I know I've gushed about a lot of things on this site, from inspired farmers to innovative food education programs to stellar meals. Guilty. But this evening I had the opportunity to check out one of the coolest things I have ever seen run by one of the most driven people I have ever met....
[Photo borrowed from the Farm to Family website; I was too distracted to snap one while I was there.]
A number of months -- whoah, almost a year -- ago, a friend forwarded me a BBC news piece on a couple who'd gutted an old school bus and started a movable farmers' market in Richmond, VA, in an attempt to bring fresh, healthy food into historically underserved areas. I was intrigued, but was still making my way around the country and made a mental note to look into this when I made my way back home. Then a few months ago I heard about the project again, this time in People Magazine. Yes, this was a group to look into, I thought to myself. I should call them. Then two weeks ago I was hired to help start up the DC area's first mobile food market. Or perhaps its second one, I learned, as a week ago I stumbled across an announcement that this same pair, Mark and Suzi Lilly, would be coming up to DC to offer a winter CSA! I almost fell out of my chair. (It's true.) I was beside myself with excitement. Actually, I kind of still am.
Farm to Family's model is fueled by an unwavering conviction that people -- all people, regardless of race, class, geographic location, on which side they prefer to crack their eggs, etc. -- deserve access to fresh, healthy, delicious food. It's this determination that's kept Mark (a natural entrepreneur and food activist) going in the midst of ongoing criticism and antagonism in the very communities he's devoted the past two years trying to help. He and Suzi push onward, seeking existing and potential markets to build a sustainable food system for farmers and consumers alike, recently looking to our not so far away (by bus... not by bicycle) nation's capital. What they're doing is very much in line with the work we're hoping to do at Arcadia, but rather than competing with each other, I hope that my own project -- the mobile fresh food market -- will complement the novel CSA and crucial outreach and food education work the Lillys have been at for a couple of years now.
There is a clear social justice component to the Lillys' work. During our phone chat yesterday, Mark was explicit: EVERYONE deserves access to good food, but the less wealthy aren't simply being given a handout. It's not a charity, it's a business, and everyone involved needs to be able to support himself or herself, whether it's the farmer, the eater, or Mark himself. The food, while not cheap, is accessible. (The 2 turnips and 3 sweet potatoes I purchased to incorporate into Sunday's Slow Food DC potluck offering ran me nearly $5. If I weren't taking those to the potluck, that'd be the better part of two meals for me, maybe over the last of my Cajun Grain brown jasmine rice. Okay, fine, add another dollar for the rice. Two tasty, organic meals for $6! Or one meal for me and a lucky friend. For $6! Now that's a happy meal.) Unlike some of the farmers' markets and most of the CSA options in the District -- at least as far as I can tell -- Farm to Family accepts EBT (food stamp) credit. And though I didn't find it mentioned anywhere on the website, Mark confided that for every ten CSA shares sold, one share is donated to a family in need. (Aha! So he is a bit of a softie deep down.) This is exactly the sort of operation we need more of, and I can only hope I have the opportunity to pick Mark's brain again in coming weeks. He's an incredible resource.
After a rather lengthy chat with Mark by phone yesterday afternoon, he suggested that I stop by for the maiden voyage of The Farm Bus to its CSA drop-off point near the National Cathedral. So Ollie and I made our way across town amid rush hour traffic.... After less than 5 minutes on the decorative, welcoming old school bus decked out with Christmas lights and a beautiful handpainted mural, I was smitten. I want one of these. Not exactly like this -- I can't imagine navigating a full-sized bus through some of the tiny, cobbled-and-potholed side streets east of The River -- but something similar. It's a sight to behold, and a wonder to experience. A movable feast for the culinary imagination.
If you'd like to support Virginia farms and this amazing local food project, bring yourself on by the Maret School parking lot in Northwest DC on Groundhog's Day for the next CSA pickup. It seems there are a few remaining (pro-rated) shares offering a range of options from just produce to ones including dairy, eggs, seafood, pastured meats, and local tofu. Or buy any combination of items a la carte. As the sign along the side of the bus says, "Get on the bus, Gus!"