The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonderers. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map. This week’s blog is from Shabnam “Shub” Gideon, a local from-scratch food junkie with some seriously fresh thoughts. Read on for Shub’s recipe for growing Savannah’s craft food enterprises….
“Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power. As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces. But such a combination is not always in evidence.”
Alexis de Tocqueville
I left a job in web development three years ago to work in and around locally sourced and produced food, with turns as a baker, farmer’s market volunteer, meat and veggie peddler, and product developer. In doing so, through meeting farmers, value-added goods producers, ranchers, cafe and restaurant owners, butchers, baristas, retailers, and entrepreneurs; through attending markets, festivals and every farm-to-table joint I can find; and through good old point-of-sale chewing of the fat, I’ve come to realize my roots in and affinity for promoting local food and preserving the local harvest.
For me, it’s one part of a sort of holistic life approach: my theory is that if I take the time to prepare and curate what I put in, then hopefully what comes out will be a product of the same quality and intention. The more I nurture the land, community, and people around me, the more I’ll be nurtured by them. The more care I take with the food I put in my body and the people and processes that bring it to me, the better I can be a steward of the same. In the same way that mindfulness of physical nourishment and exercise beget physical health, so too I hope do mindfulness of social and spiritual nourishment beget community and personal health and wellness.
But back to more concrete matters: I’ve been tossing around the idea of starting my own food product label, and so I’ve read a lot of exciting U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia Department of Environmental Health documents. With topics like “The Microbiology of Thermally Processed and Acidified Foods,” “Container Closure Evaluation” and “Preventing Contamination by Consumers,” you can imagine how much extra sleep I’ve been getting.
As it turns out, I’m far from the only one curling up the latest edition of “Georgia Food Safety & Defense Task Force.” In fact, a surprising number Savannah residents are also attempting to navigate the gray areas of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and the Georgia Food Code, and what they’re finding is a convolution of restrictions and exemptions relevant to and somewhat prohibitive of the small craft food producer.
It’s difficult to summarize, but is evidenced by the existence of many area craft food start-ups that have been unable to secure the necessary facilities, funds and/or permits to allow their proprietors to give them the time and attention required for their success. It’s expensive to find a kitchen to rent, the regulations are prohibitive toward shared kitchen spaces especially if they’re used by both food service and food production enterprises, and the processes for certifying and labeling products are time- and resource-intensive for the part-time business owner. For these folks, it would certainly be easier to launch if they relocated to another state. But the exciting part is this: these are people who have an entrepreneurial dream, who have found a niche and are striving to enter it, and who would build their lives and livelihoods around their dreams. It’s beautiful, really.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not trying to bitch about how the man is holding us back. In fact, I’d rather take this time to back-burner the stodgy regulations for a second while we generate a little awareness and visioning: first, of the impact a cadre of craft food producers could have on our Savannah community, and second, of extending that vision beyond food, to any craft, niche or maker enterprise, in the interest of building a local economy, local wealth and goods production, and possibly even a community-based currency.
What if we could facilitate the launch of these craft food enterprises by creating a shared-time kitchen? Some local entrepreneurs are already working together to determine what it would take to create a facility with dual certification/approval from both the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Health. A single, fully-equipped food production facility would at its outset serve as an incubator, a place for the gestation and launch of food-related businesses.
Further to that, what if 10 new craft food businesses launched in Savannah in the next year? What if the chocolates, organic baby food, gluten-free brownies, jams and jellies, barbecue sauces, kombucha, peanut butter and other pantry items you shop for were made by someone who lived down the street? What if the tomatoes you bought from the farmers market were the same as the ones that made the ketchup you buy off the shelf?
Imagine if that same shared facility offered community space for cooking and food preservation classes. Or if it offered a family meal package that allowed you to come in and follow recipes to prepare a week’s worth of meals for your family. Or if you could stop by for lunch and give some business to the entrepreneur who’s building a food cart business (when those are finally allowed!).
By sharing the resources of space and facilities, by working together in a collaborative environment, by bringing like minds and forces together, we can build a confident and accessible model for the growth of local food businesses and spur what I think is a healthy return to a cooperative method of community and economy. We’ve seen the beginnings of non-food collectives in the area; what could it look like if we applied the facility sharing concept to other production models? What other ways can you share community resources and become a combined force with a common interest?
Maybe you set up an informal co-op with your neighbors to share tools and workshop space, and choose to interface over a table saw or a lawn mower and a beer rather than to stay at work longer and buy your own so you can use it alone. Maybe you arrange to share kitchen appliances among households or hold a swap instead of building new separate garages for unsightly piles of unused food processor attachments and spring-form pan rings. Maybe you start a time banking service for bartering local goods and services. Maybe you start a carpool or a supper club or a singing group or a clothing swap. Maybe your friend group puts together a party box that contains all the fixins you use at happy hour and which travels from home to home and becomes a little time capsule of your family of friends. Or maybe you just come out and volunteer at the farmers market and enjoy the goodwill and reminder of community that are inherent in the production and consumption of food, and then take those good vibes with you back to your home and family and friends.
What if each of us generated a little energy and love toward sharing, collaboration and community in Savannah, just for today?
I feel good about it already.
“Leap from the wounds of your fears, I said all I want is food and creative love”
-Rusted Root, 2002 Island Def Jam Music Group