Sunday, March 21, 2010

Edible Flint goes to Detroit, eats at Slow's BBQ and much more...

Happy Solstice! I've been told that Michigan is a tease, and we DID in fact get snow on the first day of Spring, but we have long days and harvest moons ahead of us. That and tilling, seeding, weeding, heirloom tomato salads, swimming in the river, hot soil, basil and arugula pesto, roasted eggplant... all the joys of summer to come. But first, back to business.

In an effort to learn as much as possible about how to grow Edible Flint and be the most effective organization we can be, a few of us jumped in a van and headed down to the Greening of Detroit to speak with Ashley Atkinson about the Grown in Detroit cooperative label, soil testing procedures and methods of evaluation for programs. Edible Flint is a collaboration of organizations and individuals coming together to provide resources and support to increase access and availability of healthy, local food in the city of Flint. Twyla and I are new to the collaborative, and are exploring our roles in the group by attending strategic planning meetings and events such as our recent trip to Detroit. We are looking to develop a growers cooperative this year in Flint, which will provide a market outlet for small growers within the city. The Grown in Detroit cooperative has some really interesting and unique characteristics that we would like to explore for our Edible Flint brand. First is that anyone can sell through the cooperative, there are no minimum amounts and no time commitments for participation. Grown in Detroit holds a table at Eastern Market every week, and allows growers to bring products for sale as long as the group democratically decides the quality is good. Training for harvest and post-harvest handling is offered through the Greening, if growers are interested. Individual growers are not highlighted through the label, but a section of the table at Eastern Market is reserved to support young entrepreneurs wanting to expand their business.

In evaluating the effectiveness of Greening programs, data is collected and analyzed at MSU to draw connections between programs and fruit and vegetable consumption in Detroit. Some of this data is collected from surveys handed out to home and community gardeners. Gardeners weigh all that they harvest and consume and report back at the end of the season. This evaluation is so important for outreach and communication to bring funding to the kinds of work we are doing, so that we can continue to do it.

In other news, Roxanne and I are finishing up the maple syrup season by boiling down our sap in tubs on an open fire in her backyard. Twyla, Roxanne, Stephen and I tapped 48 trees on Land Bank land in Flint Town in the end of February, when days were sunny and nights were below freezing. (As it turned out, when days started warming up, the ice on the ground around the trees melted, and turned into a 2 foot deep stream- next time...we'll be prepared with waders and bathing suits). Because of our schedules, we were unable to empty the buckets as frequently as we should have and we stored the full buckets in a root cellar, where the temperature was probably just under 40 degrees, a bit high for sap storage. Erin came by to boil the first round of sap with us, and we had a delicious local venison and salmon dinner that night over the fire, and she finished it off in her house on the burner. Roxanne had found a bath tub that we hooked up with a welded pipe for syrup emptying and we built a firepit with concrete blocks to hold up the tub. Well, the tub was stolen and we had to readjust the firepit, but you know what? Against all odds, we boiled down that sap (allow many many hours) and drank it while it was still warm, and it was quite possibly the most delicious liquid I have ever tasted in my entire life. So many instructions and rules and things that went wrong, and yet, it came out perfectly.

*photo credits to Stephen, thanks for the awesome snapshots

Here are some updates on Aldrich Park and Flint River Farm: In order to get into the park with a vehicle, we needed to remove the berm from the entrance on Ann Arbor street. Roxanne and I went out there with the tractor and front end loader and spent a good couple of hours removing dirt, concrete and rocks from the entrance. Two days later we returned to start brushhogging the site to do the initial weed flush, and it had been replaced! Like groundhog day, no joke. Twyla and I realized this probably could have been prevented had we prepared a sign explaining what we were doing, who we are and how to contact us. We're having a sign made, and in the meantime, we'll wait on removing the berm.

We sent in samples from the Land Bank lots to be tested for lead, and are waiting to hear back about that. We'll be seeding summer crops early April, and have finally finished constructing the germination chamber with lights and fixtures after five hours at Home Depot. It's gorgeous. We also have a meeting at Hurley Hospital to talk about selling some food in their lobby. It's strange preparing to sell and marketing produce we don't even have started in trays yet.

There's much more to tell, and I'm working on drafting that up now. But until then, as Chris Bedford says,

Food and Peace.