If you want to make local food a bigger part of your life, winter is a good time to start. Chilly winter days are ideal for building new skills and connections, like shopping for fresh greens at the farmers market or planning ahead for a new garden project.
“More people are turning towards wanting to start a garden or wanting to participate in the farmers market,” says Chris Smith. He works for the Asheville-based seed company Sow True Seed. He’s also an okra enthusiast who found his passion for growing food when he moved from England to the U.S.
During his years living and homesteading in Western North Carolina, he’s noticed a few things about the local food community here. He sees more people growing mushrooms on logs in their backyards. He’s also noticed people investing in perennials and fruit and nut trees—both for their own enjoyment and to benefit future residents. “I think there’s a greater awareness of the need for community-driven change—the idea that it’s not just about me and my piece of land, it’s about this community,” he says.
This understanding of local food systems can trickle down to everyday actions, like deciding what to do with carrot tops or broccoli stems in the kitchen. Whether these foods are purchased at a farmers market or grown in the backyard, a lot of time and resources go into their production. Yet it’s common for people to throw out perfectly edible parts of the plant. Chris wants to reduce food waste with a “seed to stem” philosophy. “Let’s try to utilize all this wasted food,” he explains. “With more surplus there can be more sharing and more sustainability in the food system.”
Chris will share this idea and practical ways to put it into practice during a homesteading course at the Organic Growers School spring conference in March. He’ll share tips like slicing broccoli stems into half-inch sticks and roasting them with carrots. He also has some surprising uses for okra, like eating its leaves or milling the dried seeds into flour.
He says one of the most important parts of winter learning is putting ideas into practice. “You’re going to learn something that’s going to trigger in your brain, like, I really want to do that,” he says. “Go plant the seed, or inoculate the mushroom log, or get a goat. Just go and do it. I think we need action as much as learning.”
He says sharing his knowledge and bringing people together through educational programs like Organic Growers School strengthens community bonds and fosters positive experiences with local food. “It really feels like a family-level community that I see every year and we can share stories and ideas and plans for the future,” he says. “It’s great timing for inspiring classes to take into the next year.”
Find your inspiration this winter at classes and workshops across the region. For more information about the Organic Growers School spring conference and other educational opportunities, visit ASAP’s community events calendar: www.fromhere.org
Aired: February 11, 2019