Sunday, April 18, 2010
Live Green Expo in Plano draws speaker Joel Salatin, record crowd
Star of Food, Inc. shared good ideas on how to get out of the food mess we're in.
PLANO Concern about the environment is running as high as it ever has, and the turnout at the annual Live Green Expo in Plano was evidence, with more than 15,000 attendees showing up on Saturday at the Plano Centre.
With more than 200 exhibits and vendors, there was plenty to see, but two of the biggest draws were 1. a speech given by farmer Joel Salatin and 2. free compost bins worth $50, distributed to those who willing to wait in line up to an hour to get them.
Exhibitors ran from heavyweights like Oncor, to a grass-roots Smart Car Club whose members encouraged attendees to climb inside their wee cars and see how roomy they were. A clever demonstration by University of North Texas students showed bicycles attached to an energy rod that fueled a nearby big-screen TV.
In this environmentally-conscious, foodie-friendly, compost-happy crowd, farmer Joel Salatin is a celebrity. His 550-acre farm is highlighted as a model of sustainability in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and he appeared in Food, Inc.
He gave one of the smart and passionate lectures for which he is known, ending with a plea to the capacity audience of about 400 to do at least one thing new or different, i.e. start a compost bin, grow a plant, or visit a farmer's market.
His topic: "Local Food to the Rescue," in which he enumerated the six steps to changing and improving the mechanics of our food supply. He had some tremendous ideas.
1. Production. At one point, 40% of the vegetables grown in this country were produced in backyard gardens. All of our manicured lawns are a missed opportunity. That empty landscaping on college campuses? Why not turn it into plants we can eat?
2. Processing. "Most people don't want a live chicken showing up for dinner," he said. "We're used to chicken arriving plucked and gutted, and made into chicken broth."
"We haven't gotten where we are overnight, and we won't get back that fast, either," he said. "But we need to bring the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker back to the village. It's become so big that they've gotten pushed out of the community and into their own industrial district. But if you look at Williamsburg or any 'living village,' one of the things that makes it special is to see the embeddedness of artisanal craftsmen in the community."
When he mentioned Plano's ban on backyard chickens, people booed.
"Chickens eat all the table scraps. And yet you can have three parakeets screaming at you," he said. "Our zoning regulations create automatic barriers to canneries and other cottage-industry products. It's the autonomy of any culture to be able to feed your community -- we need food freedom of choice. But the food police are not letting things happen because they don't trust you to make a fair opt-out choice. And yet they think it's fine to have animals laced with antibiotics and zapped with radiation."
He said we're "still worshiping at the altar of Louis Pasteur" and his germ theory, when we should be following the theory of terrain, where you create an environment receptive to pathogen-loving environments and systems.
3. Accounting. Noting that farmers are busy farming, Salatin said it would be helpful to have a service company create templates for farms to handle the food police, inspections, insurance, and all the other paperwork of doing business.
4. Marketers. "Farmers don't want to talk to people, that's why they're farmers, but we need to tell the story," he said. "We need more gregarious story-teller schmoozers, so that we can get people thinking about farms that are run like a business and are successful and can attract talented people."
5. Distribution. At a supermarket, you can stop for an infinite supply of things nearly any time you want. But the current paths for getting food from the farm to our kitchen are often beset by obstacles. CSAs -- aka Community Supported Agriculture, whereby you sign up with a farmer and get a set amount of produce per week -- require that you take a whole box of things, some of which you may not like. And why not have a common cashier at farmers markets?
"If we're going to displace the Smithfields and the Pilgrim's Prides, we need to erase the hurdles," he said.
6. Consumers. We need to:
- Rediscover our kitchens and process our food ourselves
- Look at where we're spending our money -- i.e. a purchase of poorly-processed packaged food is a vote for poorly-processed packaged food.
- Embrace seasonality
"If you take anything from this expo, it's to not just go out and finger-point," he said. "Do one thing -- make your own vinaigrette, visit one market, cook one meal instead of buying it."