Eat Your Passion: Five Ways to Contribute Beyond Your Food Purchases

The harvest season readily invokes an aura of gratitude for those of us who frequent our local farmers’ market. We feel appreciation as we wander between the overflowing piles of pumpkins, winter squash and root crops – thankful for the flavors of the past bountiful season.

Yet what can we do to express such thanks? How do we channel such inklings of gratitude? Here’s where a dash of out-of-the produce box thinking can stir up rewarding ways to contribute to your local food system in creative ways above and beyond shopping routines. Yes, you could join a committee or existing organization. But sometimes the volunteer path less traveled can be the route to go, coming up with your own vision and project.

Just ask Melinda and Dan Hemmelgarn, long-time supporters of their Columbia Farmers’ Market. Blending their photography and writing talents with their passion for local agriculture, the imaginative duo created a fund-raising calendar featuring area farmers: Farm Hands – a Tribute to the hands that feed us.

But this project does more than raise funds for a permanent market pavilion. Farm Hands serves as an inspiring example of what we can each do and contribute individually, beyond the dollars of our weekly purchase.

“Never have we been so richly rewarded, and it has nothing to do with money,” explains Melinda, who credits the Columbia Farmers’ Market as a key reason for the vibrant health of her children and family over the years. “I feel very indebted and grateful to our local market because I believe our family’s health is what it is because I can buy and feed them quality food regularly.

This sense of gratitude prompted the Hemmelgarns to come up with the Farm Hands calendar project. The project blended Dan’s growing interest in photography – something he can pursue now that he’s retired from a career with the local fire department – and Melinda’s public health journalism and dietitian background.

The 2009 calendar features Dan’s artistic, sepia-toned tight shots of farmers’ hands, juxtaposed next to Melinda’s descriptive copy. “I asked each farmer the same questions: What is your greatest pleasure, what are your challenges, and what do you want the world to know about your work ,” explains Melinda.

The Hemmelgarns calendar project exemplifies how anybody can create a means to contribute to their local food system. “We don’t hold any position on any committee or anything formally for the market,” Melinda explains. “We’re just regular shoppers who felt the creative urge to do something more. We see the Columbia Farmers’ Market as providing nourishment beyond food. This weekly event brings people together and nourishes our need for community.”

Here are five tips from the Hemmelgarns for creating your own local food project:

1. Follow Your Heart
Whatever the project may be, make sure it reflects your passions and interests. While Dan already had a love for photography, the calendar project allowed him to focus on the intracies of hard-working hands.

2. Follow Your Strengths
Building on what you’re passionate about, create the project around your strengths and talent. Photography and writing serve as Dan and Melinda’s strengths. Dan also contributed his computer graphic design talents for the calendar layout.

3. Keep It Local

“We tried to keep as much of this project in the Columbia community as possible,” explains Melinda. “We might have saved money by printing the calendars overseas but that wasn’t the point of this project and instead we worked with a local printer to further support our local economy. ”

4. Think Beyond Cash

While the primary, initial objective of Farm Hands remains to raise money for the Farmers’ Market Pavilion Fund, the Hemmelgarns quickly realized that the rewards and impact of this project reached beyond just a fund-raiser. “A calendar is something people look at every day throughout the year,” explains Melinda. “We chose the visuals carefully with the hope that they might serve as a year-round reminder about our connection to those who produce our food and our local food system. One way to evoke policy changes that protect small family farmers is to reach people at their emotional heart.”

Additionally, the time spent at each farm for the photo shoot and interview added additional rewards. “Farmers loved to tell their stories, that don’t get heard often enough,” Melinda adds. As a result, everyone increases their connection and commitment to the Columbia Farmers’ Market.

5. Involve Others
While Dan and Melinda volunteered their time and talents to create the calendar, they never saw this as solely their own project. “It was very rewarding for us as others shared their faith in us and this project and volunteered their support from setting up a website to marketing the calendar,” sums up Melinda. The farmers’ market contributed printing costs for the 3,000 calendars, which retail at $15.00 and are sold both at the market and on-line.

Photo credit: Dan Hemmelgarn, Enduring Image Fine Art Photography & Environmental Photography

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