A Sustainable Foodway

Melissa Petersen
Editor & Publisher, Edible Memphis

Whether you are new to Memphis or you have called it home for a lifetime, I invite you to take a look at the city and surrounding environs with a new set of eyes. No place is perfect — really — and while visiting Memphis on vacation from our home in Portland, Oregon, my husband and I arrived expecting the stereotype — barbecue, everywhere, all day long. What a surprise to find a burgeoning farmers’ market, innovative chef, and exceptionally friendly, welcoming people. We see the potential and the opportunities that Memphis has. Sure, we focus mainly on the positive, but by doing so we’ve met hundreds of people—here in Memphis—doing good, changing habits, and rediscovering the rich food traditions that abound here. It’s not perfect—but having lived in “perfect” San Diego and “perfect” Portland, does it say anything that we choose to live in Memphis over either of those places. Sure, the music and barbecue are great, but Memphis has so much more going for it, especially in the area of food. In two short years, we’ve seen the food scene here grow by leaps and bounds. A handful of chefs sourcing local ingredients have become dozens. Community gardens have exploded, feeding those in need and the well-being of their communities. Once there were two farmers’ markets. Now there are four. That’s one hundred percent growth, people. Cooking classes at all levels and price points are full. We’re seeing new, young people learning the art, science, and business of farming. There is a measurable awareness and action toward preserving our resources through recycling and green practices. All this in a place where it’s not all that easy. But Memphians are persevering. Many of the steps are small, but isn’t that how everything gets started? The farmers’ market at the Memphis Botanic Garden started with just two weeks of preparation and several very determined individuals. A few farmers persevered from August to October through rainstorms, heat waves, drought-affected crops, and light attendance. And now, every Wednesday during the season, the crowd starts arriving a half hour before the official start time to snap up local honey, beef, veggies, bread and flowers. Two years ago, you might have found a chef or two growing their own herbs. But this year, we’ve got several chefs creating 100% locally sourced menus for special events—during the winter. This is great progress. Look around you. Ask what’s local on the menu—and order it. Visit one of the farmers markets—before long it could be an easy habit that supports our local economy AND provides you with the freshest, tastiest food around. Get to know where your food comes from. Cook. There’s a lot to be done. Schools should have gardens. Locally grown food should be finding its way into hospitals, large company cafeterias, and schools. Farming is an admirable occupation that should be encouraged—we do need more farmers. We all have to eat. Being sustainable means being able to feed ourselves. The easiest, first step to a sustainable Shelby is to incorporate locally produced food into our daily meals. The bottom line is that Memphis is moving in the right direction. But it will take all of us working together to keep is moving toward a sustainable foodway.