Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 30
 
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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Princeton Is Just One Stop for Bike Tour Documenting Local Food and Agriculture

Matthew Hersh

It's not easy being an activist, especially when you're on two wheels and you don't have a leg to stand on.

Or would that be a kickstand?

For three woman who whisked through Princeton on bicycles last Thursday and Friday en route to Montreal, raising awareness is second nature, particularly when it involves a 1,600-mile tour documenting food-producing garden projects along the Northeast corridor.

And while their purpose is a serious one, it was all smiles Friday afternoon at Princeton's The Bent Spoon, where the three members of the Women's Garden Cycles Bike Tour, Liz Tylander, Kit Schiffler, and Lara Sheets, listened intently to proprietor Gabrielle Carbone, who spoke of the importance of supporting sustainable agriculture and encouraging local food initiatives, while making those aims part of an ice cream retail business model.

It wasn't just sweet talk on Friday, however. With tours of the Johnson Park, Littlebrook, Riverside, and Community Park school gardens, lunch at Mediterra featuring a talk with chef Lawrence Robinson about local food sources, and visits to the Whole Earth Center and Princeton University's Forbes Garden Project, Ms. Tylander, Ms. Schiffler, and Ms. Sheets have packed their itineraries, as well as saddles, for the long haul.

"We want to look at positive alternatives to industrial agriculture, but at the same time, we're cycling because we believe in alternatives to fossil fuels," said Ms. Schiffler, a self-described "100 percent Nebraskan" who came to Washington D.C. where she conducted research in international labor rights. "I think those two things together make sense. If you're going to tour a garden, it wouldn't make sense to do it by car.

"Also, with bikes, you slow down and notice things. It has a community-oriented element to it."

According to Ms. Sheets, the tour is meant to videotape conversations with working farmers, community gardeners, and organizers with the aim of assembling a comprehensive documentary for both academic use and as a tool for other local food initiatives. "I think the whole point of this is to get our experience out there, and make it accessible," she said, adding that the immigrant and youth perspective of the current would also be represented in their final product. "We want to capture the diversity involved in this movement, and I think it's important that we show that the current food model does not favor accessibility to everyone, particularly in urban areas.

"That's a big goal of ours," said Ms. Sheets, who arrived in D.C. after graduating college to work at the Smithsonian. Ms. Sheets, according to the tour Web site, womensgardencycles.wordpress.com, is also the leader in ride spills, thus far.

So while the Princeton stop did not focus principally on the tour's mission, peripheral knowledge of many Princeton retailers' penchants for the Slow Food movement and for supporting local economies was key, said Ms. Tylander.

"This tour in Princeton, per se, is not something that we will necessarily put in our documentary, but this is great to see, and that people here have different choices, and having alternatives to the industrial food models," she said during a break in a tour of Whole Earth, whose mission is to generate money for environmental projects.

"We aim to help all sorts of groups, and when staff members here are involved with environmental groups, we look to help with those causes as well," said Mike Atkinson, Whole Earth's produce buyer. "Sometimes we help out our farmers when they're having a bad year," added Whole Earth general manager Jennifer Murray.

All this generates information for the documentary, Ms. Sheets said, who hoped that local film festivals would generate even more interest. On their Princeton stop, the trio even had an embedded reporter, Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Tremble, who joined up with them for the central Jersey leg of the trip.

Next stop on the tour is New York City, where the three will witness first hand a myriad of community gardens and local markets, including Brooklyn's Red Hook Farm, where youth from surrounding neighborhoods are employed to help harvest organic vegetables. In Montreal, the tour will combine their talents with a visit to the Santropol Roulant: a meals-on-wheels outfit delivering food via bicycle to elderly citizens.

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