[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
Last spring, I taught a short 8-week seminar on “The Politics of Food”. I assigned the students books by Wendell Berry, Marion Nestle, and Eric Schlosser, and had them watch the wonderful rabble-rousing movie Food, Inc. They all produced fine and thoughtful research papers; they were a great bunch of students. But really, the focal point of the whole course was what I christened (in the hopes of making it a regular event) the “Friends University Local Food Tour, Spring 2011”–which consisted of us spending a day traveling to various sites in Hutchinson, Partridge, and Yoder, Kansas, as well as here in Wichita, visiting farms and a nice low-key slaughterhouse, and benefiting greatly from the hands-on knowledge of various homesteaders and nutritionists, including friends like Rachel Murphy and Paula Miller. But above all, we were blessed with the infectious enthusiasm and astonishing connections available through one Leroy Hershberger, Esquire. If this world is to learn anything about the day-to-day realities of adapting to–and rejoicing in–the resources that living and eating in a more limited, more localized–and therefore often healthier and tastier–environment may provide, then we need more men like Leroy.
Who is this fellow? Well, let this be an introduction:
I was introduced to Leroy through another friend, Jane Byrnes (a teacher, nutritionist, and political organizer who also shared her expertise with my students and I on our tour), and he’s never failed to surprise me–most particularly with how his expansive and cosmopolitan experiences have lead joyfully him back to living a life and tending to a vocation that some (not recognizing the work and intelligence which go into repairing farm machinery or running a dairy operation) might foolishly label “simple”. Or maybe not foolishly, just unknowingly–the people we visited with on that day a couple of months ago really were practicing, in so many ways, a more simple–more local, more sustainable, more immediate, more practical–way of life than is usually available for office-working residents of suburban and urban environments like myself. It’s just that such simplicity (as I’ve argued many times before) is anything but simple-minded.
Leroy was our guide and cheer-leader as we explored this local food economy nearby us (and we didn’t touch on a tenth of what we could have, especially since we had to pass, for scheduling reasons, on visiting some farmers Melissa and I have built real friendships with over the years), but the real lessons were provided by the many folks we visited with. There was John Miller and his family, who have built a business around growing hydroponic tomatoes; the Loyd Borntrager family, with their dairy and the large customer base they’ve developed of interested, health-conscious folk who travel a good distance for their non-pasteurized milk; Kate Cantfort and her partner, who were raising chickens and cattle on a rotating, environmentally minimum-impact basis on their farmland; and many more. Here’s a few photos, to give you a taste:
Yes, that’s Leroy on the left in the final picture: he brought the whole bunch of us to a delicious luncheon at his parents house. Here’s hoping I, and other students of mine, can have a similar opportunity again…and that, in one way or another, everyone else looking for a little more localism in their life can do the same.