Focus on local food

MARQUETTE – It would be a lot harder to have healthy food if there were no farming, even in a place like the Upper Peninsula where farming can be a challenge.

Efforts to create a sustainable farming structure in the Upper Peninsula were the topic of Friday’sClimate@Noon” seminar at Jamrich Hall at Northern Michigan University.

Panelists were Michael Reisterer of Transition Marquette County; Martin Reinhardt, Ph.D., of Northern Michigan University, an Anishinaabe Ojibwe citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie of the Chippewa Indians and principal investigator of the Decolonizing Diet Project; Andrew Adamski, an NMU graduate student; Dan Perkins, director at Partridge Creek Farm in Ishpeming; and John Obryan of Skandia, who’s running a homestead property.

Nurturing food access on all levels was discussed, but particular attention was paid to how people can better obtain healthy food locally.

“Each of us individually can do things, and one of the things that Transition Marquette County is involved in is the Seed Co-op,” Riesterer said. “An offshoot of that is the Seed Library at the Peter White Public Library, and from that we go to Seed Swaps. So, this is taking control of your seeds and sharing with each other.”

Through the Seed Co-op, TMC sells seeds that are not genetically modified, and instead are either heirloom or open-pollinated, with the varieties suited to the cold climate.

The Queen City Seed Library allows users to “check out” seeds, and return seeds grown from their own gardens. Seeds also are exchanged during the group’s Seed Swaps.

TMC also is kicking off a seven-part series, “Growing Your Food in the U.P.,” beginning with “Permaculture and U.P. Soils” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Marquette Missionary Church, 1804 Wright St.

Reinhardt suggested people make good choices while they’re at the market, and buy local.

“If you really wanting to get very local, buy a business,” Reinhardt said. “Make those choices. They’re going to be more expensive, they’re going to be less convenient, but they’re going to promote the idea of local, indigenous foods.”

People might not even have to go beyond a few feet to get food.

“The most local, the most indigenous is your backyard,” said Adamski, who lives at the Marquette Climbers’ Cooperative on North Fourth Street.

Residents maintain a garden and are involved with sustainability issues, like using less water at the house.

In fact, he said the carport was converted to a greenhouse a few years ago.

“Do what you can with your own space, but then also help your neighbors create spaces for themselves,” Adamski said.

Obryan has experience with going local, having built raised beds from lumber gathered from lofts from dormitories that were broken down at the end of the school year. He also grew turnips and radishes using compost he picked up at the local compost site.

Of course, food access is important on a macro scale. However, growing up on a farm in Wisconsin gave Adamski a chance to view it on a micro scale. He said he heard stories about his great-grandparents leading their hogs through the woods from Green Bay to Milwaukee.

It’s a different world now.

“It’s isolation,” Adamski said. “You’re not part of what you eat.”

Perkins noted that high-risk kids could be connected back into the community through local community gardening through projects like Partridge Creek.

“Large-scale farming is tearing apart our culture, tearing apart the local farming, which is an integral part of a healthy society, and we need to bring it back just for that reason alone,” Perkins said. “Never mind the nutrition and the health of the planet.”

Only a local movement will inspire other municipalities to address the local food issue, he said.

“We need a post-capitalist model of an economy,” said Perkins, who pointed out consumers are taught to buy food at large stores compared to a farmers market.

Big agriculture – which is heavily subsidized – has put a dent into the numbers of small farmers, some of whom work 15 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.

Large-scale farms also don’t have to absorb certain costs.

“They don’t have to pay for the damages it’s doing to the earth and they don’t have to be accountable to the devaluation of our land,” Perkins said.

Taking on big business has its challenges, of course.

“Big industries have lots of money, and they have lots of sway in other countries,” Reinhardt said. “One of the things that makes a lot of sense to me is, we the people, if we reach critical mass in our thinking, that, you know, it’s more important to live than to have lots of money, then we have to reclaim our government. Right now our government is owned by the corporations.”

That means starting locally in Marquette County, he said.

With the Decolonizing Diet Project, participants looked at access to indigenous foods in the local marketplace, including gardening and hunting, Reinhardt said.

It’s a healthy food system, but he doesn’t believe it’s practical for everybody in the region.

“Even if we were to try to implement these really cool things, you know, the back-to-nature-type philosophy, we wouldn’t be able to sustain the populations we have here now doing it the way our ancestors did it,” Reinhardt said.

That said, people can look to small-scale farms, window box gardens and other methods not accessible to those ancestors, he said.

“So it’s a mix,” Reinhardt said. “It’s a balance of looking at our traditions – our healthy traditions – and saying what kind of technology changes have occurred in our society that we can now incorporate to help us actually be living a healthy sustainability.”

The “Climate@Noon” seminar was sponsored by the Northern Climate Network, a campus-wide consortium providing opportunities for faculty, staff, students and community members to discuss and learn about climate change in the region.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.