Story by Connor Drexler
When I decided to sail over here from Wisconsin to take up an AmeriCorps position with the Food and Farming Network in Traverse City, I knew it would be a good fit. Not only do I love eating and making food, I like to understand how it gets to my plate. I stopped eating red meat because I was concerned about the amount of water it took to produce. I try to buy organic and make it to farmers markets when I’m not sleeping in. Our traditional food system is detrimental to the environment and to farmers, but what was I actually doing about it? What does a good system look like that takes the land, the consumer, the animal, and the farmer into consideration as conscious moral and technical factors in its construction, rather than making food a meaningless commodity that lacks a story and a place.
I always knew northwestern Michigan for the cherries my grandfather would bring to the kitchen in his home near Elk Rapids. It was my first real taste of Michigan. When I came to think of my summers here, my mind would always go back to that bowl of cherries: the handfuls I would pull from the counter almost too high for my reach; the stains my fingers would receive after I had spent time devouring them; and then the pits I would always keep, planning on trying to start my own plot of cherries back in Wisconsin.
My first exposure to local food systems of northwestern Michigan was with Wendy Wieland, vice-chair of the Food and Farming Network. She led me on a tour of Charlevoix and Emmet counties as we visited the Boyne City Farmers Market, the farms of David Coveyou and Brian Bates, and ate at the restaurant Julienne Tomatoes in Petoskey with the Local Food Alliance Leaders. The following day I headed out west, meeting up with the other vice-chair of the Food and Farming Network, Sharron May, as we visited the Frankfort Farmers Market, the Grand Traverse Regional Conservancy’s Misty Acres Farm with Vic Lane, and got a brief tour of St. Ambrose Cellars.
One thing I’ve noticed since I arrived here is that farmers, when giving tours of their land and their crops, have a habit of plucking a ripe piece of the plant and holding it in their hands while they rattle off all kinds of specifics about the growing season that year, the characteristics of the changing market, and methods they use for weed suppression. Whether it’s David Coveyou picking off a ripe pepper from his plot, or Brian Bates showing us the texture of the bean sprouts in his hoop houses, they took great joy out of the sensation of holding the work they had done over the year in their hands. I shared their fascination with the closeness of it, the raw power each piece of produce seemed to hold in its simplicity. I wanted to be a part of that, too. At least, if I’m not literally weeding and watering the fields where they grow, I can be a catalyst for supporting the community that does and the community that benefits from its production.
So from me to you, I send my thanks for this opportunity in environmental activism and community development. The local stories about the events, food, and people in this region are stories I want to tell.
Connor Drexler, Americorps VISTA,
The Food and Farming Network