Why these advocates want to make Utahns think about the food they eat

The Utah Food Coalition is trying to network small farmers with everyday people to consider how food systems work.

(Chandler Rosenberg | Utah Food Coalition) Kristen Kropp, owner of B.U.G. (Backyard Urban Gardens) Farms in Salt Lake City's Glendale neighborhood, leads a farm tour at Utah Food Coalition's first farmer skill-share/potluck.

Chandler Rosenberg has been thinking a lot about food — and, more specifically, the system that gets food from where it’s produced to where it’s eaten.

Rosenberg, managing director of the vegetarian advocacy group Plant Based Utah, said she “really just dove in reading about the food system” after seeing the 2012 documentary “A Place at the Table” — which connects the dots between American farm policy, processed food and childhood hunger.

Her group started by working with Utah organizations that focused on food waste. From there, in 2020, Plant Based Utah launched a food relief project, gathering shelf-stable plant-based foods and putting together 1,200 grocery kits, each meant to feed a family of four for two weeks.

Rosenberg came across the Center for Nutrition Studies, a nonprofit at Cornell University that focuses on food’s impact “on the health of our bodies, our communities and our planet,” according to the center’s website. The center has a grant program, but the deadline for it was only a week away, Rosenberg said. “I thought, ‘We can’t do anything on our own if we wanted to do something on the regenerative food system,” she said.

Rosenberg reached out to Darrin Mann, at The Village Cooperative, who runs a farm in his backyard in Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood. “He was, like, ‘We need to start a coalition and bring together everyone in the local food system and start advocating for change, because the food system is just not something that’s on anyone’s radar,’” she said.

The idea was to connect the people who have roles in Utah’s food system — including farmers, policymakers and experts — with everyday people. “Whether or not you’re working in the food system or not, you’re a part of it, because you eat every day,” Rosenberg said.

That’s how the Utah Food Coalition was born. With Mann’s help, the coalition got its grant and used it to convert three more northside Salt Lake City backyards into farmlets, including one that had soil remediation issues. The coalition also helped three more people convert their yards into food-producing gardens this spring.

Mann connects the coalition to the Salt Lake Valley’s small-farm community, while Rosenberg focuses on networking and mapping out the bigger picture.

“People need to realize that local food is not a hobby, or a cutesy thing where you go to the farmers market. It’s the most important thing in the world, right?” Rosenberg said.

Food systems, according to a study published last year in the journal Nature Food, account for 34% of global greenhouse gas emissions — both from agricultural production and supply-chain activities.

(Chandler Rosenberg | Utah Food Coalition) Volunteers with Utah Food Coalition participate in a garden installation with the Village Cooperative in Salt Lake City.

The coalition is built on three pillars, Rosenberg said: Education, advocacy and “cultivating community — bringing people together around food.”

Much of those three pillars are covered by the group’s the group’s newsletter, which educates readers about food-waste issues — such as where to compost food scraps if one doesn’t own a compost bin, such as the new Earthie Crunchie food scrap collection service. The July edition of the newsletter included information about buying and eating seasonal food, which could be considered a lost skill as so many foods are available year-round in supermarkets, but at the environmental cost of shipping from long distances.

Other coalition partnerships address the loss of food skills. The coalition partnered with Animalia, a handmade-goods shop, for a series of workshops that include hands-on activities, including a class on growing culinary mushrooms, another (by the company Drupefruit) on making aromatic vinegars (aka shrubs), and yet another by Mobile Moon Co-op on building a pizza oven.

The coalition also has partnered with Slow Food Utah, Wasatch Community Gardens and the Utah Film Center for a “Films on Food at Farms” screening series. The first screening, at Wasatch Community Gardens’ main campus, featured the documentary “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” about the Black food justice movement. Future screenings have not been announced.

While the coalition has focused its efforts mainly on small farmers and other food organizations, Rosenberg said she has started to reach out to area restaurants — including Old Cuss Coffee, Yoko Ramen and Yoko Taco, and Arlo.

“The idea is to get local food groups working together, because we all have audiences that care about food, so we might as well collaborate on events to broaden our reach and build community,” Rosenberg said, who noted the coalition aims to get more food films and other educational opportunities to Utahns.

Rosenberg also wants the energy to flow the other way. “We would love involvement, ideas, suggestions from the public,” she said, adding that she wants to know what people want to advocate for and learn about. “This needs to be a people-led movement.”

(Chandler Rosenberg | Utah Food Coalition) Kate Carrick, a volunteer with the Utah Food Coalition, plants garlic in a garden installation with the Village Cooperative in Salt Lake City.

Rosenberg’s top books on local food

Chandler Rosenberg, one of the founders of the Utah Food Coalition, recommends a list of books for people to read to understand the issues of food systems:

“The Unsettling of America,” by Wendell Berry.

“Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

“Animal, Vegetable, Junk,” by Mark Bittman.

“Who Really Feeds the World?” by Vandana Shiva.

“Can Fixing Dinner Fix the Planet?” by Jessica Fanzo.

“Big Hunger,” by Andy Fisher.

Beyond those books, Rosenberg suggests the documentaries “A Place at the Table” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” as well as “Planet Local, by the nonprofit Local Futures, which can be watched for free online.

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