I truly believe that in this politically polarized world, food retains a universal power that can, at least for a time, transcend perceived divisions and bring people together.
And so, as we gather this weekend with family and friends for a traditional meal, we should celebrate and offer gratitude to everyone within our food system that works tirelessly to provide high-quality foods to us.
As a member of an extended, and notably activist, farming family, the importance of a shared meal was impressed on me at an early age. The table, and in my experience, the farm table, has long been the center of political movements. It is the platform on which ideas of culture and community, politics and pleasure, are constructed.
The opportunity to work on the farm that my grandfather and his 10 siblings were raised, taught me the potential of sustainable and regenerative agriculture to create a viable and local farming economy.
Then, in the fall of 2014, I moved to Ashland to attend Northland College. When I arrived, I witnessed the potential of sustainable agriculture in action. In many ways, I am still rooted in the rolling hills of the southwest Wisconsin farm, however, I now find my roots running deeply in this place.
The burgeoning local foods economy in the Chequamegon Bay area is staggering, with a cornucopia of locally-produced vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, dairy, bakery, and value-added goods available throughout the year. Farmers are constructing high tunnel greenhouses across the region to extend their growing season.
The Chequamegon Food Cooperative intentionally sources local fare year-round and encourages shoppers to “Chip Up” their order to fund micro-loans for farmers. The construction of the Hulings Rice Food Center at Northland College further cements Northland’s commitment to purchasing local foods, provides a state-licensed kitchen for entrepreneurs to develop food products, and vastly expands the college’s capacity to capture food waste for compost production.
Farm to School programs are educating youth about the love of gardening and seasonal eating. And the recent formation of the Ashland/Bayfield County Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter promises to promote our region’s agricultural values throughout the state. As the chapter secretary, I have witnessed our region’s vivacity and generosity firsthand.
The September “Guerrilla Harvest Dinner” hosted by the Farmers Union at Wild Rice Retreat demonstrated the collaborative potential of a community coming together to elevate food. Through donations, imagination, and gusto, 20-or-so kitchen volunteers prepared a diverse, local meal for 120 attendees gathered to kick off a delicious revolution.
We as a community have clearly articulated our regional values for clean water and air, access to healthy food for all, and economic development through support of local businesses. The challenge now is to harness this enthusiasm and momentum to galvanize the next wave of the food movement.
The path forward will require creativity, generosity, and increased participation. Additional voices in the conversation surrounding food will be crucial to fortifying the collaborative progress made over the past several years. After all, isn’t the goal to continue to build a healthier and more just community? We must consciously and continually integrate ourselves, always leaving room for more at the table.
So, this Thanksgiving, enjoy the company of others around the table and savor the flavors of the season, celebrate the regional bounty our food system has to offer, and perhaps thank a farmer or food producer. Think about the future of food and farming in Chequamegon Bay. Express your vision and excitement for the next phase of the local food movement and let’s see where this can take us.