Monday, August 3, 2009

A Call to Collaboration

I’ve often reflected about the convergence of sustainable agriculture, cooking, and pottery in my own life. But I’ve said little on the Garden Variety Philosopher about what it’s like to work in the nonprofit sector. When we work with communities in the nonprofit world, especially communities in trouble, our first step is to stop identifying needs and gaps and resource deficits and to start identifying assets, connections, networks of influence that can help achieve great things. We need to start looking at the nonprofit community itself, and DC in particular, in the same light – and start collaborating to make this a better city.

Here is a case study. Today, I find myself in the middle of four local DC communities that have so many growing opportunities to collaborate: local farms, artisans, restaurants, and nonprofits. Every day, new ties emerge.

We know we have common ground. Because of the work of pioneering organizations like DC Central Kitchen and Greyston Bakery, nonprofits are already working together with restaurants and catering companies to employ & train an underserved population as entry level culinary professionals. Volunteering at EcoFarm, I see that local farmers are working together to market their produce directly to restaurants throughout DC. On Sunday, the farmer’s market donates leftover perishable produce to the Capital Area Food Bank. Local pottery studios donate students’ seconds to soup kitchens to use as bowls. Local restaurants are beginning to support the broader base of local artisans as well as farmers: Restaurant Nora serves soup out of handmade pottery, and Andy Shallal of Busboys and Poets even attempted to put a potter at the wheel on display in his new restaurant Eatonville before that idea was squashed for food safety reasons. There are a whole bunch of innovative ideas swirling around in this space – how can we nurture this kind of cooperation?

We all know that our city’s best restaurants want to source local ingredients, display local art and support efforts to employ the underserved populations of our city. If we work together, this group of restaurants, farms, nonprofits and artisans can be the heart and soul of this city’s economy. As more and more farms, restaurants and nonprofits struggle to survive, and unemployment in our city surpasses 10%, I think our goal is more than clear.
I can imagine a city where it’s natural for restaurants to get not only their food from local farmers, but their plates from local artisans. Where culinary training involves a hands-on field trip to a local farm to learn about bio-intensive agriculture. Where farms not only market to restaurants, but get their volunteer power from local chefs wanting to learn more about the farm to table principle.

What else do you envision? And where should we start?

No comments:

Post a Comment