COME ONE, come all, come hungry.
The fourth annual Food Day Festival will once again occupy Daffin Park this Sunday, Nov. 2, and there will be plenty of healthy, sustainably-sourced snackage to be had:
From coconut-oil popcorn to Hunter Cattle Company’s grass-fed burgers to a pop-up Forsyth Farmers Market selling organic veggies picked fresh from the field, vendors will proffer as much finger-licking variety as a county fair—minus the carcinogenic trans fats.
Come to think of it, the whole scene resembles an enlightened carnival: Colorful booths line the park’s oak-lined corridor. Folks enjoy hours of tunes from local musicians. Kids play in bouncy houses as far as the eye can see.
And then there’s the mind-blowing attractions: Over 15,000 people are expected to turn out for free workshops on everything from basic gardening to beekeeping to building your own rain barrel.
“There’s over 20 different classes going on throughout the day this year, plus all the organizations giving away information,” says Food Day organizer and Well FED magazine publisher Rene Teran.
“There’s no way you can leave without at least a dozen possible entries on ways to improve your health.”
But this is more than whiling away a free afternoon of good eating and enjoyable education. Part of a national celebration spearheaded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Savannah’s local event is one of hundreds that take place around the country every fall to raise awareness of just how vital healthy, sustainably-produced food is to the environment, the economy and our communities.
Statistics prove that the problems caused by America’s dependence on commercial agribusiness and processed food products can no longer be dismissed as fringe concerns: Factory farming uses 80 percent of the U.S.’s freshwater resources, and run-off from its synthetic fertilizers in the Midwest has caused a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Connecticut. Medical care relating to obesity costs America $150 billion dollars a year, and since obesity in children has tripled since 1980, that price tag will only get higher without dramatic intervention.
Food Day isn’t just about getting people to eat better food; it’s also about getting the food to them in the first place. While farmers markets and overall sales of organic foods have increased in the past five years, 23.5 million Americans live more than a mile a way from a grocery store. In urban areas, low-income neighborhoods where convenience stores are only source of sustenance are known as “food deserts,” and residents—most of them African-American and Latino—are at far greater risk for diet-related illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease.
Part of the challenge of promoting local, organic food is overcoming the notion that it’s only for the wealthy. The effort to equalize food access regardless of race, gender and economic status—as well as support those who work in the farming, food production and restaurant industries—has become known as the food justice movement, and it’s rallying cry is “Good Food For All.”
The Savannah food justice movement has been busy this year. The Forsyth Farmers Market has made great strides in reaching low-income citizens by offering double dollars on SNAP cards. FFM and the West Broad YMCA will soon launch mobile markets to bring fresh produce, dairy and meats to the city’s poorer neighborhoods. The non-profit Savannah Urban Garden Alliance (SUGA) helps plant and maintain organic gardens that provide vegetables year round.
“Our vision is to address the local inequality issues around food access and provide healthy, affordable food options to low-income families,” explains Teran, who is also the executive director of SUGA and sits on the board of the Savannah-Chatham Food Policy Council.
He consciously markets Food Day to churches and public schools so that the event will reflect Savannah’s true racial and economic population.
“I consider our biggest achievement the diversity of the crowd.”
The goal of the Savannah-Chatham Food Policy Council is an extension of Food Day itself: To connect local farmers and organic vendors with conscious consumers and affordably distribute their goods. Studies are underway to determine what it would take to create a food hub that would help farmers deliver more easily to grocery stores, restaurants and even local schools. A community kitchen where entrepreneurs could manufacture small-batch foodstuffs is also being explored.
“The idea is to grow the local food system to its potential,” explains Whitney Shephard, the civil engineer and community planner heading up the policy’s Food System Needs Assessment.
“We’re examining all of these aspects so we can pursue real strategies.”
Shepherd and her husband, Joshua Yates, are avid supporters of local food justice. Their restaurant, Green Truck Pub, has been serving farmers market produce and meat from Hunter Cattle Co. “from day one,” providing a shining example of how high ideals and economic prosperity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. (By the way, those Green Truck burgers repeatedly win Connect’s Best of Savannah awards.)
Shephard believes the restaurant’s popularity (just try and get a table on a Saturday night!) shows that people want to support an even more robust local food economy.
“We want the success of Green Truck to feed into something bigger,” affirms Shephard, whose food policy council study will be released in early 2015.
“Savannah is so ripe for coming together on this.”
The council will have a presence at Sunday’s Food Day Festival, along with dozens of other organizations working to level some of Savannah’s socioeconomic imbalances through the most basic of human needs. Opportunities to get involved abound, though simply showing up to enjoy the sunshine with fifteen thousand of your neighbors also helps the cause.
To Teran, it doesn’t matter why you come, just that you do.
“Come listen to music, let the kids play, eat some delicious local food,” he enjoins.
“If you’re interested, there’s plenty to feed your mind, too.”