Over the past three weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in three events that have left me feeling rather inspired about the future of our nation’s food system.
On Friday, September 16, the Rodale Institute hosted its first annual Organic Pioneer Awards. This inaugural event honored individuals who led the way in establishing the organic movement and commemorated the 30-year anniversary of the Farming Systems Trial, America’s longest-running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture. One of the honorees was Maurice Small, an urban garden visionary leader who helps inner-city communities transform empty, blighted lots into green and growing nutritional and financial resources.
Part farmer, part passionate activist, and part teacher, Small is pioneering organic food security in Cleveland, Detroit, and Louisville, as well as other Ohio cities. His acceptance speech inspired a standing ovation.
Then, on September 21 and 22, I joined the Organic Gardening team at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore. The strength of the natural, organic, and healthy lifestyle industry proved to be stronger than ever, as business was conducted on the trade show floor. The show attracted and engaged more than 20,000 industry members, representing 80 countries, and the show floor comprised 1,450 exhibits. According to the Organic Trade Association 2011 Organic Industry Survey, total U.S. organic sales, including food and nonfood products, were $29 billion in 2010, up 9.7 percent from 2009—this staggering growth despite our current economic climate. There was not a single word of despair uttered by any of my clients at the show. Every one of them was optimistic about the future of their companies.
Finally, on Saturday, October 1, on a sunny and warm fall afternoon, Organic Gardening partnered with Subaru North America to execute the 4th annual fall festival at Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia. Nationally recognized as a leader in urban farming, Greensgrow Farm offered a welcoming setting for a fun day outdoors, with activities such as egg gathering and veggie harvesting. Subaru and Organic Gardening teamed up to offer workshops on herb gardening, composting, terrarium making, and garden photography, as well as food and drinks from local artisans and restaurateurs. More than 3,000 people were on hand that day to experience this urban oasis.
Located in a blighted neighborhood just north of center city, Greensgrow is dedicated to promoting social entrepreneurship through the reuse of land once deemed useless. In the process, they are reconnecting city dwellers with rural food producers and promoting the greening of Philadelphia’s homes and gardens. Greensgrow’s Philadelphia Project brings green ideas to life, providing neighborhoods with access to fresh, local, and organic foods as well as beautification and restoration to surrounding neighborhoods. They are building a more progressive and sustainable Philadelphia.
What do these three events have in common?
There is a redemptive act taking place at the heart of the organic movement. Despite the current economic climate, unemployment rate, health-care debate, and overall feelings of malaise nationwide, the organic community is thriving. This community is changing culture as we know it. It’s redeeming our soil, water, health, communities, and economy.
The organic movement is redeeming our world.
Wendell Berry describes the redemptive results of starting a garden and living the organic way of life in his book of essays, The Art of the Commonplace:
“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health. And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health—and create profitable diseases and dependencies—by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. In gardening, for instance, one works with the body to feed the body. The work, if it is knowledgeable, makes for excellent food. And it makes one hungry. The work thus makes eating both nourishing and joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak. This is health, wholeness, a source of delight. And such a solution, unlike the typical industrial solution, does not cause problems.”