OPINION: Food, glorious food

Opinion crane

“Food glorious food!  We’re anxious to try it.  Three banquets a day—-Our favorite diet!” lyrics from the musical Oliver, re-telling the Dickens’ tale of orphan Oliver Twist.
I have been to a few thousand dinner parties in my life, this one was inspiring. Decatur’s Dinner Party 2016 was a true feast of farm-to-table locally grown food and produce. The event was the single annual fundraiser for Global Growers Network.   

Our entire menu was grown and cultivated by local farmers within seven miles of the event site, in private and community gardens. The event was held in the historic Decatur Cemetery, which at 58 acres is the city’s largest green space. Chefs from 14 of Decatur’s most popular and well-known restaurants contributed by cooking and preparing dishes that evening. And I’ll say that again, on a busy fall football Saturday night, these chefs left their own restaurant kitchens where many are the owner/proprietor and donated their culinary expertise, recipes and talents to this cause. 

Bill Bolling, retired founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, served as honorary chair of the host committee and welcomed the sold out crowd on nearly 200. As Bolling always does, he set the tone for the night by reminding everyone of the transformative power of food, ending real hunger and the bounty that lies easily within our reach if we simply maximize use of our existing resources.  

So what is Global Growers Network, one may ask? As one type of news coverage attempts to raise fear, potential hate and cause our region to question the practice of welcoming political and human suffering refugees. Positive news is coming from parts of unincorporated DeKalb which have become the temporary home for hundreds of families, and thousands of oppressed people from some of the world’s most impoverished and war- torn areas. These folks from Africa, the Sudan and yes, Syria; the communities of Clarkston, Stone Mountain know how to do one thing incredibly well—grow food on the tiniest, most seemingly imperfect scrap of land or hillside.   

There is no debating that produce raised locally, if possible organically, and consumed at its freshest is the best nutrition one can consume. The question is how can we produce more, and still get it to market, given the current distribution systems in place, built around a very different model. We dined on vegetables, pates and dishes I had never heard of. Each course was more delicious than the one prior. The food service began at 8:00 p.m. with courses, desserts and wonderful wine pairings still arriving at 10 p.m. It was a wonderful night for Uber and Lyft in downtown Decatur.

 Silent and live auction proceeds complimented the ticket sales of seats at $150.00. The gate and fundraising total was in the thousands, but the potential for this type of local farming is almost exponential. Drive along North DeKalb Mall’s (Market Square) side entrance off of Scott Boulevard and you will see a small plot of less than an acre which is feeding several hundred families as well as quite a few of their local farmer’s market and restaurant customers.

 The small non-profit’s staff and committed board are all passionate, eager and committed to raising funds and raising crops, in almost any place they can. Hats off to Global Growers Network Executive Director Robin Chanin, Development and Communications Director Desiree Fowler and Farmer Manager In Chief Todd Eittreim jobs well done on all fronts. A young board of directors, chaired by Jeb Hughes along with fellow board members Susan Pavlin, Hilary King and my host, Will Sellers, all see and share the organization’s potential benefits to better community health and wealth.

 Ideas discussed which could easily take root included taking any of the many county-owned tax sale parcels—awaiting title clean-up and auction—converting them, at least for a planting season or two, into productive farm crop land as has already occurred with hundreds of acres in downtown Detroit. 

Most of our feast was produced on a handful of acres, within a few miles of the Decatur square by six featured farmers from places such as Burma, Bhutan and Burundi, with surnames we southern Anglo’s might have difficulty pronouncing. If six can feed 200, just do the math on what 200 Global Growers could do? 

Every coin has at least two sides. Instead of seeing a potential terrorist, I see a farmer with a spade and a pitchfork, or a plowshare. In Scottdale, where we call home, some of these folks are also our neighbors. 
Dig in.
Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, Champion Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com.


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