family farm (without government subsidies) cannot handle the increase in expenses. We stretched ourselves through the winter to avoid raising our prices. We felt passing on our increased expenses to our faithful patrons was not ethical.”
We are a community, and our choices and decisions really do affect more than just ourselves. When we take, someone has to give. I am astounded and grateful this week for the sacrifice that our friends and neighbors, and many other local farmers and producers, make so that we can eat well here in Indianapolis. Come see what they’re doing at FoodCon this Friday, July 5, from 6-10 p.m. at the Harrison Center!