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Farming and the Local Food Scene: Durham, the Tastiest Town in the South

I spent the weekend of April 27 going to various food-related events here in Durham, North Carolina. All were representative of current urban food culture and of the place that Durham is striving to be—inclusive, supportive of its local entrepreneurs, and a mecca for food-loving people. The first event, called Thanksgiving in Spring, was put on by the City of Durham’s Neighborhood Improvement Services (NIS). After living in Durham for a little over a year and navigating various city government departments, NIS has been by far my favorite arm of Durham’s government to get to know. Their charge is to preserve and improve quality of life conditions for Durham residents—which means working on a variety of issues that are very important to Durham—access to safe and affordable housing, abating public nuisances (think litter, illegal dumping, graffiti), and in general helping to carry out the big ideas of the city government.

As luck would have it, NIS had chosen the neighborhood Old Five Points, where my partner and I just started Sweet Beet City Farm to host Thanksgiving in Spring, Durham’s first longest food table event. Basically, it was a huge block party with food from various local restaurants and kitchens, representatives from city government, and an overall great turn-out from all of the city’s residents. In the month leading up to this event, the city helped us build a farm stand, tables, and benches, and even painted our farm’s pallet fence (created from left-over pallets from businesses within a mile radius of the farm). For us, it was an incredible collaboration—we were able to meet many members of our neighborhood and larger city, and in turn provide a gathering space for the city.

After Thanksgiving in Spring, author Michael Pollan was in town promoting his new book, Cooked. Pollan shared the stage with two local celebrity chefs, Billy Cotter of Toast and Andrea Reusing of Lantern. This juxtaposition between two locally and nationally known chefs provided a very genuine and accessible way to talk about cooking food and the importance of cooking your own food. Much emphasis was placed on the obvious—cooking meals is generally more healthy when you do it yourself (rather than letting a corporation do the work for you), and that the time spent cooking and eating meals with other people is a critical social time for humans.

Reusing at one point asked Pollan what I’d been thinking since I learned the subject of his new book–why did it take you so long to start writing about cooking food? Pollan agreed that it took him a while and didn’t comment very much on why. However, I’m incredibly appreciative of his earlier work with Omnivore’s Dilemma in particular, which highlighted the state of industrial agriculture that feeds the majority of our nation’s people at the expense of our health, environment, and economy. It seems only natural that his research would have led him to some direct action that people can take to take control of their health, budget, and happiness—cooking.

These two events signify to me the state of the urban food community in Durham. It feels like there is huge potential in the air with respect to increasing access to local, healthy (ideally organic, but sometimes that’s not possible) food in Durham. I’ll certainly be on the front lines in trying to make it happen.

Bubbles in front of Sweet Beet City Farm and the Thanksgiving in Spring festivities

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she focused in environmental and community health. She is currently working on a small farm in Rougemont, North Carolina called Four Leaf Farms, while also starting an urban farm in downtown Durham, NC. Laura writes the Farming and the Local Food Scene series about her experiences with local farms and farmers around the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

Posted on: May 28, 2013, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

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