|Photo ©Douglas Elbinger 2010|
Debbie: Oran, please tell us a little about yourself.
Oran: Growing up in Berkeley, CA in the 1960’s gave me a very interesting early perspective on the possibility for change and transformation that has been a foundation for me all my life. I spent my early college years at UC Santa Cruz where I worked with the renowned visionary, Allan Chadwick, one of the first people to bring biodynamic farming practices to the U.S. Together with Chadwick and a cohort of devoted students, I helped to plant extensive gardens and orchards on the UC campus that has evolved into the Center for Agro-Ecology and Sustainable Food Systems that today sponsors one of the most sophisticated agricultural apprenticeship programs in the country.
This experience helped me come to an early understanding that my purpose in life was to protect the earth that nurtures us and to ensure that future generations can have access to fresh, healthy and sustainably grown food. This led me to enter UC Davis, where I received my BS in plant science. Being one who loves to get my hands in the dirt, I started my career as an organic farmer, establishing one of the first sprout businesses in America in 1973. I grew the business enough to sell it to pay for graduate school at University of Minnesota, where I earned my PhD in agronomy/plant genetics and business administration.
After teaching in the Crop and Soil Sciences department at Michigan State University in East Lansing, I co-led the Integrated Farming Systems and Food and Society Programs for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, during which time the Foundation seeded the local food systems movement with over $200 million. Along the way, I played a role in establishing the Michigan Food Policy Council and the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Group. In 2008, building on 30 years in the sustainable agriculture and food systems field, I founded Fair Food Network (FFN), a national non-profit organization working at the intersection of food systems, sustainability and social equity to guarantee access to healthy, fresh and sustainably grown food, especially in underserved communities.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to use my passion, education, and commitment to help grow the fair food movement in this state and throughout the country and bring attention to the need of millions of people who are unable to access the nourishing, healthy food they need on a daily basis.
I currently live with my wife, Lucinda Kurtz, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and thoroughly enjoy the Ann Arbor good food community that is vital and strong and creative. I have a garden right outside my kitchen door where I grow the most delicious and largest greens I have ever seen in the state of Michigan. Come over and try them.
Debbie: Sounds delicious! Please tell us all about your book.
Oran: In recent years, a number of best-selling authors have documented in gruesome detail the dangers of our current food system, but they have either left readers feeling completely hopeless and paralyzed or limited their advice to “eat local,” “eat organic”, or “grow a garden.” This advice is not helpful if, as Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush once pointed out, you can buy ketchup where you live, but no fresh tomatoes. Just as you can’t impact the course of climate change by simply switching to CFL bulbs, you can’t fix the broken food system by simply growing a backyard garden. It requires redesigning our entire food system.
My book, FAIR FOOD: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, is what I call a toolbook (like a toolbox): in it I aim to provide an inspiring guide to changing not only what we put in our individual refrigerators and on our own plates, but how our food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed and sold. In Part I, I briefly introduce our current food system, how and why it evolved as it did, and the ways in which it no longer serves us well. Part II describes four key principles a redesigned food system should embody (equity, diversity, ecological integrity, and economic viability) and offers examples of how various individuals and organizations have started to integrate these principles into their enterprises, providing inspiring new models for producers and consumers, businesses and communities. Part III offers a practical guide to how you can participate in collective action to precipitate big changes in our food system, from your kitchen to your community to your state house and the White House.
With my book I hope to move individuals from being conscious consumers to engaged citizens, ensuring that healthy, sustainably-raised food is accessible and affordable to everyone. Want to be inspired? The final chapter of the book is a list of fair food “solutionaries” beyond those mentioned throughout the book. Want to get involved? This chapter has evolved into the Fair Food List (http://www.fairfoodnetwork.org/). We encourage organizations already involved in the fair food movement to submit an entry. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum between conscious consumer and engaged citizen, there will be at least one organization on the list that can use your time, talent, and resources to grow the good!
Debbie: A wonderful list and an empowering, important book! Other books or projects on the horizon?
Oran: We are excited about the paperback version of the book becoming available in June of 2012 – we have updated a lot of the statistics and parts that talk about the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization in Congress. Numerous universities, colleges, and even an elementary school have picked the book up for use as a text – we expect that the availability of a paperback will grow that number significantly – and based on the requests of the reading groups that have contacted us, we’re including a discussion guide.
As I continue to give book talks around the country, we at FFN continue to implement and gather data about innovative projects (www.fairfoodnetwork.org/what-we-do) and replicable models that grow a fairer food system – all this with an eye to having an effect on the Farm Bill discussions that will be taking place this year. Foremost among our projects is Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB): we encourage low-income shoppers to use their federal food assistance benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) at participating farmers’ markets, where we double their money up to $20 for Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables. In this way we support both small and mid-size farmers and those who most need access to fresh produce.
Debbie: Great program! Upcoming appearances?
Oran: I just gave talks about Fair Food at Emory University in Atlanta on February 2 and at Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL on February 6. I will be in New Orleans on March 18, Los Angeles, March 22, and Jacksonville, FL on April 20. You can keep up with the book events on our website (http://www.fairfoodbook.org/).
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?
Oran: In Ann Arbor, my favorite bookstore, beyond a doubt, is Crazy Wisdom. It does what I believe a good community bookstore has the potential to do – bring the community together with many stimulating programs and opportunities for discussion and enlightening conversation. In Lansing, I like Schuler’s Bookstore, and in Traverse City, I frequent Horizon Bookstore that has a great selection of Michigan authors.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Oran: I love the Leelanau Peninsula. We have a little home on the lake in Omena and sail our Pearson 27 from the Suttons Bay Marina. I love sailing around the Grand Traverse Bay over to Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs. The bicycle ride from Omena over the rolling hills and through the cherry orchards of Northern Michigan to Leland on the other side of the peninsula is truly a spectacular way of spending a warm Michigan summer day.
Debbie: Such a beautiful part of the state! Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Oran: We just love summer in Michigan, with all the many music, art, and food festivals, particularly the Ann Arbor Arts Festival, which always comes at the absolute hottest week of the summer. But then in the winter, we always look forward to the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Oran: I think of some extraordinary leaders and creative folks in the Michigan food movement like Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig who created Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Dan Carmody, Executive Director of Detroit’s Eastern Market, and Jackie Victor, who created the successful Avalon Bakery in inner city Detroit. I am also a potter and love meeting and chatting with other Ann Arbor-area artists and craftspeople. We have so many hidden gems of talent in Michigan!
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Oran: Northern Michigan is an undiscovered paradise of undisturbed coast-line and fresh, clear blue, clean water. I’m always amazed at the pristine beauty of the northern part of our state and stand at the lake’s edge every summer and compare it to the blue waters of the Caribbean, just a bit colder.
Michigan is a wonderful place to live and work. The people of Michigan are down to earth, good people with healthy values of respect and consideration. I especially enjoy living in Ann Arbor, with its exciting intellectual stimulation and the wide variety of arts and cultural activity it attracts.
Debbie: Finally, last question: Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?
Oran: I’m definitely a Michigander.
Debbie: We'll add you to the Michigander tally! Oran, thank you so very much for being here today!
To learn more about Dr. Hesterman's book, Fair Food, stop by the book's site, and then head over to the Fair Food Network site, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.