[permaculture] Riding the wild dala horse: community food security and the renewal of rural life

Robert Waldrop rmwj at soonernet.com
Sat Apr 2 02:27:24 EST 2005


Riding the wild Dala Horse: community food
security and the renewal of rural life
By Robert Waldrop
http://www.oklahomafood.coop/bobsblog/

Lindsborg, Kansas is about as picturesque a small
town as I have ever visited. Seventy miles or so
north of Wichita, about 4 miles from I-135, on
"Old Highway 81," settled in the 19th century by
Swedish immigrants, it proclaims itself as the
Swedish Capital of the United States. The town has
retained brick streets and stately older homes on
large lots. On the edge of town is Bethany
College, a Lutheran school. Russian chess champion
Anatoly Karpov has a chess school in the town. In
front of businesses, some homes and churches, are
"dala horses". A dala horse is a traditional
Swedish craft - a carved wooden horse, decorated
with folk art. Each dala horse is different,
reflecting a theme. The one in front of the
Swedish County Inn where we stayed, was labeled
Dalahippus Lindsborgensis. The town library has a
perpetual used book sale. People donate books to
the library, and those that aren't added to their
collection are sold as a fundraiser. I happened to
visit on "2 for 1" day, and ended up leaving with
a large box of books. During Holy Week each year
Bethany College hosts a festival of the music of
Bach and Handel. The first performance of the
Messiah is on the afternoon of Palm Sunday, and
Bach's St. Matthew's Passion is sung on Good
Friday. In between there are recitals and
concerts. What a way to musically frame that week!

Anyway, I am pretty sure there must be hobbits in
Lindsborg.

I was there on Tuesday and Wednesday last week
(March 20-30, 2005) as a speaker at a gathering
sponsored by the Kansas Farmers Union, with
discussions and presentations regarding
alternatives for Kansas farmers and the mechanics
of creating local food security systems. We met in
a building that was originally the Swedish
Pavilion at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. It
had been built in Sweden, taken apart and shipped
to the US, re-constructed in St. Louis, and then
moved to Lindsborg. It sits in an area of restored
pioneer buildings, including the town's railroad
depot, the workshop where dial telephone
technology was invented (that is, the 10 number
version we use today, as opposed to the 100 number
version that was originally used). It is across
from a museum and the Old Mill, which operated
until the 1950s and has been maintained in working
order. We toured the mill early on the first day,
and it was a beautiful example of the use of
mechanical energy. Originally powered by water,
everything inside was driven by belts and wheels.
Gravity moved the grain and eventually flour
through its processes. Elevator belts lifted the
grain to the top of the three story building, and
by the time it filtered back down to the bottom it
was white flour. One touch that marked its origin
in a different era was that all of the wooden
cabinets of the machinery were decorated with
little flourishes, curlicues, trims, etc.

Folks gathered from Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado,
Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri for this "Regional
Food Systems Conference".. We feasted on local
foods of the Lindsborg region. We spoke of many
hopes, fears, opportunities, challenges, There was
a lot to learn there.

It was a two day event. The first day was
dedicated to market alternatives, and the second
day consisted of an excellent workshop presented
by Mary Hendrickson of the Dept. of Rural
Sociology at the University of Missouri at
Columbia: Using food to build healthy local
communities: the community food systems model.
Sponsors included the Ogallala Commons
organization, Kansas Farmers Union, Kansas Rural
Center, Community Food Security Coalition, Kerr
Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Kansas
Graziers Assn, American Breeds Livestock
Conservancy, The Land Institute, and the North
Central SARE Region, all of which are "names to
conjure with", as they say. Sponsors of Mary's
workshop included the KC Food Circles Networking
Project, University of Missouri Extension, Lincoln
University, the Community Food Security Coalition
in conjunction with the Kansas Center for
Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops and
the other sponsors already mentioned.

The choice of the location was worthy of the
event. Many thanks and praises to all those who
had a hand in planning and presenting this event.
First there was the community of Lindsborg, and
then there was the actual venue, an exhibit of
buildings historic to the area.. Being a city guy,
the first thing I always notice is the quiet. No
omnipresent dull background roar, such as Oklahoma
City has, even at 3 AM. The Swedish world's fair
building that we used for the meetings was
originally designed to mimic a "Swedish country
manor" only with an open interior. Around the wall
were glass-cased historic exhibits, and in front
of them were tables with exhibits from many of the
sponsors.

On Tuesday, Kim Barker and I presented the story
of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Darryl
Birkenfield (Ogalla Commons) and Bob Mailander
(Rocky Mountain Farmers Union), spoke and
moderated the event, Darryl spoke about "Projects
for Sustaining Farms and Communities". We heard
from "them that's doin'", and in the afternoon
tours were available of a local winery, a historic
turkey farm, and downtown Lindsborg. In the
evening the group had dinner at the ranch home of
Smoky Hill Bison Company.

The noon meals each day were provided by the
Prairieland Food Cooperative of Salina, Kansas,
and featured local products. Tuesday afternoon Kim
and I toured their small cooperative store, "the
little store that could", located close to
downtown Salina in a small section of a much
larger warehouse. It was a great visit.
Prairieland sells local foods, placed there on
consignment by producers, and also sells off the
shelf items from the Ozark Cooperative Warehouse.
They had several different meats, and also
lettuce, eggs, spinach, and tomatoes from a local
organic farm and organic flour, bread mixes, and
loaves of bread from Keating Farms. They are
presently doing fund-raising to buy commercial
glass-fronted refrigerators and freezers for their
store (they use chest freezers and uprights with
opaque doors.

On the first day we had turkey (Good Shepherd
Turkey Ranch, Lindsborg), noodles (Dinah's
Noodles, Clyde), salad of lettuce, spinach,
tomatoes, eggs (Lazy S Farms, Glasco), and a
delicious seven grain bread from Keating Farms in
Bennington. Sue Keating is head of the
co-operative and gave us the tour of their fine
store. Cherries for the cherry crisp came from
Robert Blochlinger, Concordia. Ingredients not
available locally came from organic sources, and
if organic could not be found, then they were
bought from an independently owned local grocer.
This hierarchy of "goods" is itself instructive
enough I have to say something about it. We do
what we can with what we have, where we are, so
first we look locally for ingredients. If not
available we go to the next best place, which is
certified organic, even if it comes from
California. And if we have to go to a supermarket,
then we go to an independently owned local grocer.
As Joel Salatin is fond of saying, "it may not be
a sin to go to Wal-Mart, but it surely is a sin to
go there often."

Lunch on the second day included grass finished
natural beef (Fairview Ranch, Solomon), deviled
eggs (Lazy S Farms, Glasco), peach pie (Marcon
Pies, Washington) and more of Mrs. Keating's
bread. I should have brought some of that bread
back with me it was so good.

The Prairieland Food Cooperative has a beautiful
vision for their work. They see the whole building
and yard becoming part of their market, and
including an area for a roofed but open air
farmers market.

Salina, Kansas has its own Food Policy Council,
"cultivating a community of local producers and
consumers - eat it fresh, invest at home, conserve
gas, know growers." This website
http://www.wannabhealthy.com/ links to them, the
Prairieland Food Cooperative, and other workers in
their growing local food system. I am on the
Oklahoma Food Policy Council, but that is a
statewide organization. After visiting Kansas, I
am thinking the Oklahoma City area, and the Tulsa
area, and the Muskogee-Tahlequah areas need their
own local food policy councils.

On the way up to the conference, Kim and I spoke
Monday night to a group in Wichita, Kansas. Some
of them were at the Lindsborg conference, and they
seem ready to move right along on starting their
organizing committee to develop a food cooperative
"a la Oklahoma plan". They met in a Lutheran
church, and it looks like one of their organizers
is on that church's staff. That is a good sign. I
think one of the first ten rules for organizing an
Oklahoma-style local food cooperative is "recruit
church staff members early and often". Also in
attendance were some folks from Nebraska that I
had met when I spoke there earlier this year. They
seem to be moving right along on their organizing
campaign their version of an "Oklahoma plan" local
food cooperative, Their launch date is Spring
2006, a year from now. They are writing a business
plan, as is Bob Mailander and the folks at the
Cooperative Development organization of the Rocky
Mountain Farmers Union. It is so interesting to me
that the people most interested in what we are
doing in Oklahoma are our neighbors - Texas,
Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska. Kansas has
an online food directory now -
http://www.kansasfoods.org .

One of the really important things about these
gathering is the opportunity to talk with people.
There were great conversations, during breaks, at
meals, in the evening over wine and beer sitting
in the lobby of the Swedish Country Inn and at a
local pub. And yes, there were seeds - I came home
with a nice packet of "Tender Sweet Carrots" from
Skyfire Garden Seeds, 1313 23rd Road, Kanopolis,
Kansas, http://www.skyfiregardenseeds.com . This
is a small farm based seed company that
specializes in heirloom varieties.

The second day of the meeting was the workshop
presented by Mary Hendrickson - Using food to
build healthy local communities: the community
food systems model. And it was great, and I am not
saying that just because Mary is one of the
"grandma's" of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative
(although of course she is hardly old enough to be
an actual grandma). I've learned a lot about local
food systems, but Mary's presentation organized
"what there is to know" very thoroughly, and the
presentation was dynamic and informative, both
from Mary and from those who assisted.

Here is the basic outline of the presentation:

+ Mapping your food system - understanding the
elements of a local/regional food system. Where do
you get your food? What changes can you make?

+ The ABCs of Community Food Systems: local health
and economic vitality. What makes community food
systems tick? How can they improve the local
economy? How do you get local food systems
started?

Then we had a local foods lunch (sliced roast beef
in gravy on 7 grain bread, I had seconds).

+ Community food system projects: examples from
Kansas.

+ Applying the tools to build community food
systems: what is happening to community food
systems nationwide? What data and information
resources exist to help build community food
systems? Are community food assessments and food
policy councils useful tools?

+ Applying the tools in Kansas. See the
opportunities and challenges in your own
communities. Learn about Kansas resources to help
build community food systems across the state.

The handbook given to workshop participants is
probably the best one-binder collection of
community food security information materials that
I have come across thus far. Much of the
information is available online, and here in a
couple of days or so I will try to get those out
so people can access the information.

I think that anybody who is interested in jump
starting a local food system should consider
bringing Mary to town to present a version of this
workshop tailored to your area.

Community food systems don't just happen. Seeds
must be planted, watered, lovingly tended. Bad
bugs must be chased away and good bugs attracted.
Someone has to give some thought to design. The pr
ocess is dressed in overalls and thus looks like
work and that's because it is work. But the work
of seedtime and harvest has a purpose, it brings
forth beauty, wisdom and health, it grows
organically, uses natural succession, cycles and
recycles energy and resources, composts, finds
productivity at the edges and margins, creates
community, sustainability, and supports social and
economic justice.

I am certain the seeds planted at the Lindsborg
meeting fell on fertile ground. They will be
lovingly cultivated, and God willing (and the
weather cooperating) they will sprout and bear
much fruit. Many thanks to all who made this event
possible.

The tastes of local and regional cuisines are not
manufactured in factories, they do not derive from
laboratory test tubes. They come from humanely
managed, free ranging flocks and herds, and
organic and natural farming. They are brought
forth by people with names and stories, rooted in
place and history, who remember and conserve and
pass on a heritage of beauty and wisdom to the
next generation. . "Agribidness as we know it" is
a dinosaur passing from the scene, a noxious
invasive weed that will be crowded out and
replaced via natural succession with a renewal of
native, local and regional food systems..

I have been to Lindsborg, Kansas, and I have seen
the future.

Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative






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