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Issues Of The Environment: Slow Food Farming In Washtenaw County - Challenges And Rewards

Jul 10, 2019

Kim Bayer
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

Washtenaw County is home to the only organic, U-pick farm in the state.  Kim Bayer is the owner of Slow Farm in Ann Arbor and serves as Slow Food Governor for the state of Michigan.  In this week's 'Issues of the Environment, she shares her personal passion for organic farming and discusses why the Slow Food movement is vital to our health and our future. 


Overview

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, since the advent of industrialized agriculture, over 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost.  Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.  Agrobiodiversity is important for protecting our food supply against threats like disease, pests, or natural disasters that could wipe out the main species we rely on for food.
  • According to MSU, 1% of Michigan farms produce organic products, but the market for organic products is growing at about 20% a year.  The USDA reports that the demand for organic products exceeds the supply.  The benefits of organic farming are many including maintaining quality soil, less harm to the natural environment, and crops that do not contain chemical residues.
  • Farming is challenging, and organic farms do not use any chemical or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.  Instead of chemical fertilizers, organic farms plant cover crops that enrich the soil and use natural compost.  (Slow Farm uses vermiculture compost that they produce.)  Organic farmers focus of pest control rather than elimination, working to attract beneficial insects like bees and spiders while keeping plants as healthy as possible so that they are less susceptible to disease.
  • Slow Farm is a certified organic farm, which is unique among U-pick farms (It is the only one in Washtenaw County).  They have approximately 20 acres under cultivation and grow about 100 different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  The farm also grows a vast variety of tomatoes and squashes which are considered endangered food varieties by the Ark of Taste.
  • The International Ark of Taste organization maintains a catalogue of endangered foods, with more than 3,500 food items on the current list.  There are also Ark of Taste regional groups, Midwest Ark of Taste in our region, that maintain a list of unique foods that are well adapted to our particular climate and culture.
  • The Slow Food movement works to “strengthen our region’s food system, build community food security, and preserve our culinary heritage.” They promote growing varieties of food that are well adapted to the local ecosystem, and they use events and outreach to connect the community to local farms, such as the Local Food Summit and Central Michigan Seed Swap.
  • Kim, owner of Slow Farm and also the Slow Food Governor for Michigan, says the main challenge for her farm has been weeds. This year several types of thistles have plagued the Slow Farm.  Weeds are mowed, pulled, and dug out, but organic farms also expect a tolerable level of weeds to remain.
  • Kim thinks of herself a “returning generation” farmer, and champion for slow food and organic farming in Michigan.  She can be found running the farm stand on Whitmore Lake Road in Ann Arbor all summer long.  She says the stigma around forced farm labor is a barrier for entry to farming for some people, perhaps people of color in particular.  Organic farms are not on an even playing field. She also sites the increasingly high cost of farmland and the disproportionate costs for organic farmers due to certification costs and no farm subsidies for organic farmers.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu