Monday, March 31, 2008

Trip to Wilcox Family Farm

Last Friday, Mary and I journeyed South to Wilcox Family Farm, located in Pierce County, a little ways outside of Roy, WA.

For a while, I've been pestering my friends and family to "buy local." Everybody that I know is well aware that if they get me talking about local agriculture, I won't shut up until I've worn out my welcome. Sad, yes, but true. The benefit of my long-windedness is that many of my friends and family now make a conscious effort to shop locally, and, in the spirit of revenge, know that they have an open ear whenever they want to talk about their local experiences. Over the past few months, many of my "audience members" have told me about buying Wilcox milk. "Finally, a locally produced dairy product in my neighborhood supermarket." Until recently. All of a sudden, there was no more Wilcox milk! What a shocking development: one moment, their brand is gaining momentum and moving into larger markets, the next, POOF! Vanished.

Well, here's a brief version of the story, which illustrates the difficulty for smaller, local producers in our current commodity based marketplace. Wilcox dairy's business model depended on growth. Like many businesses, "grow or die" was the maxim. Grow they did. The problem with growth into major markets, though, is that you then must compete with the big boys. The large supermarkets care more about the price of the product than the values that stand behind a product. The supermarkets pitted Wilcox against other dairies to insure that prices stayed low. Considering that Wilcox Family Farm is committed to paying its workers a livable wage with health benefits and efficiently stewarding its land instead of forcing production, the dairy couldn't continue to lower its prices to match its competitors. At some point, the choice was made to sell the dairy portion of the business. It had reached a point where it was no longer profitable to continue competing in the dairy industry.

The good news coming out of this story is that the Wilcox family is still farming via their organic and natural egg operation and (this is where CHC comes in) adding row crop production on some of their incredibly fertile, certified organic, bottom land for row crop production. While there are no hard-and-fast plans for the immediate future, we met with Chris Wilcox and a few other organizations interested in helping find farmers and brainstorm how to put this awesome offer to best use. It sounds like they want to work with an farmer with a track record of success who would want to work within the established Wilcox brand. Exciting!

Keep checking in to see how this mini-project progresses. The Wilcox family may be out of the dairy business, but I have a good feeling that they can make a great name for themselves in the produce business.


Monday, March 24, 2008

King Corn, VegFest, News and Links

A quick recap of our weekend event...

On Saturday, we co-sponsored a screening of "King Corn" at the Northwest Film Forum. A sold-out theater watched as two young men followed the path of US corn, from kernel to hair follicle. If that doesn't make sense, watch the movie. It's a remarkably accessible film that presents a disturbing glimpse of the Frankenstein-ian relationship between science and agriculture. FYI, one of the slated panel members didn't show up, so Erin MacDougall asked yours truly to step in and drop some knowledge. Turns out, it was a great opportunity to talk about CHC and how individuals and communities can participate in the movement. Yee haw! Now we really need to get our new webpage up and running, 'cause I continually directed audience members to go there for more information.

Spring has officially sprung! Make sure to stop by the Puget Sound Fresh booth and pick up some "Sugar Star" Snap Peas at VegFest March 29th and 30th from 10am-6pm at the Seattle Center's Exhibition Hall. Take 'em home and plant 'em. If you're curious about gardening, visit Seattle Tilth

In other news...

  • Our board officially endorsed this blog! That means that as we continue to move our organization forward, we will continue to post things of interest for you, our loyal reader.
  • The 2008 CSA Directory is on its way to the printshop. We should have copies by next week and a PDF version on the Puget Sound Fresh website. NOW is the time to sign up for a CSA membership. With over 50 programs to choose from, our CSA directory is your guide to Community Supported Agriculture!
  • Here's an interesting link to an NPR segment that proves that food is a unifying force that connects us else would you explain a story that involves the Mob, burning garbage, mozerella, cancer and Japan? Click here to find out!


Friday, March 14, 2008 it just a word or is it a lifestyle?

I know, two posts in two weeks...this "blog" is starting to become a habit. Let's hope that the cure is....something delicious.

This week, Mary and I were out and about in the community, spreading the word about CHC and local ag. On Tuesday, we visited the Edmonds Rotary Club, an interesting, diverse group of folks dedicated to building community and recognizing local achievements. Mary's presentation was very well received. Many of the Rotarians expressed interest in finding ways to partner in the future, including working with their "First Harvest" program.

On Wednesday, we stayed in the city and traveled to a King County Food and Fitness Initiative (KCFFI) meeting in far-off downtown Seattle (far off for us, anyway). I presented an overview of our regional food system, CHC's role and mission, and my subjective view of the future of food and farming in our region. My brief talk prompted a great group discussion, highlighted by one of the White Center community representative's frank opinion about food access issues in his community. While the meeting attendance was somewhat low, I think that the discussion helped push the group toward understanding which food systems data will be useful when we start formulating our Community Action Plan. For instance, one issue raised was that there is a perception in the target communities (and in general) that food at Farmers Markets is expensive to buy and time-consuming to prepare...two factors that push it off of most grocery lists. The question in response: are there any studies that dispel that perception? If so, we need to get our hands on them, synthesize them into an easily digestible format and get the word out. If not, do we want to commission a study? This is exactly what the group needs more of: working with the community reps to figure out how the KCFFI collaborators can help specific, community-based issues. We can only day-dream about what we'd LIKE to see happen for so long. Good to see that our community reps are active and vocal.

Last night, we we tabled at the 30th Anniversary Celebration for Seattle Tilth, our friends in philosophy and across the hall. Anna Lappe, daughter of Frances Moore Lappe, who wrote "Diet for a Small Planet,"and an author herself, spoke about issues in our national food system. It was a good speech, but I think it lacked power due to the high level of awareness and expertise in the audience. It's hard to give a speech designed for "average" citizens when you are preaching to the choir...the hardcore food/farming/environmental choir!

For me, the best part of the evening was hearing Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin speak. Not only was he eloquent, well-rehearsed and upbeat, but his message was pitch-perfect for the choir: he presented his food system sustainability and security resolution and zero waste strategy. Too often, we hear industry buzzwords and high-minded, fanciful concepts from our "leaders." It's always exciting when a politician is able to accurately and insightfully talk the talk. We shall see if he can walk the walk.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Food Lust 2008

Hey gang,

Last Wednesday, Mary, Meg McPhaden, Jerry Toner (auctioneer) and I toured Fall City Farms in preparation for FoodLust 2008. Man, did we pick the best day of the week! Not a cloud in the sky, warm sun and beautiful scenery. Sound cliche? It was. Our experience was the reason that picturesque cliche was created. Needless to say, our excitement for FoodLust 2008 increased dramatically. If the weather cooperates like that on the day of the!
Check out the size of that compost pile! Right where we hold the auction! Don't worry, folks, it'll be cleared and cleaned by June.

As noted above, this year we hired Jerry Toner to organize and run the auction. Jerry has worked, to great acclaim, for many other non-profits and we are very excited to have him aboard our team. Rumor has it that sometime during the auction, party-goers may get a rare glimpse of his famous "Light-up Tuxedo." Hold your breath for that one!

Just like years before, FoodLust 2008 will feature some of the areas finest chefs paired with some of the areas finest farmers to create a multi-course menu that will be the apex of seasonal dining in the NW. It's called FoodLust for a reason, people.

The auction will also have both a silent and live auction, with wonderful items like a dinner for 8 prepared by a noted local chef on the iconic Lopez Island Farm...a rare experience; truly farm-to-table dining!

In addition to all that, FoodLust 2008 will also hold the 3rd annual Dessert Dash and 2nd annual Bottle Brawl. What in the heck are those, you ask? Let's be mysterious and simply say that they involve some of life's most powerful influences: wine, chocolate, money and battle. Find out more later.

Tickets will go on sale at the end of March. All proceeds will benefit Cascade Harvest Coalition. We're still looking for volunteers. If interested, please contact Stephanie Butler at: