Earlier this year saw the release of Farmer Jane, East Bay author Temra Costa's take on female farmers and the role they play in the emerging food movement. That book was followed by Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks, and Food Activists by Katherine Leiner, who crisscrossed the country to meet cheese mongers, mushroom foragers, and beekeepers, and shares their stories and recipes in an anthology collection.
Tucker calls Chicago home, but folks may know San Franciscan Franceschini for her role in the city's Victory Gardens project. A member of the artist collaborative Future Farmers, Franceschini was approached by Chronicle to, well, chronicle a crucial time in the nascent alternative farming movement.
In the summer of 2009, Franceschini, Tucker and San Francisco-based photographer Anne Hamersky took separate road trips around the country, and logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours of face time with farmers. This book is the result, a portrait of 20 farms that gives readers a sense of the challenges faced by people pursuing an alternative food system to conventional Big Ag.
The guide, which takes a Q&A interview format, gives immediate voice to a diverse range of farmers and food activists.
Close to home we meet Willow Rosenthal and Barbar Finnin of Oakland's City Slicker Farms, an urban farm, backyard gardening, and farm stand project in one of Oakland's most food-challenged areas. Farm Together Now was completed before City Slicker received a massive $4 million dollars in state bond funds to expand their works, a poignant coda to their story, which documents the real hardship of making change in communities with scant funds.
Adelle Martin readies the lettuce for the City Slicker sliding scale market table where customers decide if they are a "Free Spirit," "Just Getting By," or a "SugarMama/Daddy" and pay accordingly.
Barbar Ann Christian harvests strawberries from a City Slicker Farms project.
Jamori Kelly (left) and Ja'mar Brown (right) pose with a City Slickers Farm delivery trike.
We also hear from the people who run Freewheelin' Farm in Santa Cruz, an organic fruit and vegetable producer focused on conservation measures. To that end, farmers Kirstin Yogg, Amy Courtney, and Darryl Wong deliver Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares by bicycle and trailer.
Farmer Darryl Wong of Freewheelin' Farm washes arugula.
Franceschini notes that while there's a growing band of young, modern agrarians in the U.S., there's also a massive collapse in small ag and the knowledge inherent in small-scale farming.
"My hope with this book is that people take away a sense of urgency and a willingness to support local farmers and get involved intimately with the producers of the food we eat," says the artist and designer. "I also hope the examples in the book reveal the true cost of food: social, material, and mental."
Pressed for a thumbnail sketch of sustainable ag, photog Hamersky adds:
"It runs the gamut from window box basil to chickens raised by urbanites on squatted land to biodynamic large-scale production farms that feed thousands of families." Why now? "We've latched on to this movement for many reasons: safer ecology, personal health, deeper community, simpler economy, and plain old deliciousness."
Hamersky feels that some of the most interesting stories in Farm Together Now come from folks whose families have been conventional farmers for generations who have now embraced sustainable methods of food production, lived and worked on both sides of the issue, and have a lot of wisdom to impart. These trailblazers, she notes, are often living in very conservative communities across the road from lifelong neighbors who don't easily trust new work methods.
City dwellers, she says, may be surprised at the sophisticated, progressive farm philosophies and business models created in the middle of "nowhere." Learn more from Franceschini and Hamersky at their upcoming book launch.
[Full disclosure: Hamersky is a professional colleague and long-time friend.]