Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Somerville's Wendy Blom Gives Us Food for Thought

Somerville's Wendy Blom Gives Us Food for Thought

I have worked with Wendy Blom for a number of years at Somerville Community Access TV where I produce my show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer." Blom, the director of SCAT, is so busy coordinating other projects that I was surprised and glad that she decided to produce one of her own. Blom’s project is the much lauded film documentary "Eating Local in Somerville," airing on Somerville Community Access TV through the month of November. The film concerns the local food movement in Somerville. I guess you can consider Blom a film producer of fresh produce! Anyway I shot her a few questions for Off the Shelf:

Doug Holder: What is the local food movement?

Wendy Blom: The local food movement is a reaction to large scale industrial agriculture that dominates food production in the United States. People want to know where their food comes from, and that it is chemical-free. Local food tends to be much fresher and tastier as well. People also want to support local farms because they preserve open space, offer more diverse varieties of produce, and use less fuel for transport, making the process more environmentally green. Besides buying produce from local farms, the local food movement includes backyard gardens, community gardens, New England cheese companies, and local organically grown meats.

DH: You wrote that Somerville is in the forefront. How does this play out? What restaurants, etc... are part of the movement?

WB: It is in the forefront because the Somerville school system has managed to adapt the government-mandated school cafeteria bidding process to allow local farms to compete. This results are in the students having a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables in their meals and snacks than other communities. In addition, each elementary school has an educational garden for after school activities that lead to an appreciation for vegetables and hands-on biology lessons. There are numerous restaurants in Somerville that advertise their local ingredients, finding that local produce draws patrons. Examples are the Teele Square Cafe, Bloc 11, and Sherman's Cafe.

Somerville has a very active group of food activists. Groundwork Somerville gets numerous grants to support local agriculture projects in the schools and in the community. The Community Growing Center is a leader in garden education, working with the Somerville Arts Council and Groundwork Somerville to expose Somerville students to gardening. Adding to the possibilities for eating local are the 150 community garden plots in Somerville, (despite the City's lack of green space), Somerville's two busy farmers markets, and hundreds of community supported agriculture (CSA) participants.

DH: What are the challenges you faced in producing this documentary?

WB: This documentary came together very easily. The amount of material I found exceeded my expectations. I met so many wonderful people who are excited about being part of the local food movement.

DH: Do you have ambitions for the documentary beyond SCAT?

WB: I hope that the information presented in the documentary will be used by other communities for expanding their own options for local food. For example, in my town of Needham, there is a group of people who are trying to convince the school committee to allocate land for a community farm. They are using my film to show people the benefits and possibilities of farm education. Here in Somerville, I hope the film will encourage people to think about the food they buy, and possibly purchase more local foods.

DH: Has Scat had a history of documenting with film other innovative aspects of our community? Some examples?

WB: SCAT has always been involved in spreading the word about community projects and issues. Often that means videotaping community meetings about the Green Line expansion, zoning issues, immigrant issues, and other topics that are important to Somerville. We produce programs about health (Bill Barrell recently produced an excellent hour-long show about H1N1, and our intern is currently creating a documentary about bed bugs), the arts, culture, etc.

DH: Do you consider yourself a gourmet or gourmand.... where do you eat in Somerville?

WB: I do not consider myself a gourmet, but I have gotten very excited about the freshness and variety of local produce. I live near a farm stand and during the season buy all my produce there. What inspired me was Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." I think there are so many benefits to having a strong farm presence in Massachusetts.

People can see the film, "Eating Local in Somerville" on SCAT throughout November and on the Web

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