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One of our long time course organizers, Nancy King Smith, has been busy mobilizing community dialogues around food and sustainability in the Cleveland, Ohio area with a  working group that emerged out of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit. Nancy not only serves on the board for Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (one of NWEI’s 30 partner organizations), but also is actively starting courses in the metro Cleveland area via an initiative inspired by NWEI organizers in Port Townsend, Washington. The Lakewood Observer just posted this article with details:

The Menu for the Future project is involving Lakewood residents in learning about and discussing the issues affecting their daily food choices. The expected outcome is to create more literate consumers, which in turn will drive sales of local, healthy food. The program is based on a six-week course developed by the Northwest Earth Institute that involves selected readings and self-facilitated discussion. It is part of the Local Food Celebration Year for Sustainable Cleveland 2019.

In September of 2011, a working group came together at the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit and set a goal to get as many groups as possible to use the Menu for the Future course within their faith community, organization, business or neighborhood during 2012. About a dozen pilot groups, with a farmer or food producer in each one, are meeting in February and March, and plans are in motion to scale up during the remainder of the year.

The course, designed for groups of eight to twelve participants, is based on a source book of readings that includes directions for self-facilitation by the groups for guided conversation about our food systems. The course has been successfully used in Port Townsend, WA, where they ran 25 simultaneous courses with a farmer or food producer in each course (most groups were ten to fifteen people). It changed the nature of the conversation about food in the town and established relationships between producers and consumers that have been of economic as well as personal benefit…

Currently groups are meeting in a variety of settings and geographic areas: River’s Edge, Carnegie West Library, the Galleria, the Catholic Diocese Headquarters, Preterm, Gates Mills Library, Unitarian Universalist churches in Shaker Heights, Akron and Kent, and a Hudson Ecumenical group. The pilot groups and interested conveners will hold a celebration potluck at the Galleria on April 19th. Additional groups will launch in April and May, including a group at the Lakewood Public Library. Anyone interested in convening a group (no special expertise needed) or joining a group should contact or call 216-264-0181.


In celebration of the first day of Spring, we are delighted to feature the photography of Kallia Milillo, a 21 year old student photographer who is a seasonal guest blogger for NWEI.  To learn more about Kallia’s work, visit her website here. Thank you Kallia for sharing this Spring image with NWEI!

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs… We must be hatched or go bad.” -C. S. Lewis


NWEI Curriculum Director Lacy Cagle just passed along this article from NPR, which states that every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs, versus the three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus. All the more reason to get behind the local, sustainable food movement! For the full article by Allison Aubrey, click here.

“When we think of the farmers we know, we can count a lot of locally-produced food we’ve reported on, from unusual greens to pawpaws.

And when the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, what do they count? Jobs.

“Every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs,” USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan said in a conference call with reporters. This compares to three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus.

To tout the growth of the local food movement, USDA has launched a slick, new, multimedia website that includes videos, photos and a map showcasing all the USDA-supported projects (think: loans and grants). Many are aimed at helping communities coordinate the sale of locally grown fresh food products from small and mid-scale family farms. Another goal is to support regional food hubs.

By positioning the initiative as a “jobs-creator,” Merrigan may be hoping to assuage detractors on Capitol Hill who have criticized Know Your Farmer as a program for the foodie elite that promotes organic and niche farming over conventional, larger scale operations.

“In the name of promoting local food systems, [USDA] appears to be prioritizing Rural Development grant and loan programs for locavore projects in urban areas, apparently at the expense of rural communities,” complained Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and John McCain (R-AZ) in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2010, after the program was created. The lawmakers point out that the vast majority of the nation’s food supply comes from these conventional, large-scale operations.

In an early version of the 2012 Appropriations bill, lawmakers in the House moved to de-fund marketing of the Know Your Farmer initiative. Even though there were similar concerns in the Senate, ultimately the program kept its funding. But USDA was told to give a status update. That’s part of what USDA accomplishes with this new, web-based Compass.

Even so, local food advocates are concerned the program could be cut out of the farm bill, set to expire this year.

The goal of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, according to USDA, is in part to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s us! What do you think, do small scale farms deserve financial support, a piece of the federal pie? Is the local food movement in your community changing the way you eat or shop?

Late last month citizens throughout Oregon and Washington’s Columbia River Gorge area began participating in a series of Menu for the Future discussion groups as part of the “Let’s Talk Food” initiative, hosted by the Gorge Grown Food Network, a citizens’ and farmers’ initiative working to build a regional food system in the rural Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon and Washington.

The Mosier, Oregon group of Gorge Grown kicked off an ambitious project this winter: they’d like to help set the record for the largest number of food discussion groups running at the same time. Groups began convening the week of February 20th and are now in full swing, with groups running from Goldendale to Parkdale, Oregon.

Using the Menu for the Future discussion course books, the groups are exploring the confusing number of food choices and contradicting information around health, fair trade, industrial agriculture, organics, family farms, sustainable food systems, GMOs and more. At the end of the courses, the Mosier group will be hosting a community potluck with all participants from all of the individual groups.

If you are in the Gorge and would like to be involved in the future, contact Emily Reed at 503.360.3532 or learn more at the Gorge Grown Food Network’s website.

This week we are excited to share a guest blog post by Richard Kyte, Director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Thanks to Richard for his musings here on the importance of conservation and preservation of our wild places.

The answer generally given by those most involved in the conservationist movement is that we owe it to future generations.  This answer is repeated in defense of setting aside fragile ecosystems, designating roadless areas, granting conservation easements, protecting the river bluffs, and establishing stricter zoning codes in counties.     

But defending conservation practices in this way is problematic.  It presupposes that developing policies for wise land use is a contest between the preferences of future generations and the needs of the present.  It raises the question of why the interests of certain groups of people, such as hunters, anglers, trappers, hikers, and birdwatchers, should have precedence over the interests of home owners, automobile drivers, golfers, and bottled water consumers.

In fact, the debate in this country over land use has become emblematic of American democracy: a struggle between competing special interest groups to influence common laws and policies through elections. 

But this is not the only way to frame the debate.             

In Reflections from the North Country, Sigurd Olson, the conservationist and author principally responsible for the preservation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, takes up the question of why we should care about wild places.  He cites people like Paul Sears: “Conservation is a point of view involved with the whole concept of freedom, dignity, and the American spirit.”

And this from Harvey Broome, one the founders of the Wilderness Society: “Without wilderness, we will eventually lose the capacity to understand America. . . . If we lose wilderness, we lose forever the knowledge of what the world was and what it might, with understanding and loving husbandry, yet become.”

For Olson, like many of his contemporaries, the outdoors wasn’t just a place for recreation; it was essential to the development of moral character.  And therefore the defense of conservation was not a defense of the special interests of a certain group of Americans; it was a defense of America itself. 

That is why Sterling North could say, “Every time you see a dust cloud, a muddy stream, a field scarred by erosions, or a channel choked with silt, you are witnessing the passing of American democracy.”

 Preserving open spaces, ensuring clean air and water, protecting wildlife and maintaining the diversity of species for the benefit of future generations was, to be sure, important to the early conservationists. 

But they also regarded shortsighted development and exploitation of resources to be self-destructive and foolish, a sign not only of disregard for our children and grand-children, but a symptom of disorder in our present lives.  They worried that if such disorder became pervasive in society, it could destroy American culture, leading to a nation characterized by pettiness, greed, and incivility.

Even a brief time spent in a natural setting allows one to experience the vital importance of things that can be appreciated but not possessed.  It provides for the realization of an order of value that is not created or manipulated by society, but is eternally present.  Without such experiences, life becomes a contest limited by the economy of the marketplace, of buying, selling, and trading—none of which are bad things, unless they are mistaken for the goal rather than the means. 

Without natural places, we have no way of getting outside of the humanly constructed environment to gain perspective on our lives. 

Olson himself put it best: “The conservation of waters, forests, mountains, and wildlife are far more than saving terrain.  It is the conservation of the human spirit which is the goal.”

That’s a goal worthy of America’s best effort.

*This article was first published in the La Crosse Tribune, 2011.

Last month, a Menu for the Future group in Reston, Virginia started blogging about their experiences and findings while participating in Menu’s six sessions of discussion and action. They kicked off their new blog, which offers “thoughts on how food impacts our earth, our communities and ourselves” with this post, entitled What’s Eating America (after the first session title of Menu for the Future):

“It’s confusing knowing what to eat these days…

In her article, Organic, Local and Everything Else: Finding Your Way Through the Modern Food Fray, Zoe Bradbury captures the guilt of purchasing a pineapple (it’s not local), and the consumer quandry about eggs:

Do you take home the certified organic, cage-free dozen

from California, or the non-organic but vegetarian-fed eggs from the family farm in nearby Willamette Valley? Do you spring for the Omega-3 eggs at a dollar more a dozen, or wait for your next trip to the Feed & Seed, where you can buy 9-year-old Nathan’s mismatched rainbow of

uncleaned eggs packed into re-used cartons? Not to mention large or extra large, Grade A or Grade AA. Is the notion that brown eggs are healthier real, or is the difference from their white counterparts only shell-deep?

(If only we had 9-year-old Nathan in Reston!) But for those trying to make informed decisions about food, it doesn’t stop with eggs.

Is organic milk from Walmart better than conventional milk from a mom & pop store?

What’s better, organic or local?  Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Michael Pollan talk organic vs. local here.

In the end, Zoe concludes:

What I’ve started to wonder amidst all the ferment about local and organic is this: Why turn it into a boxing match? Why the reductionist, either/or mentality? Why not local and organic, and while we’re at it, grass fed, family scale, socially just, economically viable, carbon neutral, humane, culturally vibrant, community based, and ecologically renewing?

And that sounds great. But how can we make it happen? What changes need to take place?

And is it any wonder we’re baffled when it comes to buying food in America?”

Thanks to this group for taking their musings to the blogosphere and for sharing this information with others! You can read other posts on their blog here.

We are excited to share the news that Portland Roasting and Portland Global Initiatives will be hosting the Walk for Water to build water wells in Africa. World Water Day, on March 22, is recognized by the United Nations to focus attention on the growing water crisis. Portlanders inspired to do something about the growing water crisis are invited to participate in the fourth annual Walk for Water on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry along the banks of the Willamette River.

For a $20 donation to Portland Global Initiatives, Walk for Water participants will simulate what it is like to gather water for much of the world by walking a 3-mile course (the average distance traveled in sub-Saharan Africa to obtain water) alongside the Willamette River. A 5k run is also incorporated into the event this year.

Sponsored by Portland Roasting Coffee Company, and with help from Portland State University’s Capstone course on Marketing Non-Profit Organizations, the 2012 Walk for Water will raise funds to benefit a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean water to families in sub-Saharan Africa. Walker registration fees, combined with local sponsor donations, will go toward the goal of raising $14,000 needed to build a water pump in Rwanda.

“Approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, and each year, more than 2.2 million people in developing countries die from preventable diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene,” said Mark Stell, managing partner of Portland Roasting. “Walk for Water will enable us to provide East Africa with easily accessed and safe drinking water.”

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