Film focuses on importance of local produce

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 7, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS ó Farming used to be the backbone of this nation.
If the crowd that turned out to sample local produce and see a free screening of the documentary ěFreshî at the Gem Theatre on Thursday is any indication, it may be once more.
The Cabarrus Health Alliance, the Cabarrus Food Policy Council and Piedmont Farmers Market co-sponsored the event.
Visitors got to taste free, fresh food from local farmers and businesses.
Felicia Pritchett, culinary instructor at Hickory Ridge High School, worked with graduate and sous chef Grant Baker and others to prepare and serve samples of couscous and fresh greens with a strawberry vinaigrette.
Pritchett said that aside from good experience for students like Baker ó who starts classes at Johnson & Wales University this fall ó the event will hopefully make people begin to take more interest in what they eat.
The dishes got excellent reviews.
ěThis is very good,î said Jodi Gee, of Kannapolis, on tasting the dish. ěEverything Iíve tried so far has been really good.î
But the real point was to get people to think about how their food is grown.
About 150 people watched ěFresh.î The film by Ana Sofia Joanes tells the story of farmers who’ve seen agriculture transformed into an industry where farms are more like factories.
Instead of healthier food, inexpensive and highly-processed foods result in pollution, obesity and inadequate resources.
The farmers profiled in ěFreshî show alternatives: locally-grown, high-quality fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy.
Victoria Manning, of Cabarrus Health Alliance, organizer of the event, said the event had created a buzz, and not just because of the free food.
ěThere are three key reasons weíre doing this, health, the economy and the environment,î Manning said.
The film speaks to all three groups. Even someone who isnít health-conscious can appreciate the economic impact of buying and growing locally.
A fact sheet distributed at the screening notes that North Carolinians spend $35 billion a year on food.
Changing buying habits to spend even 10 percent more of that in our state and in the local community could have a major impact.
After the screening, five panelists took questions from an energized audience, ready to learn more about everything from making their own compost to where to buy organic milk.
David Goforth, agriculture extension agent with Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension, was the go-to guy for many questions.
He encouraged them to use the resources provided by the county and start growing food in their own backyards, or at community gardens.
Responding to comments from one audience member concerned about genetically-modified foods, Aaron Newton of the Cabarrus County Food Policy Council said the point wasnít to scare people into eating better.
ěFear is only a short-term motivation,î Newton said.
Instead, he said it was better to focus on the benefits of eating better.
Pritchett was asked by a young audience member about how she was working to reduce obesity in young people.
She said that programs such as vegetable and fruit tastings can help show young people what theyíre missing when they donít eat enough fresh foods.
Donald Anthony, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Concord, talked about programs to help young people be more active, such as Club Strongheart, designed to help combat obesity through education and activity.
Chad VonCannon, owner of Creekside Farms and vice chairman of the Food Policy Council, said that governments could help by cutting out unnecessary regulations.
One example: the federal law that he said requires a machine costing upwards of $100,000 to seal milk jugs.
Under current law, he said, a person wearing a food-grade rubber glove canít put the cap on a milk jug so the milk can be sold.
That law, he said, keeps small dairies from being able to compete locally.
Also, VonCannon said, ěthatís the issue with getting fresh local foods into the schools.î
He said elected officials often ask how the government can help encourage and support local farmers.
ěWe need them to get out of the way,î VonCannon said.
After the event, audience member Natalie Watson said she was enthusiastic about getting involved and learning more about farming on a small scale.
ěItís something you can feel good about eating,î she said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editorís desk at 704-797-4244.