Thursday, February 5, 2009

The project: a bikeable feast

"Sustainability" is such a buzz word these days that I wonder if we've forgotten what it really means. Is it possible to produce and consume in a way that not only doesn't diminish the planet but actually improves it? From what I am learning in my research so far: yes, but we're going to need to change our whole way of thinking about food and how it fits into our lives. The good news is that even small choices help: buying seasonal produce when you can, seeking out local growers, asking questions about where your food comes from, composting, growing things in your yard or on your windowsill, cooking more. I have done these things, but I need more.

I want to learn about sustainable agriculture, as much as I possibly can. In my mind, this means continuing to read up on the history and present state of sustainable farms, visiting -- and working at -- a variety of farms and community gardens in a range of settings, getting my hands back into the earth, listening to as many people as are willing to share their knowledge and experience with me, their views on why they have chosen the path of sustainable agriculture, their successes, what challenges and bottlenecks are preventing more widespread access to local, sustainable food.

I have read about some of the issues and possible solutions in Pollan's writings, in Kingsolver, in Schlosser, but I want to know more. I want to see more and do more, learn more and help more. My plan is to begin more intensive research in my home town, our nation's capital -- reading, meeting with people who have devoted their energy to addressing these issues, visiting farms and community gardens in the general vicinity -- and start writing about it. Meanwhile, at 31, I suspect it's time to really learn to ride a bike. (There you have it: true confession.) I've been a patron of public transit most of my life, and DC has one of the finest systems in the country. But to truly embrace a lifestyle that allows me to live lightly on the land, and because I fundamentally believe in so many aspects of the bike-friendly life, and, finally, because my choice to leave my most recent job to do this full time has left me with a good deal of time and energy but no source of income, I have chosen to learn to ride a bicycle... and to ride it around the country as my primary means of transportation. (I am accepting all manner of tips on biking and finding good, used bikes and equipment, to be sure. This is, perhaps prematurely, assuming that my readership extends beyond my parents who have told me all they know about bikes. "Wear a helmet." Thanks, mom.)

In about three months, I plan to hop on my bike and head north, following the growing season in a giant loop around the country, stopping to learn and work at farms and community gardens along the way, cooking for whomever will let me into their kitchens. I imagine this will take about a year, maybe longer. I hope that by learning from and listening to others who are equally passionate and more knowledgeable in matters of local, sustainable agriculture, I, in my small way, can help to tell some of their stories and be a part of the growing consciousness about how the choices we make about the food we grow and buy and prepare for ourselves and those we love matter.

Change is coming. I've seen it in the eyes of the millions surrounding me during the frostbitten Inauguration Day ceremonies downtown. I've heard it in the voices of the people I have been talking with about my project during these first few weeks, who have kept me in their thoughts as they go about their days, stumbling across and passing along great ideas and contacts, and starting to make small changes themselves. This journey is about learning from each other, sharing what we know, taking the time to listen and to consider how our choices about food affect not only our bodies but our communities and our world. It's about celebrating the at once simple and complex joy of food and the company of good people.

And so, mom and dad, I know you're anxious. There is a lot to work out -- including learning to ride a bike without crashing, which I'm working on -- but this is a labor of love. Food is too important to me to take a more passive approach. Dream big, right? I'm not exactly sure where this will take me, but I have a feeling I will enjoy the ride. I hope you do, too.


  1. Beautifully written and a beautiful plan! I am with you all the way. Ride like the wind Ibti! Oh to be free as a bird on a bike for a year and learn about life as it should be.

  2. Hey - Marc Atwood here. Pam forwarded me a link to your blog. I am passionate about this subject as well; I commend your commitment to the cause and appreciate the fact you're planning this journey. I just wanted to let you know that if your route takes you through the Charlotte, NC, region, I have a good relationship with several local small farmers and the president of the Charlotte Slow Food chapter. I can put you in touch with farmers or other folks who may be able to put you to work or help you in other ways. You can get my e-mail from Pam to get in touch. Charlotte has a great (and growing) local food scene thanks to the efforts of many area farmers and restaurateurs. Take care, Marc.

  3. Ibti, I love it.
    You are combining two of my favorite things, biking and food.
    Is the title of your blog an homage to Hemmingway?

    Happy trails to you!

  4. Wow, this is very cool and inspiring. I am looking forward to hearing about what you learn and eventually buying a copy of the book that will no doubt come out of this. Will your travels take you as far as the Pacific Northwest? I don't know a ton, but could at least take you to one of the many great farmers' markets where you can meet some local farmers. Good luck!

    -Brian Till

  5. Hi Brian! Yes, I do hope to make it to the greater Seattle area. I'd love to check out some local markets with you, perhaps even visit a farm or two. I'm aiming to get there some time in September. We'll see how the biking goes. And the inevitable interesting distractions along the way.

    Hi Marc, I got in touch with Pam and hope I sent a message to the right e mail.... Looking forward to learning more about the local food scene in Charlotte, for sure. And I'm becoming enamored with the Slow Food movement the more I learn. That will no doubt be a blog post in the near future....

    Sheffy, come join me for part of the trip!

    And Andrea, thank you for your help and encouragement. Not riding like the wind quite yet -- more like riding into a storm door at the moment, but I'll get there. ;)

  6. Good luck to you, Ibti! When you get to Seattle, please give us a call. Meghan has our phone #. You must visit Pike Place Market in Seattle when you get out here.

    Meghan's Mom

  7. Best of luck on your journey! If you aren't already familiar with Kim O'Donnel you should connect with her: She drove across the country last year whilst moving from DC to Seattle and stopped at little farmer's markets etc along the way - has been writing about food w/ an eye to eco-friendly choices for a long time and knows a lot of people around the country.

  8. you might also want to connect with the guys who did "king corn" - I think one of them started a sustainable food co-op or something...but I bet they'd have good tips re: how to approach your project (including fundraising) & people to meet along the way.

  9. Ibti,
    glad to have met you today at Tazza D'Oro, reading about your plans for this bike tour sound incredible. I'm assuming you've started or are starting soon? Either way, good to meet you and best of luck.

    The bike blog that might be helpful is as follows:

    Also if you make it to Grand Rapids, Michigan the farm I worked at is called Trillium Haven.
    Michael and Anja would be glad to feed you I'm sure, just tell them I said so.

  10. look up Nelson Lebo (aka Ned Lebo) who self-published his book The Two Wheeled Cowboy (about riding cross country) about 12 years ago, and is now in new zealand, studying and teaching DIY farming, sustainable food lifestyles, etc...

  11. Woman,

    I came across a letter to the editors while reading YES! By the way, it is an interesting magazine. Anyhow, there is a couple that is about to start a similar a journey from Long Beach

  12. nice to have made your aquaintence in dubuque iowa / person to contact when in san diego regarding organic certification is edmond throckmorton who works at QAI / email: - best wishes for the journey / be safe / sherry

  13. Hi, Ibti, How Exciting! My friend Saundra posted on FB that you will be stopping by her place at some point soon. My family and I are up in Humboldt County and if you already haven't "farmed out" a place to stay while on your way up to Seattle, Arcata, in Humboldt County, about 5 hours north of San Francisco, is a place NOT to be missed. Last week we just visited with Tule Farm owners and they have something especially exciting going on...Although I can't completely speak for them, as science-minded/engineer types, Sean and Shail, a young couple with twins, have begun embarking on grass-fed only meat and as of last week imported several Kune Kune pigs from New Zealand. Kune Kune pigs eat strictly grass-only, and are the only pigs in the world to do so. Apparently they are the only farm in the western hemisphere to host these pigs, also. As pre-vegan and vegetarians, they are of the belief, especially in our grassy Humboldt County, that their farm practices are the lightest for the earth, and for themselves, enabling the balance of protein in their diet, with the added fatty acids that are in grass-fed protein. Their animals are beautiful, and they have chosen mostly exotic breeds that thrive well in our cool, moist climate and free-graze solely on pasture grasses (aside from their chickens that are fed some protein by using local organ meat and grains ground by hand). They have thoroughly researched this conscientious and alternate style of farming. Saundra can put you in contact while you are in LA. Bike safe and Best Wishes, Lesa Myers


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