The 6th annual Tennessee Local Food Summit began almost right on time. With excellent facilities at Tennessee State University’s downtown campus, the event ran from December 2 through December 4, 2016. A partnership with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has made sponsorship easier, and the Nashville local food community pulled it off elegantly. Our deepest appreciation goes out to TSU and all of those involved.
A food systems development project recently announced by Metro Nashville was awarded to Ken Meter. Ken’s discussions at the last four Food Summits have proved the merit of this decision. He continues to guide us into the next growth stage of producing and consuming more local food to increase local jobs, small farms and better health.
While Laura Wilson moderated a panel discussion with Ken, Tasha Kennard from the Nashville Farmers Market and Alan Powell of Nashville Grown, Hugh Lovel from Australia explained the science behind organic agriculture. Meanwhile, Chris Robbins from TSU and I led a talk on access to land and education for young, beginning farmers.
After more talks and appetizers from Farmhouse Restaurant, Joel Salatin took a national look at local food. There is a lot going on, some positive and some negative. The demand is growing, but industrial organics threatens to usurp the markets with imported hydroponic “organics”, large mono crop plasticulture and legislation that hinders small local farms. Joel’s humorous insights put it all into perspective, and a fabulous dinner was provided by the Pegleg Porker, Two Goats, and other local chefs.
Saturday was chock full of panels, informal talks and lectures. Susana Lein and Cliff Davis described their permaculture crop production while Johnny Mitchell from Georgia gave samples and instructions of time honored meat preservation. A special guest, Will Harris, described hi large operation in Southern Georgia. It’s a livestock and CSA farm complete with an on-farm slaughter house, a restaurant and a store, employing 90 people and thus reviving a small town’s economy.
Nashville’s own James Beard award winner, Tandy Wilson, joined up with Philip Krajeck and Trey Cioccia to talk about the farm to table restaurant business. David Cloniger from Second Harvest food bank described their efforts to procure and now grow fresh produce, and Bill Keener talked about dairy cows. Carolyn Hoagland from Sewanee’s University of the South gave a lecture on soil microbiology.
The next sessions included Tradd Cotter from North Carolina explaining organic mushroom farming and using fungi to bioremediate everything from garbage to oil spills. John Compton from Vanderbilt University talked about efforts to get local food into hospitals and schools while Eric Zizka from Oak Steakhouse gave a chef demonstration.
Lunch was another phenomenal local farms to local chefs extravaganza and gave us time to examine the 30 or so vendors at the trade show. Then we began again with talks on land access, farmer education, the grocery business, fermentation, and cover crops. Steve Diver from the University of Kentucky discussed on-farm micro organisms and growing organic transplants, and John Bell described his 500 member CSSA and livestock farm and their eight year rotation plan on 200 acres in Kentucky.
We gathered for a plenary lecture by Larry Kopald of the Carbon Underground. Now we see the big picture of climate change and the role agriculture plays. The survival of a planet we can inhabit will depend on a major shift to carbon sequestering farming within the next decade.
John Ikerd wrapped up the busy day with a plea to end hunger. He grew up in a time when most communities got most of their food locally, with plenty of jobs and no hunger issues. He became an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri and helped usher in the “green revolution”, which was to feed the world with industrial agriculture. In 1967, 5% of the U.S. was considered underfed and hungry.
He saw it unfold as a tragic failure. Industrial agriculture grows less than 30% of the world’s food supply, created climate change by destroying 70% of the worlds top soil, and has raised the U.S. hungry population to 15%. It only benefits a few businessmen.
On Sunday we visited a model, small organic farm and saw it in action. Farms like this feed 70% of the world today. Small, local farms have never ceased to be the way most people get their food.
We continue to promote local food production and consumption, and firmly believe that as Tennessee once fed itself, it will again. Only this will review rural economics, secure small family farms, provide better health, and turn agriculture around from putting carbon into the atmosphere to bringing it back into the soil where it belongs.