Art, Love and Agriculture: An Interview with Farmer John

Farmer John with BeeThe 2005 documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John chronicles the life of John Peterson, a man who has been described as a “flamboyant, cross-dressing, hippie-loving third-generation farmer [who] saves his farm… by being different.”  A vibrant artist and storyteller, John unabashedly documents the crippling failures, deep losses, passionate loves and soul-searching quests that are part of his ongoing relationship with the land.   He is now the owner and operator of Angelic Organics, a biodynamic farm (think organic, with an added appreciation for natural rhythms) with one of the largest CSAs in the nation and a thriving education center.

“We had a big paper-mâché cat head that we installed in the packing barn…”

I took a moment to chat with John at the 2011 Financing Farm to Fork Conference in Chicago.

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Food & Dignity

“So, where do the leftover veggies go?” It’s a common question around here, especially on Tuesdays.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, connecting students, faculty and staff with fresh, organic, Maryland-grown produce. Those who have paid upfront for a share of the season’s harvest at Maryland’s One Straw Farm stop by the JHSPH parking garage every Tuesday to pick up their shares.

At the end of the day, at least a dozen crates of unclaimed produce remain.  Some folks just aren’t crazy about, say, chard, but CLF and One Straw Farm donate most of the extra shares. Since August, we’ve been sending this produce to the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, an outreach agency that has been providing emergency assistance and support to those who need it for 42 years-and serving hot meals for 30. On a typical day, the Center serves 400 meals. At the end of the month, when SNAP benefits run out, the number runs closer to 600.

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In the Franciscan Center kitchen with the cooks

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the Franciscan Center with two of my colleagues. We were met with a warm welcome from Ed McNally, the new Executive Director of the Center. An attorney and former Roman Catholic priest, Ed stressed the importance of treating each client with respect. One of the main goals of the Franciscan Center is to recognize the dignity of each human being, and this intention is apparent: the facility is immaculate and the staff and volunteers tremendously kind. A mural brightens the dining room and positive messages throughout the building uplift passers-by. The Center has an open door policy: rather than requiring proof of homelessness or unemployment, the staff and volunteers welcome as many clients as they can accommodate.

Ed stressed the importance of serving fresh, healthy food in an emergency assistance setting like this one. Read More >

Local farmers thank you for eating your greens

At the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, we’ve been getting a lot of greens in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares.  But as it turns out, our willingness to enjoy (or even just to tolerate) the unexpected results of the growing process helps keep small farms economically viable, particularly during agricultural disasters.

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JHSPH CSA members know a good pepper when they see one

Our CSA is an arrangement where customers subscribe to a weekly share of produce from a local, organic farmer.  Unlike shopping in a supermarket, customers receive whatever seasonal produce survives the myriad of environmental dangers that threaten a crop – insects, weeds, fungi or lousy weather.  Because of the unpredictable contents of a CSA “shopping cart,” CSA members typically exhibit a great deal of culinary adaptation and flexibility.  This season was no exception –  when we were expecting winter squash, we instead received bundles of delicious leafy greens.  For some this was a blessing, but others had exhausted their repertoire of kale recipes and began yearning for more variety.

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