OPIRG, Alumn: "Eat This, Oberland"
Eat This Oberlin!, hosted by OPIRG, brought together Brad Masi, OC ’93, of the New Agrarian Center and a visiting instructor of environmental studies at Oberlin, with Matt Kleinhenz, a horticulturalist at Ohio State University, in events focused on the necessity of local foods investment and development.
Though seven billion dollars is spent in northeast Ohio — a region notorious for harsh and long winters — for the provision of food, a vast majority of it goes to importing produce into the region as opposed to the development of agricultural centers already in place. Both presenters cited innovative methods for maintaining the viability of such centers in the off season. One such method discussed by Kleinhenz is the installation of high tunnel greenhouses, which would serve to combat the natural effects of winter weather on crop production.
Kleinhenz advocated Oberlin’s need to “stay at the forefront of sustainable techniques,” for season extension would serve to aid both the farmers and their customers.
He reminded the audience that food is more important than its nutritional value, saying, “What food you eat is a statement about what you believe.” He continued, noting that food should be considered in terms of its socio-political and personal impact as well as a source of nutrition.
Both presenters urged the audience to work to reduce the distance between where food is produced and where it is consumed. The idea is that the result of the collapse in distance would increasingly ensure the economic and nutritional value of our food.
Groups such as OHIO PROUD, Nature’s Flavors and Our Ohio all promote locally-grown organic produce and were established with the intent of providing their customers with a resource for purchasing a healthier alternative. The push to transition from conventional production to organic is emblematic of a transition toward a more environmentally sustainable world.
Masi focused his lecture on the accomplishments of his organization, City Fresh, which provides the residents of Cleveland with a source of local organic produce. Citing the effect of a phenomenon known as “food deserts,” where in inner-city communities are losing their local markets due to a struggling economy, he argued that prescience demands a shift backwards in time in regard to our relationship with food.
Historically, economics has been a limiting factor for the popularity of local foods. “We have to make price an issue that doesn’t dissuade from interaction in local foods,” said Kleinhenz. Masi echoed this point, saying, “We will not be able to go forward if we don’t recognize that food is money.”
To increase access to organic foods, the City Fresh program establishes open-air markets in inner-city communities; the markets receive their produce from local farms, including Oberlin College’s George Jones Farm. They realize that these markets are not only combating the issue of food deserts, but that they are also reestablishing a sense of community and increasing the nutritional value of their consumers’ diets.
The program establishes neighborhood gardens in the place of barren lots. The relatively new technique calls for the reclamation of unused space by building sustainable ecological environments directly atop asphalt. The success of this program has inspired new interest in local organic produce among people who are usually separated from the means of production.
Locally, Masi has worked extensively in the development of George Jones Farm and in the establishment of a community garden in the area. Mount Zion Church in Oberlin reclaimed vacant space with the aid of the farm. This new community garden has provided the parishioners with an outlet for both community building and interest in organic production and environmental sustainability.