What kind of event could mobilize thousands of people across the country to come together for the sake of community betterment than the celebration of food? Last weekend, 180 pods of Slow Food supporters came together in a variety of projects to “break ground and break bread” as part of Slow Food USA’s Dig In! campaign.
“In general, Slow Food USA is about finding joy, pleasure and company in making change in our food system,” says Julia Landau, of Slow Food USA. “The name of our day of action truly encompasses that—we dig into our work and then dig into our food when we gather to celebrate.”
In its first year, Dig In! was started as an extension of Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign, urging community members to write to their congressmen about improving the National School Lunch Program, says Landau. It highlights the community events already taking place across the country on a daily basis.
“People are making change every day in their communities, working toward a better food system. They work in their gardens, their farmers’ markets, their community centers—and they bring dedication and vision to these projects. Dig In! is a day to sync up all of that great action and recognize its power,” Landau says.
Urban Barn Raising – Brooklyn, N.Y.
In a section of Brooklyn, N.Y., proclaimed a “food desert,” members of Slow Food NYC inaugurated the Ujima Community Garden with an urban barn-raising project. The garden, which broke ground in spring 2010, will be the site of programming to educate urban youth about agriculture, gardening and healthy food, run by Slow Food NYC volunteers.
“This past summer, we’ve had a chance to collaborate with various youth and middle-schoolers through affiliate organizations and have witnessed first-hand the children’s excitement in learning, preparing and consuming good food,” says Ramona Xu, of Slow Food NYC.
During the urban barn raising, volunteers finished harvesting the gardens’ summer produce, weeded and turned over soil, participated in a mural painted, and built a compost bin, followed, of course, by a potluck dinner.
Plant Distribution – Chicago
Taking a slightly different twist on the call to Dig In!, Chicagoans banded together in a large-scale garden-planting project. In its 10th year, the Great Perennial Divide mobilized nurseries and members of the community to donate more than 6,000 perennial plants, which were distributed to 200 school and community garden groups.
Although not a member of Slow Food, Eliza Fournier of the Chicago Botanic Garden, one of the event’s co-sponsors, says this annual event fits in with the Slow Food mission “by helping to beautify food gardens and attract pollinators, which are essential to all food and life.”
Prepping Gardens – Washington, D.C.
Of course, a national Dig In! event wouldn’t be complete without participation from residents in the capital city. Slow Food DC paired with the Neighborhood Farm Initiative to spread cover crop seed, weed urban gardens, and sift and move compost.
“In several ways, the whole idea of the urban garden is creating an opportunity for people to be in contact with the source of food that is not often readily available to urbanites,” says Kathryn Warnes, a Slow Food DC board member.
The Neighborhood Farm Initiative aims to provide hands-on training in vegetable gardening to volunteers and youth, as well as advise teenagers on obtaining green job skills.
“The response has been really positive and, I think, a good way to meet other people in the community who are interested in the values of Slow Food,” she says.
Keep on Diggin’
Although Dig In! events took place over only one weekend, their spirit can continue throughout the year. Landau says the first step is to follow up with volunteers immediately after your Dig In! event with a thank you note or photos from the day’s activities. Then offer them more volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
“After having a great work day or get-together, it’s important to be able to follow up with a continuation of the project or a new way to plug in,” she says. “This way, the energy from Dig In! (or any volunteer project) has an outlet later on.”
Slow Food USA is also encouraging growth of its movement by offering discounted membership rates through Oct. 15, 2010. To get membership details or to read about other Dig In! events, visit SlowFoodUSA.org.