Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project

August 7th, 2014 by James Russell

Rebuilding ‘foodshed’ and community resilience

By Diane Conners

In my previous life as a reporter for the Record-Eagle from 1986 to 1998, I remember reporting on two words that were new to me at the time.

The first was “watershed”—how our streams, bays and lakes are connected, and require a bigger-picture look at water quality in our region. Then came “viewshed,” as land preservationists described what was being lost during an era of rapid and sprawling growth.

Now comes “foodshed,” which again defines something of value and something that, by its very nature, is local.

“Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems,” by farmer and university professor Philip Ackerman-Leist, is the third book in the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project, which draws upon a list of books the local activist felt people should read and discuss together. Ackerman-Leist starts with a history of how we came to the largely industrial food system that we have today, where it’s often easier for a school in our region to purchase lettuce from California, for example, rather than from farmers right down the road. Technology like refrigeration and railroads played a role in making this happen, as did the entrepreneurial acts of men like the Gold Rush-era Armour brothers.

Ackerman-Leist’s book is laced with humor, research, maps—even references to literature—and he cautions against polarization and preaching for “local-only.” He notes that a diversity of options provides resilience in the face of local disasters like drought, hurricanes, and industrial accidents.

Nonetheless, he says, modernization did not require the wholesale destruction of our ability to buy from local farmers, or farmers’ ability to sell nearby. He calls on us to be food “citizens” rather than just consumers, and to identify opportunities to “re-localize” our food system for things of value to our communities that we lost by allowing only national and international food systems to dominate.

Ackerman-Leist also makes the case for communities to invest in rich soils for growing food and in recycling waste into energy, with local job opportunities in both. He advocates for valuing everyone from low-income families to farmers, farm workers, and local processors, distributors and buyers. He provides models of edible landscape initiatives; local food-oriented employee wellness benefits; food hubs; and apprenticeships and community capital for young farmers.

A foodshed—like a watershed and a viewshed—is local. And local, Ackerman-Leist says, is “within the sphere of our influence and care. “

“Rebuilding the Foodshed,” available at local bookstores, will be discussed at Meadowlark Farm near Lake Leelanau starting with a potluck at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20. More information is available at www.resilience-reads.org.

Diane Conners is a senior policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. She is a board member of the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance.

April 1st, 2014 by James Russell

Watch the ‘Cooked’ Discussion

If you missed the Feb. 24 discussion of Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked,” you’re in luck. This month’s Investigating Community Resilience (iCR) show features the highlights from the night! Big thanks to Dave Barrons for taking the time to put it together.

Watch now: http://www.upnorthmedia.org/watchupnorthtv.asp?sdbfid=6593#vid

January 13th, 2014 by James Russell

BRRRP featured in Record-Eagle

Check it out! The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project was featured in Sunday’s Record-Eagle:

“An area slogan, “one book, one community,” could change to “two books, several communities” with the addition of a new regional reading project.

“The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project kicks off this winter with the first of several books recommended by the late local activist and environmentalist.

“Russell died in August from cancer, but not before approaching the Michigan Land Use Institute about promoting books he considered key in helping people understand what they can do to make their communities as economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient as possible.”

Click here for the whole article.

December 23rd, 2013 by James Russell

Review: ‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation’

By Bill Palladino

My first Michael Pollan book, “The Botany of Desire,” was one I instantly fell for. That book casually tossed upon my table the relationship humans have with plants, and reciprocally the relationship they seem to have developed with us. It sounded vaguely alien-esque, so I went off into the void of two of my favorite reading genres: food and sci-fi. It was followed by a succession of other Pollan books through the years, each with the promise of keeping my foodie mind burbling with anticipation.

If you’ve read Pollan’s other books, “Cooked” one arrives a bit off-camber. It’s not the same rip-out-the-heart, traditional food system skewering we’re used to. “Cooked” starts with a frank admission from Pollan: “Cooking has always been a part of my life, but more like the furniture than an object of scrutiny, much less a passion.”  What he’s saying is that he’s made a career out of talking about food without ever understanding its true relationship personally.

Read the rest of this entry »

November 4th, 2013 by James Russell

Welcome to the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project

The death of local activist and environmentalist Bob Russell left a huge void in northern Michigan. His longtime dedication to justice, connection to the earth, and his belief in the importance of knowledge anchored a life of service and achievement. Bob had many talents indeed, but it was his passion for learning—his discipline to study and his unyielding drive to gather information—that, as much as anything, defined his effectiveness as a leader, and will be missed in northern Michigan.

It’s in that spirit of knowledge and learning that the Michigan Land Use Institute, along with several other regional groups and businesses, are launching the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project.

Before Bob’s passing, he shared with his friends and colleagues a carefully curated list of books he felt can help us understand what we can do to make sure our community is economically, environmentally, and socially as healthy and resilient as possible.

The idea behind the new reading project is a simple one: In each season of the year, a broad community will come together to read one of the books recommended by Bob, discuss its themes and lessons, celebrate the region’s strengths, and acknowledge the work that remains.

The project kicks off this winter with “Cooked,” by Michael Pollan, who argues that our own health and the health of our food system depend on one rule: Cook your own food. The book taps into northern Michigan’s incredible agricultural heritage, our love of great dishes, and our booming local food economy.

You can pick up a copy of “Cooked”—and all the other books on Bob’s list—at Horizon Books and local libraries. Then follow along with fellow readers at www.resilience-reads.org, and join us in February for the inaugural book club meeting at Horizon.