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Library series kicks off with discussion of local food

Emmett Snead knew from the time he was 11 years old that he wanted to be a farmer.

Becky and Lawrence Latane harvest peppers at Blenheim Organic Gardens in Westmoreland County.

So he spent his younger years going door-to-door on a bicycle selling produce in Fredericksburg, drove to 60 supermarkets and about a dozen different farmers markets on a regular basis through the 1980s and ‘90s and eventually got to where he is today, a situation where he says he doesn’t have to leave his Caroline County farm to sell his produce.

Lawrence Latane spent 22 years in the newspaper business before his family roots in farming called him home. He and his wife, Becky, have been able to build a business for certified organic produce at their Blenheim Organic Gardens farm in Westmoreland County. That’s in part, he says, because he started in the business at a time when farming is considered “cool,” and people have a growing interest in where their food comes from and how it is produced.

“People are thirsty to learn about what farmers do,” Latane said. “They really seem to be eager to make connections with farmers.”

Snead and Latane were part of a panel of members of the local food community who spoke last night at the Salem Church branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. The event was the formal kickoff of “Cultivating Community,” an eight-month series the library is putting on to provide a forum for people to discuss and learn about local food, sustainable food production, home gardening and related topics.

The backbone of the series is a community reading of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which documents her family’s efforts to eat only food they or their neighbors had grown for one year while living in the mountains of Virginia.

A full schedule of events for the series can be found online at librarypoint.org/cultivate.

On April 28, the Porter Branch will open a community garden that volunteers will tend, and whose produce will be donated to SERVE. Library staff will open booths at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania farmers’ markets May through August, offering childrens’ activities and cookbooks for checkout.

A film series in May at the England Run branch, workshops on gardening, edible wild foods and other topics will round out the series, which culminates in October with a “Big Read” discussion of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” led by local author Steve Watkins at the downtown library.

Last night, panel members kept coming back to a point that was the whole reason the library organized this series to begin with: More and more people want to know where their food comes from, and want to take a more active role in producing it, or in knowing the people who do.

Both Snead and Latane’s farms distribute their produce in part through community supported agriculture, or CSA programs. In these programs, families pay up-front for a “share” in the farm’s produce for the year.

They pick up weekly boxes of seasonal goods at an assigned place and time throughout the growing season.

Snead said many families bring their kids and a picnic with them to his farm for the Wednesday pickups, which begin in May.

Wendy Stone and Elizabeth Borst, who are involved in managing farmers markets in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County, respectively, both have seen interest in the markets grow.

Spotsylvania will open a new Wednesday-afternoon market this year at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, and Fredericksburg is working to establish expanded markets on Wednesdays and some Tuesdays during the growing season.

Both markets have partnered, along with the King George farmers market, to offer market access to SNAP food assistance benefits recipients, and have even found grant money to allow SNAP customers to double their money, up to $10 a week, at the markets.

All of this local produce shopping requires consumers to be more aware of what items are in season in their area when. That’s a major topic of Kingsolver’s book, and it’s something that’s new information for many folks.

“The vast majority of people today do not know that asparagus does not grow in December,” Snead said, because the early spring delicacy can now be found in grocery stores year-round – though it’s flavor in the off months is questionable.

Audience members were interested in how tough market managers are about policing the local origins of produce sold there.

Borst said it’s the hardest part about market management, and though she and others make farm visits to try to ensure vendors are obeying Spotsylvania’s rule that everything sold must be grown within a 100-mile radius, it’s hard to catch everything.

Stone said Fredericksburg has become tougher in recent years, but the city does allow for some flexibility. Because many market visitors want to be able to get a wider selection of goods at the market, Fredericksburg requires 75 percent of what is sold to be grown or made within a 75-mile radius of the city. The remaining 25 percent can come from anywhere in the United States, but it must be labeled.

“It’s a balancing act,” Stone said.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/frontburner/2012/03/30/1676/