Learn to Take your Food by the Root 

"Sustainability," says Janie Burns, a Nampa organic lamb grower and regular vendor at the Capital City Public Market, is a food production method that "provides for our current needs without compromising or diminishing our future."

Whether motivated by health concerns, altruism, the desire to make a living on the land, a commitment to future generations or an irrational fascination with predatory weeds and insects, producers of organic foods are probably more dependent upon the advice and interaction of their fellows than America's BigAg participants. They might go to www.ruralroots.com for support, or better yet, attend a conference of their peers and experts from Thursday, February 2 through Sunday, February 5, featuring Michael Ableman, a farmer in British Columbia and author of Fields of Plenty.

People who have begun this admirable endeavor and those who are still imagining the possibilities will have a choice of workshops to help them begin or continue a challenging but rewarding enterprise. This is actually a combination of events, beginning on Thursday with the "Super Weed Seminar" at the Ada County Extension Office, and a tour of the Peaceful Belly and Granny's farms in Boise and Meridian. The series continues on Friday with presentations relevant to farmers' markets. Saturday features a talk by Ableman, provocatively titled "Eating Locally: Can We Do It?"

Saturday's workshops offer information on getting started, finding land, attracting customers, developing processing facilities and a Food Film Festival. Cool, hot, naked and natural are adjectives that come to mind. Sunday gets down to the brass tacks: money and livelihoods, and then to afternoon sessions on reclaiming or preserving local farmlands.

Karen Ellis, director of our local Capital City Market, describes Ableman's book as "stories of hope that will benefit local communities." Her enthusiasm about the broader range of benefits to communities, such as the economic implications of locally produced and processed foods, makes a listener even more eager for the re-opening in mid-April. Burns suggested the concept of something like organic TV dinners once local production and processing facilities can meet anticipated demand.

In the absorbing 2001 book, Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan describes standard operating procedures of potato farmers in eastern Idaho. A conversation with a local cattleman about his cows' diet of turf grass clippings—frequently sprayed for all sorts of extant and anticipated scourges—makes organic beef a must. Prescribed treatment regimens for home orchardists are expensive, time consuming and often toxic.

Knowledgeable and committed growers manage, with luck and a loyal patronage, to develop earth-friendly preventives, provide a healthful and valuable service and keep ever-more threatened farmland off the developers' table. How very fortunate we are that some devoted local angel will soon bring spinach to the farmers' market that is free of evil critters.

For information on Reclaiming Our Local Food and Farms: the 2006 Rural Roots Annual Conference and Farmers' Market Workshop, call Karen Ellis at 345-9287 or 761-5928, Janie Burns at 466-4806 or go to www.ruralroots.com.

Questions? Comment? E-mail food@boiseweekly.com.

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