Sunday, March 28, 2010

Connections and Community-Reflections on March Ag Month

With the month of March coming to a close, so are the myriad of events that have made up Chester County Ag Month. From workshops on cheese to a multi-media lecture on Dust Bowl agriculture, I have been reminded of the richness and the struggles of our agricultural past, as well as the potential of our future. Not unlike the dust bowl era, we are once again facing both a crisis in economy and climate. We are at an important and rather daunting cross road, and yet I am cautiously optimistic because of the outcome of another Ag Month event--Mugs and Music. It might seem almost trite to say that I feel we have the potential to get through two global crises because of one little event, but its true. Embodied in promotion and organization of Mugs and Music was a very concrete illustration of how we got to this point (the difficulty) and how to navigate the way forward (its success).

This realization began as I started collecting the cheese donations for the event. First stop was at Sue Miller's cheese making facilities at Camphill Kimberton. I arrived as she was just draining the cheese molds for a future batch of Birchrun Blue (if I remember correctly). She gave me a tour of her aging facilities--including a glimpse of the special Victory Beer baltic thunder washed cheese (with the orange/pink rind) to be featured for the first time at the upcoming Brewer's Plate. The musty smells of beer and cheese were just amazing. Sue sent me happily on my way with a huge hunk of Fat Cat and Birchrun Blue.

Next stop was Elverson to pick up a delicious assortment of chevres from Amazing Acres. Fred was nice enough to take me into to barn to see he and his wife Debbie's beloved herd of mostly Nubian goats.

The final cheese donation came from Martha Pisano at Highland Farm. Martha is a friend and neighbor and was kind enough to drop off her amazing romano at my farm. I had been to Martha's the weekend before and took this picture of some of her new lambs.

As I drove from Sue Miller's in Kimberton to Amazing Acres in Elverson, I had to take a detour that led me down a road filled with old stone houses, barns and mills--the physical remnants of our past thriving agricultural history. It made me realize that there was a time when putting on an event that featured local music, local cheeses, and local hand made pottery was probably the norm, not some anomaly to modern day life. What irony. I had been spending the week trying to promote the mugs and music, struggling with the "complicated" nature of an evening of local food and entertainment that also included local pottery--how to reduce that concept to a tweet, a facebook status, or blog posting. The buildings I was passing on the winding country road were built when it would have been understood that a celebration would include all these local elements in a community setting. What did it mean that we had to have a special event to acknowledge this concept of connectivity, a concept that was once the backbone of a thriving local agrarian economy?

The actual day of the Mugs and Music heavy rain caused flooding, and I was worried about turn out and the arrival of the beer, the local food, the mugs, and the musicians. As it turned out I had nothing to fear--every aspect of the event arrived and performed with a level generosity and enthusiasm that far exceeded my expectations. It was a truly magical night, so much talent in one room, made all the more meaningful from the warmth of community spirit housed in the cozy Flash. With a full house and a sold-out mugs sale, we raised over $1000 for the next local food guide and over $400 for the Chester County Food Cupboard. Kennett Square Farmers Market manager Abby Morgan captured a few snippets of song for the new Farmers Market Youtube Channel (which also includes a short interview with Debbie from Amazing Acres). To learn more about the talented musicians that make up the community spirited local folk scene--including Spinning Leaves, AnnaChristie Sadler, Hezekiah Jones and Chris Kasper (mugs and music musicians) read this article from Philadelphia Weekly.

This event represented a departure of the typical modern standard where everything is reduced to a commodity--where the food we eat, the cups we drink from, even the music we listen to is just stuff. The results of this commoditization of everything in our lives has had disastrous effects our health, happiness, local economy, the environment, and community. In the humorous yet poignant animation "The Story of Stuff" these concepts are explored further, I highly recommend checking out this informative short video. Farmer poet Wendell Berry writes "without prosperous local economies, the people have no power and the land no voice." The Mugs and Music offered an example of the alternative. There was no "stuff" for sale. Everything involved had a face, a story, a location--and each part represented the best of what we as a community have to offer--amazing expertise and talent in cheese making, brewing, musicianship, ceramics, venue organization, collaboration, generosity--a local economy at its best--where people have power and land has a voice--economy with heart and soul.

So this is why I find so much hope embodied in the Mugs and Music event. It was a delicious, entertaining and meaningful evening--from it I have two beautiful mugs made by husband and wife potters Pam Lau and Dan Ody and lots of good memories. There is one more Down to Earth Event still to come--this Tuesday at Restaurant Noble--the Useable Feast. Potter Lyla Kaplan has done an amazing job organizing yet another stellar event--a departure from the culture of "stuff" to a community of meaning.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ag Forum on Dust Bowl Agriculture

This Wednesday, March 24, 7PM at the Chester County Historical Society the collobarative efforts of March Ag month (a project of the Chester County Ag Development Council) will continue when
ag historian Willie Lockeretz will deliver a multi-media presentation on the 1930's Dust Bowl that offers impressions of life in rural America during a particularly difficult decade in our nation’s history. It draws upon several wonderful sources from the time, especially the documentary photography of the USDA’s Farm Security Administration. The program also uses several selections from a large oral history project done under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as well as songs collected by folklorists from the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, and passages of prose and poetry by John Steinbeck, Carl Sandburg, and James Agee. The emphasis is on farming, but other aspects of American life are covered as well.

Following Lockeretz, William Moore of Walmoore Holsteins, Inc., Cochranville, will give a presentation on farming in Chester County. The Moore family celebrated the centennial of their farm in 2009. Moore, an entertaining speaker, will bring a local perspective to the program and highlight the dynamic farming industry of the county.

7:00 - 9:00 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. to
allow time to visit What is Open Space? exhibit

Chester County Historical Society
225 N. High Street
West Chester, PA 19380

$10, advance registrations preferred.
See registration information below.

Dr. Willie Lockeretz – Recently retired professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. Lockeretz was on the faculty at Tufts University for 27 years. For 12 years he was editor of the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, which he helped to found in 1986. He also has edited 12 books on agriculture, most recently Organic Farming: An International History. From 2000 to 2002 he served on the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board. In 2003 he received the “Spirit of Organic” award from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

William Moore – Co-Owner, Walmoore Holsteins, Inc., a centennial Chester County dairy farm located in Cochranville. Pete's Produce Farm and Participant in Chester County Gleaning Program

To save a space, call 610-692-4800 or email

Payment may be paid by credit card over the phone or in person the night of the program.

You're invited to make a contribution toward relieving hunger by bringing a canned good for donation to the Forum. All items will be donated to the Chester County Food Bank.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Weekend Beer Drinking--A Victory For Local Food and Farms

Is it dream? Some sort of fermentation fantasy where one can indulge in delicious craft brews and have it support efforts to promote local food and farming.
I am happy to report it is NOT a dream, it is a reality. In fact this weekend you have TWO opporunities to make this dream come true--all because of one very special, very local, and very drinkable--Victory Brewing Company.

The events I am talking about are the Down to Earth--Mugs and Music (see earlier blog postings) taking place in Kennett Square this Saturday and the 6th Annual Brewers Plate talking place at the Penn Museum on Sunday. Proceeds from the ticket sales of Mugs and Music will benefit the Chester County Chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local and its popular local food guide. The Brewer's Plate ticket sales support Fair Food Philadelphia--an organization dedicated to bringing local food into the Philadelphia market place--also known for its popular local food guide. Both events tend to sell out, I encourage you to get tickets ASAP.

Not only does Victory donate beer to a myriad of great causes--Bill Covaleski (co-founder and co-president)
is actually the person who created the concept of the Brewer's Plate--click here to read more about the vision behind this fantastic event. From the Kennett Square Farmers Market Fermentation Festival to the Bike Fresh, Bike Local benefit for PASA, the Chester County farming community can count on Victory to be there for support. Click here to watch a little video from last year's rainy but enjoyable Bike Fresh, Bike Local event. Bill even uses local grass fed beef in his chilli competition entry (which came in second by the way, I think the grass-hair might have helped).So there you have it--an excuse to drink up--support your local brewer and in turn support the local farming community. What could be better?! Cheers!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Signs of Spring--March Ag Month

March has been designated Chester County Ag Month, which, when we started promoting a couple of weeks ago seemed almost laughable, imagine celebrating Spring and farming with feet of snow on the ground. Well what a difference a weekend makes!!!! The last couple of days have been so beautiful.

The month is filled with great events for both farmers and consumers. This weekend marks the delicious and entertaining Mugs and Music (see previous post), make sure you get your tickets asap, space is limited.

To get you in the mood for spring, I leave you with some (always heartwarming) baby animal pictures. The foals are from the horse operation on our farm and the lambs are from Highland Farm (whose cheese is available through our farm, at the Kennett Square Farmers Market, and at this weekend's Mugs and Music event). Happy almost spring!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Magic of Mugs and Music

One of my favorite events of the season is coming up--Mugs and Music--Saturday, March 13th at the Kennett Flash. This multifaceted celebration of community involves functional pottery, beer, local food, music, a great venue, and two worthy causes--Chester County Buy Fresh,Buy Local and the Chester County Food Bank. Mugs and Music is part of this greater concept of Down to Earth--exploring the connections between functional art, local food, and community. It was the brainchild of potter, activist and now great friend Lyla Kaplan. We have been organizing Down to Earth events together for the past 3 years, she has all the amazing pottery connections and I handle the food.

Our mission is the following:
The mission of Down to Earth is to display functional art that is intended to enhance the culinary experience: to celebrate the intrinsic value of eating locally grown food using handmade art, and to build community by introducing people to their local farmers and artists. To produce food and nurture growth requires farmers’ diligence and attention to the earth - artists create forms that contain, present, and enhance food. Farmers and artists transform what the earth provides, which in turn nourishes our bodies and our souls. - Lyla and Claire

All of the logistical information can be found on the website--including a link to buy tickets. Basically the evening involves an opportunity to buy a handcrafted ceramic mug made by a local potter (the cost of the mugs varies in range from $15-$30, and is not included in the ticket price). The ticket price ($20 in advance, $23 at the door) DOES include a Victory Beer tasting, a local food reception feature light fare from Harvest Market Natural Foods and cheese from Highland Farm, Birchrun Hills Farm, and Amazing Acres, and a fantastic concert with performances by Annachristie Sadler of the Sisters Three, the Spinning Leaves, Hezekiah Jones, and Chris Kasper. The reception starts at 7PM and the music will begin at 8PM.

The locale of the Down to Earth events often set the tone for the entire program--in the past locations included the Art Scene, the Chester County Historical Society, and Restaurant Alba in Malvern.

This year the event will take place in Kennett Square's premier music venue, the Kennett Flash. I think this is why I am so particularly excited for this year's event--in a demonstrable illustration of our mission--we will be celebrating the bonds and connections that we have forged around our wonderful and vibrant local food community. It is fitting that the Buy Fresh, Buy Local project the Mugs and Music proceeds will be benefit is the 2010 version of the local food guide. We have personal ties to everyone involved--many of the potters, and all of the musicians and the food vendors have participated in the Kennett Farmers Market. So I leave you with a collage of photos featuring our market ties with the participants--a photo esssay of connection and support. What better way to usher in a new season.