Feast Down East conference highlights local agriculture

by Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

 Staff photo by Allison Potter 

Tony Bishop, of the Wilmington Riverfront Farmers’ Market, left, speaks with AJ Labret by the Poplar Grove Plantation Farmers’ Market table during Feast Down East on Friday, March 1, at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Burney Center.

Pairing local farmers and consumers with the resources needed to grow the presence of sustainable, organic products in the food service and farming communities in southeastern North Carolina was the goal for Feast Down East’s 3rd Annual Regional Conference. 

On Friday, March 1, 17 authorities on the subjects of sustainable farming, organic eating, home gardening, aquaponics, food safety and more, lectured to hundreds of farmers, consumers and students on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Ryan Olson of Progressive Gardens addressed the importance of biodynamic farming in his lecture. A philosophy pioneered by Rudolf Steiner in 1924, Olson said biodynamic farming treats the farm as a living organism and uses specific compost preparations to increase soil life and bring holistic balance. 

While farms are producing more now, Olson said the quality of food produced globally has declined largely because of the overuse of synthetic fertilizers like Miracle Grow. Due to the fact that synthetic fertilizers provide some nutrients but often lack vital plant nutrients like calcium and magnesium, crops produced using those fertilizers do not give the consumer the same amount of vitamins and nutrients as the same crop would have 100 years ago, he said. 

“We are growing plants with the minimum of what they need, not with what we need from them,” he said. 

At the same time, across the quad in the Fisher Student Center, Cook for Good researcher and author Linda Watson addressed the possibilities of eating wholesome, organic vegan food for less than $5 a day. 

“You can eat low on the food chain, eat seasonal vegetables, not waste any food and be just a little organized,” Watson said. “If you do that you can eat for less than the food stamp allowance in North Carolina, even eating organic food. You can afford to eat like it matters.”

Watson’s methodology for eating both healthy and thrifty is found in her recent publication, “Wildly Affordable Organic,” and she said her primary audience is home chefs. Getting people to change their food habits can be difficult because of preconceived notions about the cost of eating healthy, Watson said. Buying organic, local products can also be a way to effectively express your political beliefs, she added. 

“I realized that as great of a set of politicians we are able to elect, it is hard for them to get things done, but people every day can vote with their forks,” she said. “Consumers think it is expensive. … Once you get in the habit and try it you never want to go back.”

Brittany Taggert, part of the Resourceful Farmer Program for Feast Down East, said providing educational resources to better the lives of farmers, consumers and the planet is what the Feast Down East initiative is all about. 

“That is our biggest thing — trying to get education to the farmers they wouldn’t get in their community out in rural North Carolina,” Taggart said. “This year we changed our focus on the consumer and consumer awareness. I think it has been great, because it is also good networking for consumers direct to farmers.”

For more information about Feast Down East, visit www.feastdowneast.org 

email cole@luminanews.com

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