Heather Neikirk

As fast as autumn leaves blow to the ground and are swept away by a strong westerly wind, so has passed the month of October.

November has crept silently upon our doorsteps dawning drooping jack-o’-lanterns and bundles of frayed cornstalks. The holidays will soon arrive and my two children are beginning that delightful task of assembling their wish lists.

It is at this time that I “fall back” (and yes, my pun is intended to remind you of this annual cyclic event of the expiration of daylight saving time taking place this very weekend) into the comforts of our farmhouse and re-engage in reading for thought, reflection and education. And I don’t just mean the weekend paper, I mean everything from seed catalogues, to gardening magazines, to a new farm-to-table book, journal articles, and research, and grant opportunities. It also means I need to begin working on next year’s program.

So, I invite you to grab a cup of your favorite local hot beverage, a prized blanket (mine is a fleece Ohio State afghan, of course) and “fall back” in your favorite corner to enjoy the final rays of sun streaming through that picture window. While you are there, reconsider how you think about food, gardening, eating and the like. Here are some reflections to get you started.

Food references

It never ceases to amaze me the sheer volume of information available to read, especially that which connects us to our food system and to the production of food.

Consider, who grows food, a farmer or a gardener? Is it more commonly a man, woman, youth or a family? What is a food consumer? Is a food consumer an eater? For our purpose, ponder the roles each of these profiles contributes to getting your food from soil to spoon.

Visualize how, and why they are important to your food system and their impact or influence on your choice to garden, become more acquainted with your food provider or determine the practices that you elect to model when growing a portion of your own food.

How does an understanding of these common roles associated with food production direct your food system values?

Recently, I read an article in the Huffington Post by Forrest Pritchard. It featured a “reflection” of sorts on an upcoming event hosted by the New York Times titled Food for Tomorrow. The event was designed to explore food production in the 21st century with a who’s who of food stars, prize journalists, top chefs and accomplished foodies convening a national dialogue on agriculture.

While an update to this article has since been published, Pritchard originally called on event organizers to answer how all this conversation about agriculture and food could take place, yet the published speakers list included not one professional from agriculture; not one farmer or gardener.

My point to each of you is exactly that: Be sure when you are reading, reflecting, learning, and educating about food systems that you include at your reference table the key players in a basic food system.

Reading and learning does not necessarily constitute agreement, but to become empowered as an eater you must seek insight from all angles — develop your reference table or library to guide you to become an informed gardener and eater.

If you’d like to read the article in its entirety, it can be found at http://huff.to/1wGBPHw.

Food literacy

National Food Day was observed Oct. 24 and seemed a fitting introduction to the work being done in and around community, local and regional food systems.

The event celebrates and honors food and inspires change in our food choices and policies.

Understanding the story behind your food (how it got from the farm or garden where it was produced to your table) or being food literate empowers you to make informed choices with regard to your food, health, community, family and environment.

Ask yourself these questions: Who planted it? How was it cared for and harvested? What type of seed did it come from? How far did it travel? Was it grown with chemicals?

A simple first step and my challenge to you is to take the Food Day Food Literacy Quiz at http://www.foodday.org/food_literacy_quiz. Good luck.

When you are finished, you can print or download a copy of the questions and explanations of the answers for further consideration.

Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension Educator in agriculture and natural resources for Ohio State University and state co-leader for the extension’s local foods signature program. If you have questions about local foods, food production, or food gardening, contact her at 330-830-7700, ext. 116, or neikirk.2@osu.edu.