Food Day celebrates local, organic and sustainable movements

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Eva Gray/Catalyst

The first-annual national Food Day celebration was officially held on Monday, Oct. 24. However, the Sarasota version was held on Sunday at WSLR’s new community space at 525 Kumquat Court. “Sarasota and other communities like us decided that [Sunday] was a better day to have it,” Sarasota County Extension Agent Robert Kluson said. “Next year they might call it ‘Food Week.’ Its kind of like Earth Day, there’s no one day.”

In fact, an April 2011 press release announcing the official launch of Food Day noted that the campaign is modeled after Earth Day and aims to create dialogue about crucial issues and “inspire Americans to hold thousands of events in schools, college campuses, houses of worship, and even in private homes aimed at fixing America’s food system.”

Officially organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day saw support from various politicians, physicians, health experts and national organizations.  Slow Foods of Sarasota, Kluson and WSLR came together to organize the event in Sarasota.

“At the time, there wasn’t even one listed in Florida… that was a couple months ago, then we decided to have one in Sarasota,” Kluson said. In the end, there were over 2,000 registered events held nationwide, about 80 of which took place Florida.

Food Day seeks to campaign for five major initiatives: reducing diet-related disease by promoting healthy foods; supporting sustainable farms and stopping subsidies to agribusiness; expanding access to food and alleviating hunger; reforming factory farms to protect animals and the environment; and curbing junk-food marketing to kids. The event in Sarasota hosted many organizations spanning broadly across the food movement spectrum.

Slow Foods Sarasota, which is part of a national network of community Slow Foods groups, helped sponsor the event. “Slow Food is everything fast food isn’t,” Jane Cogg, head of the Edible School Garden Committee, said. “It’s food that is good, clean and fair.”

Youth and schools are important targets of Food Day and its affiliates. This past August brought the opening of the Community Green Charter School in De Soto County, which was founded in part by former New College student Jesse Sage. The school promotes curriculum focused in agri-business, history and culture. One emphasis is on sustainability. The school’s ranch manager, Eric Bear, said that a goal of the sustainability program is to have the school produce most of its own food.

Oren Rosenthal, of Better School Food Sarasota, brought resources for parents, teachers and advocates “who want real food for our children.”

Rosenthal noted that Body Mass Index (BMI) results in 2008 found that 41 percent of Sarasota 6th graders were overweight or obese.

The national initiative of Better School Food is “not just pointing out problems, but identifying solutions,” he noted. “It’s not just about the cafeteria; there are a lot of other places where food enters young people’s education … and that is as food as rewards in the classroom, so we are proposing to end food as a reward period …  another way is through fundraising, and there’s a lot of ways to raise money that promote health and learning.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was also invited to the event, and Student Farmworker Alliance members from New College helped table and talk with the community about the CIW and fair food. The organization has been nationally recognized on the Food Day list of the Top Ten Best Aspects of America’s Food System. “Human beings harvest our food, and their welfare should be part of our analysis of what makes food sustainable” Jordan Buckley of the Interfaith Action Network told the Catalyst. “Thankfully, the Slow Food movement, small farmers and others are increasingly seeking to collaborate with the bourgeoning efforts to ensure fair wages and working conditions for harvesters.”

Buckley noted that the venue brought together various participants from different elements of the food movement to be on the picket line of a local Publix grand-opening on Nov. 13.

One of the local farmers that came out to Food Day was Peter Burkhart, who has been growing food and selling the surplus for four decades. “People say I’m a pioneer, but I was just doing what I love to do,” he said. “I guess it’s just been long enough that I can classify as a pioneer.” Attendees were welcomed to chat with local farmers in the “Farmer’s Lounge,” which was an informal discussion area at the event.

Buying from local family owned farmers was an important solution that most of the groups at Food Day advocated above all. Transitions Sarasota is an organization that advocates for a radical transition in the way food is sourced. “We have recently launched a 10 percent local food shift pledge,” founder Don Hall told the crowd. “We are asking you to grow or buy at least 10 percent of your food as locally and sustainably as possibly… A 2006 study in Sarasota found that if we did that, it would add 80 million dollars to our local economy every year.”

Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund advocates for family farms. “We are here to protect your food sources, and we work directly between farmers and consumers,” Gené Walls said. According to their brochure, the fund works to protect direct-to-distribution, sustainable family farms, consumer choice, and access to raw milk and on-farm processing.

“We have food that’s hurting us more than nurturing us, and that’s what we have to correct,” Kluson added. He also said that there is a political process involved, which means that people have to implement changes made in food policy, locally.

“Getting the kind of food you want will not happen by itself,” he continued. “It’s definitely going to require people demanding it, and I think that’s what Food Day is about.”

Other groups in attendance included the Suncoast Food Alliance and Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping (CLUCK).

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