A friend of mine describes NYC as “no excuse living.”  For people eager to get your hands dirty this spring, I offer the end of all excuses:  Join us next Wednesday, February 16th, for a screening of What’s Organic About Organic? together with ioby (“In Our Backyards”).

What’s Organic? stirs passion about the need for a clean, transparent, and organic food system.  The next step is action!  Erin Barnes, one of the founders of ioby, will be on hand to offer a variety of opportunities to dig deep in NYC urban agriculture.  You’ll be able to sign up for springtime garden projects right at the screening.

And the venue?  None other than the newly-opened Greenpoint CoWorking, a space for independent workers by Sara Bacon.  It will be an evening of food, drink, and kindred company — get your tickets here!

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Now for the best story of Summer 2010.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to Springfield, Missouri, the land of my high school and my Dad’s side of the family.  You may know it as the Queen City of the Ozarks.  Or the hometown of Brad Pitt.  Or perhaps the birthplace of the über-famous Bass Pro Shops.

Today the city has a new source of renown:  They just started a Slow Food chapter, called Slow Food Southwest Missouri.  I was thrilled to be a part of the chapter’s inaugural event on July 26th — and for reasons I did not anticipate.

As part of the trip, I wanted to learn about the local food scene in Springfield and connect with the people who are building it.  I sent an email to my friend and food activist, Melissa Millsap.  She’s the Wonder Woman behind Urban Roots Farm, as well as the edible garden program of the Springfield school system.  It also turns out that she’s on the council, if you will, of local superheroes in the movement for good, clean food.

For the event, it was decided that we’d host a farm-to-table dinner, along with a screening of Shelley Roger’s lively documentary, What’s Organic About Organic?.  Amanda Millsap Owen, owner of Home Grown Food, a sweet marketplace that sources all its products from nearby farms, offered the lot next to her store as the venue.  A local artist created a beautiful promotional poster and the ticket sales took off.  By the morning of the event, we had over 65 tickets sold.  We were thrilled.  (And little nervous — could we pull it off?)

On the day of the event, a team of guys put up a huge white tent.  They hung rows of lights and set up the audio visual system.  Another group set the tables.  It was hot and humid, but we were a steady machine.  A big thunderstorm rolled through around 5 o’clock, and we kept on.  The Do-It-Yourself talents of this crowd got it done.

People were due to arrive at 8 pm, and we were ready for them by 6:30 pm.  And then…

Continued below

Hours Into The Original Venue

The Lights Go Up!

We decided one side of the tent should be a little more taunt.  We pulled up one of the rope lines, adjusted it to a few feet away, and started to hammer in the new stake.

WE HIT A GAS LINE.

Suddenly the whole lot reeked of gas.  There was no avoiding it.  A call went out to City Utilities.  They came down and ordered us to leave the premises.  They said — under no uncertain terms — that we could not host our public event there.

I would have photos of this part, but at the time, it was too tense to whip out a camera. Homer says it best.

Amanda, and her husband Ryan, then made an amazing offer.  “We just moved into a house two blocks away, why don’t we hold it in our backyard?,” they suggested.  And with that, the crew picked up every table and chair and walked it all down the gravel alley way to their yard.  The guys set up the screen in its new place on the side of the garage.  We hung white lanterns on the clothes line to help people find their way.  What happened then was a beautiful dinner, followed by an inspiring film, all under the stars.

Thank you to everyone involved — it was an unforgettable night.  The only way I can describe it is to say, “it did my heart good.”  I could not wish for than this:  A breezy summer night, breaking bread with friends and family, and conversations fueled by the spirit to make our world better.  Thank you to everyone in the Slow Food SW Missouri chapter for making it possible.  Now to many more!

Up and Running at the New Venue!

The Crowd Gathers for the First Event of Slow Food SW Missouri

The Backyard is Set for Farm-to-Table Dinner

With a Toast to Our Local Farmers!

I LOVED This Menu -- Both Its Design & Content -- Thank you all!

On an early summer night

Under trees and soft light

The thought came to me

“I am where I wish to be.”

Continued below

Candlelight Dinner for "What's Organic About Organic?"

Some moments are best said in poetry.  This was my impression after the recent premiere of Shelley Roger’s documentary film, “What’s Organic About Organic?”.  The event was held in a precious, private Brooklyn backyard.  On a wide plank table, the hostess offered high notes from local farmers, bakers, and cheese mongers.  Shelley and her “characters” — the people interviewed in the film — along with journalists and bloggers, gathered in front of the screen centered between two trees.

Her beautiful film digs deep into what organic means.  Told through personal stories and official decrees, the word organic can be used many ways.  But this film isn’t interested in what it means to poseurs.  At its core, it’s about the farmers and consumers who vigilantly ensure the integrity of organic.

For example, the wording on grazing pastures for organic cows was once vague.  Some operations were stamping a hoof on grass occasionally, rather than having days in open pasture.  The truly organic dairy farmers were outraged.  As a result of their protests, the USDA strengthened its wording on these practices.  Now the organic label means something again.

Farmers go to these measures for “organic” because they are the stewards of their land and animals.  They serve a community they know.  To explain why they care, Andy Grant, of Grant Family Farms, tells a tough story from his childhood:  He lost his family dog to pesticide exposure.  His little boy perception saw then that something was fundamentally wrong.  Once an adult, he became an organic farmer.

Organic also has cultural importance — in the name of social justice.  To many, the principles also include fair wages and treatment for farm workers.  Wende Elliot of Wholesome Harvest, a co-op of family farms in Iowa, explains that she and her husband go beyond the U.S. organic standards and adhere to international codes.  In doing so, they promise their customers that the workers make a living wage in good conditions.  Similarly, Andy Grant shows his respect for his team as he inspects a box of lettuce packed by his field workers.  Gently handling the lettuce heads, he says, “These guys are artists.”

Back under the moonlight in Brooklyn, the crowd around the table talked late.  In addition to making a film, Shelley and her conspirators, are building a coalition.  These are kindred minds coming together.  It’s not enough to just say organic and go home.  Those who care remain watchful, promising integrity in word and process.

Now our table gets bigger.  If you are in NYC, then pull up a seat.  The team behind “What’s Organic?”  has a wonderful series of events coming in June.  Shelley and many of the people interviewed in the film will be ready for questions.  And together, with Shelley, her characters, and our expanding community for delicious, fair and safe food, we’ll find the answers.