Tacoma Farmer places 2nd in White House Farmer Nominations

The site http://www.whitehousefarmer.com/ was launched in November 2008 as a forum to follow up on Michael Pollan’s call for a White House Farmer. Pollan suggested the farmer be charged with transforming “five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant[ing] in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden” whose produce will be used by the White House Chef, and given to area food banks.

Nominations were open for much of November, December and January, and polling was open from Jan. 21-31, 2009.  Nearly 56,000 votes were cast from around the country in just those ten days.

When the polling was over on January 31, the top three candidates were:

1. Claire Strader, Troy Community Farm, Madison, WI
2. Carrie Anne Little, Mother Earth Farm, Puyallup, WA
3. Margaret Lloyd, Home Farming, Davis, CA

Carrie Anne Little is a local farmer from the Tacoma/Puyallup area.


About Carrie Little (from her nomination)


“In 1993, Carrie became a volunteer at the newly formed Guadalupe Gardens urban community garden project. It was the goal of this group to provide fresh vegetables free of charge to homeless and low-income people in Tacoma, Washington by turning empty space in the economically depressed central area of that city into organic gardens. By the end of that first season, Carrie had become “the farmer in charge” and by 1996, the project had grown from one lot to nine lots providing significant produce not only to low-income individuals but also to the community’s largest food pantry (St. Leo’s Food Connection) and largest soup kitchen (The Hospitality Kitchen). By 1999, the fledgling Guadalupe Gardens had become a significant project of the Pierce County Washington State University Cooperative Extension Program.


In 1999, the Emergency Food Network (EFN) was offered the opportunity to create a “food bank farm” on eight-acres of prime farmland in the Puyallup Valley. As fresh produce is difficult for food banks to secure on a regular basis and farmland in the Puyallup Valley is disappearing at an alarming rate, the board of directors gave us permission to pursue the project.


I immediately sought out Carrie Little and offered her the daunting task of turning the formerly leased “high production”, pesticide riddled acreage into an organic farm. Carrie, having conquered the task of developing scattered urban organic gardens, accepted my offer of rebuilding soil and producing food that would go directly into the community’s emergency food system.


While not certified, Mother Earth Farm uses no non-organic materials of any kind in the production of fruits and vegetables. Since full acreage use began in 2004 – after four years of rebuilding the soil quadrant by quadrant – the farm has produced more than 150,000 pounds each year. All of this food has gone into food pantries and soup kitchens in Pierce County on the day of harvest (please see website: www.efoodnet.org and click on Mother Earth Farm page).


But, it’s not just about the food.


It was Carrie’s idea to provide customers of local food pantries with an annual survey to determine crops. Based on the results of the surveys and growing capabilities in the northwest, Carrie plans crops for the upcoming year. I have taken Black Russian tomatoes to a local food pantry and watched a woman from Russia seeking help at the pantry break down in tears at seeing the tomatoes for the first time since she left Russia.


It was Carrie’s efforts that developed a model program for the Washington State Department of Corrections through bringing crews of female inmates from the Purdy Correctional Center for Women to plant, weed and harvest crops on a regular basis. The success of this program as led to the development of a curriculum through the University of Santa Cruz Organic Farming program that will provide successful crew members with a certificate in organic farming from the University. It was also Carrie who was responsible for developing a flower garden at Mother Earth Farm that was tended by a Girl Scout Troop in which every girl had her mother incarcerated at Purdy. While the mothers and daughters were not allowed to be at the farm at the same time, each could watch in the development of the labors of the other. The Girl Scouts delivered all of the flowers to seniors in housing centers, by the way.


It was Carrie’s idea to link local school district classes with voluntarism at the farm and to tie that work into the curriculum of those classes. One middle school student, when interviewed while weeding at Mother Earth Farm, was asked by The News Tribune columnist, Kathleen Merryman, how he felt about working on the farm. He responded by saying: “ I do things for my family when they tell me to, but this is different. It makes me feel good to do something for somebody I don’t even know. It makes me feel like I am not just taking up space.”


More than 1,400 individuals volunteer annually at the farm. For many, it is there first introduction to the emergency food existing in the community. Carrie Little personifies the well-known Mother Theresa statement: “This work is not about perfection. This work is about persistence.”


I believe Carrie Little should be the first White House Farmer because:


She will set the highest standard from the beginning
She will foster the belief growing food strengthens not only the body, but the soul
She embodies the belief that eating is a right not a privilege
She is a skilled teacher, a cheerleader and has the experience and understanding to “drive the bus”
She understands and projects that the land producing the crops is our past, our future and our lifeblood.


Carrie Little lives those beliefs every day.”


What’s Next?


The website’s organizers are now busy compiling packets of information on the top three nominees and will then send them to President Obama’s staff for consideration of a White House Farmer. They are hopeful these efforts will result in the serious consideration and appointment of a farmer to serve the White House, as well as the local food community through food bank donations of a portion of the food.


In the meantime, they are recommending that people take this opportunity to focus on re-connecting with their own local farmers and food producers, and strengthen those relationships in order to bring about the change we wish to see in our own communities. From the White House Farmer website, it states: “While we continue to look for leadership and inspiration from the White House, and look forward to a White House Farmer, we will also take matters into our own capable hands, as President Obama has urged, so that we can bring about the transformations we seek in our own communities and on our own tables . . . knowing that ‘Yes, we can.’”

written by Maria Elena Rodriguez

Posted in Food Justice Blog Posts and tagged , .

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