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.

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