Monday, July 20, 2009

Local Farmer ‘Beets’ Competition

I (Otehlia Cassidy) wrote this article recently for the East Emerson Neighborhood Association newsletter.

Farming is not a glamorous occupation; it ruins a manicure in about three seconds flat and leaves rather distinctive tan lines. But when you package such an arduous job under the gleaming cloak of our nation’s capitol, it takes on a different ring: White House Farmer. The idea behind having a White House Farmer resulted from Michael Pollan’s compelling letter to President Obama. Pollan, an author and sustainable agriculture advocate, urged the president to support a five-acre organic fruit and vegetable garden at the White House, as a step toward changing our nation’s food policies. The public cast their (online) votes for the best farmer for the job, and Madison’s own Claire Strader, Community Farm Manager for Troy Gardens, won.

It’s not easy to make the leap from pondering how to participate in meeting life’s basic needs (from the comfort of a classroom) to farming, but that’s just what Claire did. In 1992, as a Philosophy student, she apprenticed on a farm, finding hands-on answers to her self-inquiry. Claire never had any intention of becoming a farmer - she merely wanted to grow food for herself - but discovered that it was her calling.

Claire has effectively blended production and education. At Troy Gardens, aside from farming, Claire teaches organic and ethnic farming to high schoolers from nearby Shabazz. She also teaches an organic production techniques course for UW-Madison students. If Claire gets to the White House (Obama hasn’t opened the position yet), planting a garden that is a model of sustainable agriculture for the rest of the nation would remain her priority – though she would presumably grow food for the White House kitchen, too. A few rows of beets might even take root, though it’s doubtful they will make it to the White House dining room.

For Claire, White House Farmer “would be an impossible job to accept [or] refuse.” This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity means leaving Madison’s magnetic embrace. For now, Claire’s white house is merely a white canopy that shades her farm-fresh vegetables at the Northside Farmer’s Market (NFM). The NFM is open Sundays from 8:30-12:30 through October. This small market is just a short distance from our neighborhood, at the corner of Northport Dr. and Sherman Ave. You will find everything from fruits, vegetables and grass-fed meat, to baked goods and even crafts. Be sure to pick up fixings for an easy summer greens dish (see recipe here). Find more info about NFM at and Troy Gardens at

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