Too many American children are so far removed from their food sources that they think chicken is a little deep-fried, processed nugget.
Now at a time when the fast food nation falls deeper into an economic slump, more Americans are re-thinking their relationships with the food that they eat. Yearning for simpler times, foods that comfort and nourish, Americans are rediscovering small farms and sustainable foods.
How timely that Valerie Gates, graphic designer and creative director of Gates Studio in Boston, began the Will Work for Food Project. Gates' incredible project - where she barters her design services to small farmers for their locally grown and produced food products - grew out of her own exploration and wonder about sustainable food and the people who produce that food.
"Farming is a dying art," said Gates, who has begun working with six small farms in her area to develop logos, branding and websites. "The people who run these farms work incredibly hard. They start the day at 6 in the morning and end at 11 at night. They want to make it hip again to get back to the land."
Two books influenced Gates' decision to do something positive and creative for small farmers as well as her family. After reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, a book that considers what we eat, how we make those decisions and the implications of those choices, and Barbara Kinsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Magic, the author's chronicle of a year in eating locally and seasonally, Gates dreamed up her project.
Will Work for Food gives farmers access to branding and marketing skills to grow and sustain their way of life and, at the same time, teaches her family about where good food comes from while putting healthier food on the table each day.
The entire family is in on the project. From Dad and business partner, Barry, who is learning to cook all the great food stuffs, to Gates and their children -eight-year-old Olivia, a vegetarian, and 13-year-old, Cameron - the family is on a journey to discover the wonder of where food comes from and the people who grow it the slow and natural way.
"It's fun for me," said Gates, whose energy and enthusiasm is contagious. "I'm pretty much a city girl. I appreciate my food more. I appreciate where my food is coming from more now."
The family went on one of their first farm visits today, an event televised by the local news. The big news? Olivia held a newborn lamb, the family learned farmers don't name their animals (for obvious reasons), and they got to see an ingenious mobile hen house. Better news yet? The family is gaining a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the natural world, the pressing need to be sensitive to the earth, and the vital role of food in daily life.
And the farmers are equally thrilled. Sixteen have lined up to work with Gates Studios. Gates and her family are at the precipice of a trend.
Now, someone get Barry a copy of Ruth Reichl's classic Gourmet Cookbook and Deborah Madison's fabulous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Photo: ©2008 Gates Studio