Karen Barker, 53, of Laconia is a retired occupational therapist who works at Laconia Village Bakery. Her REAL job, though, is running Sustainable Sustenance, “a community group of folks gathered around a common interest in eating local, organic and whole foods.”
Sustainable Sustenance isn’t a formal group, and there are no membership requirements or dues. Members meet once a month for a potluck. We interviewed Karen about the group recently.
Did you create it? If so, when, and where? Yes, though I didn't realize what it would become at the time! It began when I got the idea to do a dinner that included only local ingredients, except for a few items that one can't get in New England. I'd read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," by Barbara Kingsolver, also "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and was starting to get more serious about eating more local, seasonal food. I thought it would be fun to try and put together an all-local meal, and that eating such a meal would be a great way to educate folks about what foods are available locally, and how delicious those foods could be.
The dinner was a fund-raiser for Sustainable Harvest International, a great organization that helps subsistence farmers in Central America learn more sustainable farming practices. We held the dinner at Terra Perma, a "green" store in downtown Laconia that had a beautiful art gallery on the second floor.
I sent out e-mails, put up posters, and put announcements in the paper, and 25 people signed up for the dinner, with about 12 more on a waiting list. After dinner we showed the movie "The Future of Food," which gave folks a lot to think about in terms of our current food system, sustainability, and our health.
Clearly there was great interest in the subject. After the dinner folks said we should keep meeting, but do potlucks. We challenge folks to make their potluck offerings from as many organic, whole, and local foods as possible. We rarely have any processed food items at our dinners, and we always have the most delicious and creative foods anyone could desire.
Good health, the environment, social justice, food security, food safety, self-sufficiency, the economy, and building community are all important to me, and food is one of the places where these interests all come together. Our current food system is not sustainable, and it is not making us healthy or happy. Getting people together to explore all these aspects of our food system and the related issues just seemed like a good idea. I was encouraged by the efforts of the folks over in Wolfeboro who have an organization called G.A.L.A. (Global Awareness, Local Action.) I first saw the film "The Future of Food" at one of their events, and ended up borrowing it from them for our event.
How often do members meet? We meet once a month for the potluck and a program. During the summer we suspended the regular gathering, but we did a movie night at our house in June where we showed "The Power of Community," about post-peak oil Cuba, and a farm visit in August, where we met at a local farm, had a tour, and potluck dinner.
What's your goal for the organization? My goal is to help folks connect with one another around this common interest we have – eating healthy, nutritious, sustainably grown/produced food. I hope we can share our knowledge and skills, help educate other people, and build community in the process.
What are some of the things Sustainable Sustenance has done? We have shown the films "The Future of Food," "The Power of Community," and "Food Matters. "We had a "Meet the Farmers" night, where we invited farmers to come to our dinner and talked with them about their work, challenges they face, etc. We've had folks from our group do presentations on bee-keeping and wine/mead-making. We also had a presentation by Dr. John Carroll from UNH, on NH's ability to feed itself and the significance of pasture animals as part of the local food supply. There have now been two fund-raising dinners for Sustainable Harvest International.
We've also had conversation nights, where folks shared ideas about gardening or favorite recipes for grains and legumes. It's been a blend of bringing in resources and tapping the knowledge and skills of our group members.
A few of us have done some bulk buying together, through the Sunflower Natural Foods store in Laconia.
How many members do you have? I have about 95 e-mail addresses, representing about 150 people, I'd guess. There are about 40-50 people who have attended more than one of the events, and about 20 who have been to nearly all of them. We've had anywhere from 18-50 people, so it varies quite a bit. Usually there are 2 or 3 newcomers and the rest are repeat attenders. Word of mouth seems to be the primary way folks get involved, along with seeing the notice in the paper.
How many members do you want? I have no limit on the number of people who can join us, the more the merrier. If we outgrow our meeting space, we will have to find other ways to keep things going – I don't necessarily think that 100 people at the potlucks is the best thing for developing relationships and getting to know each other. I'm more inclined to think of smaller group options, different meeting nights, etc.
If people want to find out more or join, what should they do? Contact me at 528-8560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.