When Eating Is Political

***Thoughts from Jennifer Nicely. Join us in support of local food and farmers at the Riverplains Full Moon Farm to Table Dinner October 22, 2010.***

“We now have more people using the land (that is, living from it) and fewer thinking about it than ever before. We are eating thoughtlessly, as no other entire society ever has been able to do. We are eating — drawing our lives out of our land — thoughtlessly…”

The above quote is from Wendell Berry in his seminal book “The Unsettling of America”, written in 1975. Little did he know that 35 years later his words would sadly ring more true than ever. I have to say though, in the last several weeks I have seen more articles and discussion in the local press about local food and the issues surrounding that awareness than maybe ever before. I am thinking in particular of the News Sentinel’s food writer talking about local farm dinners and the “slow food” movement, political observer Frank Cagle of the Metro Pulse writing of the state government’s unnecessary strictures on small farms in Tennessee, and of the Jefferson County Standard Banner article about the wildly successful Dandridge Farmer’s Market and the teenage vendors there in charge of their own small agricultural enterprises. It makes me think that there truly is a growing awareness of where our food comes from — and of how much potential we have here in East Tennessee to foster and support all kinds of local, sustainable agriculture.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been aware of the opposing forces so to speak that are still going strong — especially ones working hard to undo the positive strides being made right here in my community. A year ago this October, the Metro Pulse featured a cover story on the proposed Norfolk Southern development — an intermodal railyard with adjacent industrial park — in New Market, very near where I live in Jefferson County. It is a great piece — letting mostly the residents, many of them farmers, speak for themselves about how they are fighting to protect a way of life and livelihood that would be destroyed if this development takes place. A year later, nothing has drastically changed. Although there are several existing industrial sites in the region that could be rehabilitated to suit such a project, Norfolk Southern has refused to shift its focus from the New Market site — which contains the last significant portion of prime farmland (class 1,2, and 3) in Jefferson County. Not only would folks lose their homes and lands, not only would we be burdened my myriad cases of pollution and health hazards, we would be left with an industrial landscape in place of an agrarian community. The battle continues.

In the two years since I have been living back on my family’s farm, I have been inspired and impressed by the farmers in this area who are working hard to create a new reality — one where the small farm is vital again, and where consumers are given the opportunity to choose products that were raised with care and dignity (and by so doing happen to taste much better!).  It encourages me to hold myself and and my own endeavors to a higher standard — and keep being part of events and conversations hopefully propelling things forward in the best possible way. The Full Moon Farm to Table Dinner we are having here at Riverplains in October is to me more than just a social or culinary event — from a certain perspective it serves as political statement, saying to the “opposing forces”: Look, we are thoughtfully celebrating the tradition of food raised and prepared in the most nourishing of ways — no separation of body and soul — and we are doing it right here, in 2010, with other folks who hold these things dear and want to keep them alive!