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Localization of Food: Virginia Murphy

Virginia Murphy talks about the importance of locally grown food and how communities have grown food historically.
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Welcome back to this teach out on food sustainability. I’m here again with Virginia Murphy. In this segment, we’re going to talk about the localization movement of food and how things have been changing over the past couple of years. Thank you so much for joining us. You are welcome. Thank you for having me. Great. Well, let’s start by jumping into the local food movement. Can you tell us a little bit more about sustainable food systems and what that means to you, and how you interact with sustainable food systems here at UM. Sure. So, sustainable food systems to me means a collaboration between the farmer and the consumer and the community. I’ll break that down for you.
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What it really means is that a farmer has to be able to survive economically, and the consumer wants to buy nutritional food. So in any good relationship each party has to benefit from that relationship. Then within that whole paradigm of sustainability between the purchaser and the grower, that it moves into the community. That community enhanced socially by the interaction between the farmer and the consumer, trust develops when you talk to your farmer and you find out how they grew that particular food, and the benefits to the community are also greater because you’re buying local food.
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So, down the lines things like using an accountant who’s local, using a lawyer who’s local, enhances all the benefits to your community and that’s how I think of sustainable food. Wonderful. Can you tell me a little bit more about what drives you to teach others both in the classroom and here in the East Quad Farm. Sure. So, when I came here 12 years ago, I taught prior in Washington DC at American University. One day I was driving to work and there’s a man fishing from a bridge, not a remarkable site Potomac river’s large and there’s lots of bridges.
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But he was fishing on the same morning that I read an article on the Washington Post, that attributed female characteristics to male fish including laying eggs. I thought I’m sure that man hasn’t read the report, and I wanted to dedicate myself to learning as much as I could about what we put in our bodies and teaching my students that as well. So, when I came here to the University of Michigan, I began to search for a way to buy into a science based system that offered me more my degrees in literature, and so I turned to a writer named David Orr. Orr has an essay that I teach that is called What Is Education For.
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In the essay, Orr begins by saying today on planet Earth we lose a 116 square miles of rainforest, and between 25-450 species. No one knows if it’s 25 or 450. So, that’s a really provocative way to begin a class, and it allows my students to know that they need to think about the choices that they’re making in terms of food and local and sustainability. Can you tell me a little bit more about this blend between the garden you work in and actually the physical space as a classroom. Sure. We have instituted a couple of courses that corresponds to the garden and to the work that we do in the garden.
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We began the garden in 2013, and it’s an old courtyard actually a former student of the residential college told me she preferred it as a softball court. But nevertheless we have 13 stock tanks in there and we hire a summer intern to grow the food once it’s been planted. The food is planted by the course that we run which is called Corn in East Quad, where the students learn how to grow food, they learn how to pick their seeds, and then we take them to botanical gardens, to the U of M campus farm to propagate those seeds. Wonderful. So, let’s let’s take a little bit further and think about the local food movement.
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In history that we’ve had here in the United States, and thinking back up post-World War II was Victory Gardens. By 1943, we saw almost 20 million Americans engaging in Victory Gardens. Whether this was in their backyard, on roof tops, in communities which is a pretty amazing number to think about. So, what can you tell us about where we’ve gone from there and where we are with the local food movement in 2019. Its amazing to realize that between 1941 and 1943, as you said there’s 20,000 gardens being planted, 8 million tons of food, and that’s over 41 percent of the nation’s domestic output.
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I think continuing that tradition for me it seems to have fallen a lot on Alice Waters, and the edible schoolyard project that started in 1995. I think locally we’ve continued that project with CSA’s, where we pay the farmer in advance for growing the food. Locally we’ve got elementary and middle schools that have their own school gardens. We have farm dinners, we actually had a dinner at the farm two years ago, where we showcased all of the food that was grown on the campus farm. So, I think that people are excited, really excited to grow their own food and participate in the local food movement. Wonderful.
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So, thinking about the learners that are joining us from all over the world to think a little bit more about food sustainability, what’s one action that you would recommend to learners that they could take to really think about local foods sustainability and the local context? Go to a farmers market and buy some local food and talk to your farmer. Find out how that food was produced.
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If you’ve ever had a Michigan honey crisp apple, you know you don’t really need any other apple ever, and if you’re buying that apple the transportation from that tree or that farm to your hand in terms of carbon, is so much less than any other transportation, say from an apple on the West Coast that is picked and packed and waxed and then transported to you, and it’s a huge driver transportation is of global climate change. Absolutely, well thank you so much Virginia. Thank you for joining us. We look forward to continue the conversation in discussion forums, and we’ll see you in the next segment. Thank you.

In this conversation, Virginia and Benjamin discuss the World War II Victory Garden movement, where we saw nearly 20 million Americans start and care for their own household gardens. In this movement, neighbors pooled their resources, planted different kinds of foods and formed cooperatives, all in the name of patriotism. These efforts largely ended with the war, but recently, the notion of local food or community gardening, seems to be surging back into our collective understanding around food. In this segment we will talk about how we promote sustainable food systems through the local food movement and what this means in 2019.

Discussion: Where does your food come from? How do you know?

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