RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Plans Series of Events
RenewLV has been working with the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council to organize a series of events on the topic of “Growing the Local Food Economy,” consistent with the recommendations in the Buy Fresh Buy Local’s Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy. On January 29th, 100 local food advocates gathered to explore ten themes from that report and develop action plans.
Local freelance writer, Tom Coombe, attended that lunch/discussion and wrote this following piece. There’s another event scheduled for March 30th, “What’s Cooking?” exploring food and beverage entrepreneurship. This piece below adequately describes some of the passion for this topic among diverse voices.
“I’m a chef, and I’m angry,” says Jon Middleton.
A chef at Muhlenberg College, Middleton got into the business because he wanted to make good food.
“Now I feel like I need to put on a spandex suit and a cape. It’s ridiculous,” he said at a meeting in Bethlehem on the Lehigh Valley’s food economy. “Why do I have to be an ‘advocate’ to want good food, good land, good water?”
He corrects himself a few moments later; the word he wanted was “activist,” not “advocate,” but the point is the same: Food shouldn’t be a battle, but it is.
But it’s not a battle he’s fighting alone. Middleton made his superhero analogy in a room full of over one hundred Lehigh Valley acvistists/advocates who care about food.
The meeting was organized by RenewLV, hosted by the newly forming Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council and sponsored by Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream. It asked participants for ideas under ten topics on how to boost the region’s food economy.
There are a lot of issues to tackle.
The recent closing of the Bottom Dollar Food grocery chain left a lot of local neighborhoods stuck in “food deserts,” a term used to describe a community without easy access to affordable and nutritious food.
Local farmland is in danger of being swallowed by development.
“We have some of the most fertile farmland in the country, and, increasingly, it’s under warehouses,” said RenewLV’s Executive Director, Joyce Marin.
And there are people who simply don’t have enough to eat. Ross Marcus, of the Community Action Development Corporation of the Lehigh Valley, noted that his organization collects over 7 million pounds of food a year to distribute to people who are “food insecure.”
“The great part is that it’s available,” he said. “The sad part is it’s needed.”
But the meeting was to talk about solutions rather than problems.
There were ideas that worked on a statewide or even national level, like calls for stronger land-use laws, more voter participation in off-year elections — when voters pick new local officials — and a hike in the minium wage.
There were smaller local solutions as well.
One group proposed the $10 idea: If every local family spent $10 more each week on locally-produced food, it would add almost $100 million to the Lehigh Valley economy.
Gary Warren of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op invited people to invest in the community-owned market that is now being organized, saying 350 households will get the group to its goal.
And Todd Nemura, of the Children’s Home of Easton, spoke of plans to turn their facility’s defunct indoor swimming pool into a greenhouse.
The idea of getting younger people involved in gardening and farming was one the group returned to again and again.
The term is “growing farmers,” shorthand for introducing a new generation to farms in the hopes that they’ll grow their own gardens or even start their own farms.
On some level, younger people are already interested in sustainable, local food. As he talked with representatives from other institutions, Moravian College chef Daniel Leiber got a text about a meeting for later in the day from a student who wanted more organic options.
“She’s not uncommon,” he said. “We do get students who request local and organic.”
The trick, he said, is to keep these conversations happening.
“The more we talk about it, the more they get into,” Leiber said. “It just grows and grows and grows.”