If I roamed the earth 12,000 years ago, I'm sure I'd be less hunter and more gatherer.
First off, I’m nearsighted as hell. If my family had to depend on my aim to eat, we’d all starve.Plus, it’s far less stressful to pluck berries than to chase down a mastodon.
My inner troglodyte often manifests as a primal urge to forage the urban jungle. Dandelions from the front yard find their way into salads. Grapefruits pilfered from a neighbor’s tree are nibbled surreptitiously while walking the dog.
Come late spring, you may spot a hungry lemur disguised as a 40-something year-old woman snatching loquats off the median at Abercorn and Victory.
It’s not just the call of the wild: We’ve managed to cultivate some fairly productive raised beds over the years, and in the summertime can source at least a few meals exclusively from our “backyarden,” sometimes supplemented by fish caught by my own personal caveman.
Another benefit of having a garden to glean is that when I’m feeling lazy, I can excavate a package of chicken apple sausage from the freezer, cook it up with a few chard leaves that survived the frost and call it dinner.
My daughter has deemed this perfectly delicious but admittedly ubiquitous meal “The Everyday.”
“The Everyday AGAIN?” she frowns as she busts in after soccer practice, famished as a saber-toothed tiger.
I tell her that Paleolithic children would be delighted to have such a fine pile of nutrition to eat.
“Then send mine to Paleolithica,” she grumbles as she pushes forkfuls around her plate.
Kid kvetching aside, everyday accessibility to fresh vegetables isn’t such a prehistoric notion: It turns out that a diet rich in produce grown close to home is the best possible thing for our bodies and our environment.
Though modern conveniences can bring more food to more people, nutritional and ecological impact studies have shown that embalming food with preservatives, packaging it in pretty-colored plastic and trucking it across continents is not necessarily progress.
No one knows this better than Teri Schell. As one of founders of the Forsyth Farmers Market, her aim is to get the sustainably-grown food from nearby farms into your reusable shopping bags.
Since 2009, the Saturday market has flourished not only as a culinary exchange but as a leveler of socioeconomic justice, where chefs from fancy restaurants like Alligator Soul and 22 Square comingle with home cooks coming from the nearest bus stop.
Still, convincing people to eat local has its challenges.
“We’re trying to make it attractive to shoppers who can afford it, make it accessible to those who can’t, and help the farmers make their money—all in four hours on a Saturday,” sighs Teri. “It’s a delicate balance.”
Poor Teri—she absolutely hates attention, but her name constantly pops up as Savannah’s egalitarian food guru. She helped create the Savannah Chatham Food Policy Council, and she’s an obsessive grant writer who persuaded the national organics non-profit Wholesome Wave to put up double dollars for those using EBT cards at the market.
“It’s not all me doing this stuff,” she protests. “We had a thousand volunteer hours logged last year at the market.”
Whether she likes it or not, more recognition came a few weeks back at the Georgia Organics Conference on Jekyll Island, where she was honored with the Barbara Petit Pollinator Award for her efforts in spreading the good food gospel to the community.
“She quietly and doggedly keeps all these pieces moving because of her passion for equality, and lucky for folks ... she uses her love of food as the framework for change,” says Sentient Bean owner and fellow good food conspiracist Kristin Russell.
Raised hardscrabble on a farm in Alabama, Teri is deeply rooted in the revolutionary idea that good food is not just for the privileged—it’s for everyone.
“I ate so well as a poor kid in Birmingham,” she recalls. “Then my dad started making money and my mom was all, ‘yay, packaged food!’ Very soon after, I developed stomach problems.”
It wasn’t until she landed a gig at a health food store in her 20s that she made the connection between her gut issues and the need for leafy greens. An epiphany about the far-reaching positive effects of sustainable farming on society soon followed.She later did a stint at the People’s Intergalactic Food Conspiracy in North Carolina (which has since switched to the much less imaginative moniker The Durham Food Co-op) and operated a short-lived organic food store on Tybee in 2000.
At the Georgia Organics conference, rumors reportedly spread like compost-fed wax beans that Savannah is “about to blow up” as the next national local food “it” spot.Teri’s devotion to the cause has certainly fueled the momentum, though she rolls her eyes at the suggestion.
A spate of new locavore restaurants and the coming of celebrity chef Hugh Acheson will surely mean increased demand from local farmers, but Teri remains wary, recognizing the difference between being a “foodie nexus” and a community where food justice is served.
“There are a lot of underpinnings to why there isn’t better health in these communities,” she says, referring to the high diabetes and obesity rates among Savannah’s poorer citizens.
Accessibility and education is key, and Teri and others are studying models for a distribution hub that will help get organic produce to more wholesalers.
She’s also excited about FFM’s Gulfstream-funded mobile market, Farm Truck 912, coming to a neighborhood near you later this spring.
Where does this lady find the time for all this while tending to her own garden and family?
“I actually don’t cook,” she grins sheepishly, admitting she leaves most of the kitchen work to her husband, teacher and fellow food activist, Christopher.
The momentum of Savannah’s good food movement may be gaining speed, but asTeri reminds, that means it needs more support than ever.
No worries, I say! Let’s just write a grant to plant a ready-to-glean urban foraging spot like the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, WA, a public paradise of fruit orchards, edible ground cover and shared garden plots.
We can grow Savannah’s local food justice community until we convince everyone to emulate our primal ancestors’ eating habits.
Until then, I’m happy to share my secret loquat spots.
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