Interview with Pamm Larry, local food security community advocate.
Pamm Larry has been working on food sovereignty and security issues for 9 years, primarily addressing policy issues on the state and local level. After the Camp Fire devastated her community, she decided to come home and focus on creating a strong local food system via The Butte County Local Food Network. She invites all who care about healthy food to see what we are doing and replicate at least some of it in your community to create a strong local food system, one tasty bite at a time.
Pamm, you have been focused on the food supply nationally for many years now, and have inspired thousands to raise awareness about GMOs. When the Paradise area fires happened, your area was devastated. Why did the fires motivate you to focus locally and what has happened as a result?
My shift to working primarily on local issues got solidified with the Camp Fire but the process had started years before. Around 2015 to 2016 I kept getting impulses about Victory Gardens. Then in 2017, I pulled back a bit from the GMO work and started another effort around them, but quickly realized I was getting tired of national stuff because it’s such a heavy lift. I also started to do a very deep dive into science around climate chaos that’s not being shared by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and found that the situation is far worse than their report conveys. Why? The data is ten years old and is politicized - all parties must agree on the report before it is published. It’s not really about “science,” it’s about politics.
I live in the Northern Sacramento Valley of California. We live in a growing zone that can sustain our population. When my community became a poster child for the future, given climate chaos, and I saw what can happen first hand, I felt called to focus here and do everything I could to try and see if I could add my energy to do anything needed to create a strong local food system. I believe that if the human species survives what’s potentially coming, it’ll be because we can grow food and sustain ourselves.
The fire was in November 2018. The whole county went into shock as over 50,000 people were displaced. Those whose homes did not burn had tons of friends and family who were now homeless, jobless and in shock. I started to grow the organization by simply showing up at meetings of all kinds and lending a hand to those organizations. I built great relationships around the concept of a Victory Garden BLITZ. We were intrigued with the project, which originated in Milwaukee as the Victory Garden Initiative, so I reached out to them for mentoring. We set our first date for Spring 2020, started being at farmers markets, partnering with farmers for Farm to Fork meals, did movies, started a monthly discussion around Creating Food Independence, went on the local radio lots and generally rabble-roused our way into the community’s consciousness.
We installed 31 gardens the weekend of March 14th…had 10 more to do the following weekend but the governor of our state declared a Shelter in Place order so we had to postpone those last few.
One of the communities that got hit the hardest, but is getting the least support, is a mountain community called Concow. One of the small groups up there reached out to us and asked us to get fresh food up there as they are in a true food desert with many low income folks so it’s hard to get much of anything except canned and non-perishable staples that are usually expired. We got support for two programs to get fresh food up there - one is a grant for 25 households to get a super CSA box that will support two farms.The other is gleaning or discounted food from the farmers at their farmers markets twice a week.
We are creating a Demonstration Permaculture Food Forest and Neighborhood Composting Center that will be one of eventually 5 such gardens in the other towns in our county. We’re gearing up for our second BLITZ in August (providing we can, given the lockdown), doing seed swaps, developing a seed saving campaign. We have classes planned, mentoring for success and are truly creating a community that grows food together.
You have mentioned that local food security is a homeland security issue, can you elaborate more on that?
As we are currently experiencing due to COVID, the corporate, global “just in time” food supply is extremely fragile and cannot pivot quickly in times of emergency. All sectors of it are imploding. When people are hungry, most of the rest of life gets put on pause. If food is in short supply here, it’ll be in short supply globally and can lead to unrest at the local level and internationally.
Local food creates the basis for a strong local economy. Instead of putting all our resources into spying, the war machine, the endless loss of our liberties and fear around loss of life, imagine a world where even half of the Pentagon’s budget was redirected to creating real security: fresh healthy food, quality of life, clean air, water, healthy kids. If all this was in order, our communities all around the world would be happier, healthier and on purpose to have a meaningful life. Content people don’t need to go to war to take from others or establish dominance for huge markets.
What have been some of the biggest surprises around focusing on creating local food security? Lessons you have learned?
The biggest surprise is how fun it is to work on something that brings joy to people instead of the slog of anger, fear and resentment that I felt when working on GMOs. We need warriors like you, Zen, to keep calling out Truth to Power, and I do it in my own way (and feel more coming, maybe) but it’s time for the younger folk to take up that banner.
I learned during Prop 37 that it’s time to let go of identity politics when it comes to issues surrounding our health and the health of the planet. We need to come together as ALL people want their kids to be happy and healthy, our lives to be at peace and the world to thrive.
Many of us are in fear about the world right now and it’s easy to get lost in who or what to focus on. Sadly, and my community reflects this, when people are in fear we tend to get ugly at the only level we think we can make an impact - each other. The rest of it’s too big so why not just attack what we think we can impact?
The good news is that healthy, local food transcends identity politics. All kinds of people like to grow food. All kinds of people want to feel based in a community. Many scientists think it’s in our DNA or at least in our cultural constructs. We, like the plants of the planet, thrive in community. Local food can bridge worlds like nothing else. It’s truly joyous work to be able to look into people’s eyes and not care who they are going to vote for.
What are the first three things someone can do to begin connecting with and supporting local food security?
- Grow more of your own food and connect to your local community that is also growing their own. If you are on Facebook, most communities have a backyard gardens page or something of that sort. Join it and join in a community of happy people in their happy place. There are tons of local and national resources that you can reach out to for success. As a start, find out what grows well in your area and when it grows well. Start small, cheap, supported, and slowly to ensure success.
- Supplement what you grow by first buying as much of your food as you can directly from your farmers either at Farmers Markets or their CSAs or from their farm. Get to know them and start celebrating them around your community. Ask them how you can help them.
I see buying from local farmers as a sacred trust established between the two of you. You trust them to grow healthy food for the people you love most. They trust you to keep supporting them so they can continue to grow healthy food for you. It’s a very different relationship to your food, and, I would suggest, your relationship to the world.
- If you have a group like ours that actively works on creating a strong local food system and have the time, get involved with them at whatever level you can. As everyone who has done awareness-raising work knows, we always need volunteers. You get to work with some of the most exciting and interesting folks in your community and be a part of something that is truly making an important, life saving impact in the place you inhabit.
Any websites or resources you would like to mention?
There are tons but I’ll keep it simple and focus on my current three favorite efforts out there:
The Cooperative Gardens Commission is a new organization that works to recreate the effort during WWI and II to grow more of our own food. We grew 42% of all our produce in our personal, community, church and school gardens. I have been mightily impressed with their organization and willingness to be of service. Outstanding group, cannot speak highly enough of them and my admiration for all they are doing. https://coopgardens.org/.
- Anything Permaculture. My personal current favorite is Morag Gamble. She has tons of knowledge, tons of free videos and resources, amazing gardens and talks and celebrates all sorts of interesting permaculture lifestyles. It doesn’t hurt that she has spent time at Navdanya (Vandana Shiva’s place). https://www.moraggamble.com/our-permaculture-life-youtube.
- For a more sort of off-the-beaten path - Humans Who Grow Food tells stories of gardeners. It’s inspiring, happy and makes me smile. https://www.facebook.com/humanswhogrowfood/
Finally, people are welcome to visit our website which is in process of being updated. You are also welcome to reach out to me and find out more about what we are doing and how to do it in your community. Join us in changing the world, one tasty bite at a time. Bclocalfood.org
Thank you so much Pamm!