What Does ‘Slow Food’ Mean?

ImageI am still riding high from my trip to Louisville a couple weeks ago for the Slow Food National Congress…but first I should start at the beginning and answer an obvious question: “what is Slow Food and what does it have common with the organic agriculture?” The Slow Food philosophy is based on the premise that everyone should have access to food that is good, clean and fair. By “good”, we mean that the food we eat should give us pleasure. It should awaken all of our senses and make us happy to be alive and to have friends and family to share such simple pleasures with. Invariably, food that is good comes from fresh ingredients picked at the peak of ripeness and prepared simply and skillfully. Good food will nourish our bodies and make us strong and healthy. By “clean”, we mean that the foods we eat should be produced in ways that do no harm to the environment or ourselves. It is possible to grow food that does not pollute air and water and degrade our soils. It is possible to grow food without the use of petroleum-based, energy intensive inputs that are not sustainable. It is possible to produce food without spraying pesticides that may harm beneficial insects and pollinators, as well as the farm workers that are applying them. It is possible to cultivate the land in a way that replenishes both the environment and ourselves. By “fair” we mean that good food needs to be accessible and affordable to all while also sustaining the livelihoods of the producers. Is it fair when healthy, high quality fruits and vegetables are more expensive than highly processed junk food that is made with ingredients subsidized by tax payers? Is it fair when migrant workers make substandard wages and work long hours and are not afforded the same basic rights as the people who they are toiling for? Currently, the organics movement is producing good and clean food, but is it fair? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t…how do we work towards a more equitable food system? How do we provide good, clean and fair food for all, not just the privileged and well-educated amongst us? These were some of the tough questions we attempted to answer at the Slow Food National Congress. Firstly, we had to recognize that we are largely amongst the fortunate that get to enjoy good, clean and fair food. Secondly, we identified the groups that don’t have the same access to this food: largely school children, elderly and the poor. We came up with some ideas of how to serve these groups better, but I am interested in what YOU think…can you come up with some ideas to make good and clean food fair?


What’s all the Buzz About?

Over the weekend I attended the UT Beemaster Program in Chattanooga. This course covered honey bee biology, physiology and behavioral basics. This course also covers how to get started beekeeping including the equipment, protective gear, hive components and the major diseases and pests of the honey bee. Additional interesting and helpful honey bee information is shared in this course to numerous to mention here. The leaders of the course were Dr. Skinner of UT Entomology and Plant Pathology Department and Mike Studer, TN State Apiarist. These two are colorful speakers who have worked together for so long they have many humorous and helpful bee stories which they happily share with the class during the two day course. Another great benefit of attending this course is the knowledge and ingenuity shared among the beekeepers in attendance. Hands-on equipment demonstrations and some time spent in the bee yard made for an overall great experience in bee education! If you have an interest in beekeeping and/or a general curiosity of bees I encourage you to check out the UT Beemaster Program. Additional information about the program and beekeeping can be found at the following site:


The value of honey bees includes not only their ability to produce that delicious wondrous substance known as honey but includes the pollination services they provide to agricultural crops, home gardens and wildlife habitat. Major crops that depend on honey bees for pollination include alfalfa seed, almond, apple, avocado, blueberry, cantaloupe, cherry, cranberry, cucurbits, kiwi fruit, pear, plum, sunflower, watermelon and many vegetable seeds. Needless to say our food supply would be jeopardized without the honey bee. With honey bee pollination crops have increased yields and quality that are valued at more than 14.6 billion dollars annually in the United States and over 119 million dollars annually in Tennessee. Many other insects provide pollination services but only the honey bee can be managed by beekeepers in the numbers needed to provide pollination services to farmers.

Dr. Skinner and the UT Entomology Department and UT Honey Bee Extension Program focus on supplying accurate research based information to beekeepers. At the UT Organic Farm our vegetable crops are pollination beneficiaries of managed honey bee colonies that are located on the farm as part of the on-going honey bee research conducted at UT. You can expect to see their delicious honey available at the UT Farmers Market next month, beginning on May 16th!

Worker Bees on a frame. Top right corner with light colored cappings are honey stores. Other open cells and darker capped cells hold eggs, larvae, pollen and nectar stores.
Dr. Skinner removing a frame from a brood box during the UT Beemaster hive inspection demonstration.

The Appalachian Regional Commission Conference: Growing the Appalachian Food Economy

Last week I traveled to Asheville, NC to attend this forum on local food systems and sustainable agriculture, focusing on the Appalachian region. The goal of this conference was to showcase opportunities, strategies and resources we can use in our communities to strengthen food assets and local economies.

One of the sessions I attended was on “Models of Innovation: Educational Institutions as Incubation Hubs and Centers for Sustainability”. The speakers were from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee AL; Western Piedmont Community College in Morgantown, TN; Walters State Community College in Morristown, TN;   and Alfred State College in Alfred, NY. The speakers talked about the potential for community colleges to facilitate agricultural education and highlighted real experiences from the school farms at these institutions. It was great to find out about these agriculture programs that I was previously unaware of in TN. I was particularly impressed by the program at Western Piedmont Community College, which features a track in both sustainable livestock management and sustainable crop production. It would be great to take a field trip to this student farm!

The other session I attended was entitled “Farm-to-School, Farm-to-College, Farm-to-Hospital: the Value of Institutional Buyers”.  This session featured Emily Jackson, the program director for the Farm-to-School program of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) and Bekki Leigh, Coordinator of the Office of Child Nutrition of the West Virgina Department of  Education. West Virgina is making big strides in the Farm-to-School movement. The keys to success identified include the hiring of a Farm-to-School Coordinator at the WV Dept of Edu, the integration of resources, many planning meetings with the key players (including farmers, school board members, school nutrition directors and the kitchen staff), skill share with chefs and the kitchen staff to facilitate from scratch cooking, and starting small with fresh fruits and vegetables. There are also monetary incentives from the state department of Ag to encourage schools to buy local foods–this would help both school nutrition and local growers! Side-by-side education includes school gardens, and teaching children how to prepare the food they grow. These are important factors in supporting healthy eating habits and combating childhood obesity. These lessons can be translated to establishing a successful Farm-to-School program here in Tennessee, too.

This conference was very inspiring and informative. We need to be creative in  promoting local foods in our region, and this involves building and maintaining relationships with each other to keep this local-foods momentum going. There is a lot of work to be done on this front,  but I continue to see things moving in the right direction and I’m glad to be a participant in this movement!



Early Spring

It’s warm out there. It was warm out there in February. When March came and there still hadn’t been a snowfall to speak of, nor many nights of sub freezing temperatures, people began to prepare for the worst. Talks of the blizzard of ’93, that presumptively followed an extremely mild winter, could be heard among the Knoxvillian locals eager to share their adventures. Needless to say, a quiet panic set in over the agricultural community and the plant enthusiast alike as our precious red beds and dogwoods started to get their baby blossoms and the daffodils raced to be out by Valentine’s day.  Would there be another snow of ’93? Would there be a cold snap that would kill the beautiful wonder of our East Tennessee springs?

But,  it looks like we’ve made it (although I’ve heard of another legendary spring snow here in East Tennessee that happened in the late 80’s, on April 4th, so maybe after tomorrow we’ve had officially made it). Spring is here and color and life are everywhere. It has been great, I will say, to have seemingly cheated old man winter, but are there other consequences we should brace ourselves for? Well for one, it’s jump started the growing season almost a month early. Some of my CSA friends will start their shares this week rather than mid to late april and the summer crops they have already started in the greenhouse  are being transplanted into larger containers because of their growth rate. Our cool season crops are still doing great out at the UT Market Farm but if it gets much warmer than 80 we may have some problems.

And then there’s the allergies. Oh the wonders of living in the valley, where everything blooming in the eastern portion of the United States finds it’s way to our quaint community here in Knoxville. In fact, studies have found that plant pollination has increased 27 days between 1995-2009. Explanations suggest this is due to the increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere which plants need to live. With more CO2 there is more plant pollen production, and with more plant pollen production we find our vehicles painted a new, lively yellow in the mornings, and also way more sneezing. It’s also been hypothesized that the warmer spring will also bring slightly more severe thunderstorms than a typical spring. Yesterday, during our intern meeting, we watched as a flash storm moved across the area. We all remembered last April, about this time, when we had record sized hail and winds that felled trees and destroyed crops. Spring is wonderful, but spring can be scary.

But I suppose that’s enough rambling about the weather. Despite our anxiety about the temperature and the heartbreak of early bee swarms, the warmer weather has been a treat. This week we hope to get our potato’s in the ground, we just need a three day span of dry weather and we’ll be set to plant.

Don’t forget about our farm tour on April 26th!

See you all,