Follow the Rooster to support the system.
Riley has committed to visiting a farmers’ market every week. Siska is hosting a farm-to-table dinner at home. The Sandoval family is joining a CSA. So are Lucy and Jessica. Meanwhile, Meredith is following the rooster to a local food event. Actually, they’re all following the rooster.
Devised and supported by the Farmer’s Guild, #FollowtheRooster is a social media campaign that seeks to engage and inform while having a good time. According to Farmer’s Guild executive director Evan Wiig, some 200 people have publicly pledged to take an action that supports our local food system—by going to the farmers’ market like Riley, joining a CSA like Jessica, or attending a local food event like Meredith—and might just earn them a moment or two in the limelight with a gold spray-painted chicken figurine that celebrates that action.
OK, there are two gold spray-painted chicken figurines. One is usually stashed in Wiig’s car so that he can offer it as an impromptu tribute to those whom he “catches” doing something supportive in the name of local food.
“The Golden Rooster is our mascot and we see it as a trophy that we take around and give to people when they’re doing something worth celebrating,” Wiig says. “Woodfour [Brewing Co.] hosted a special lunch where they featured local products, so we showed up for lunch, chatted with them, and asked for a picture with the rooster. They laughed about it, but realized that it’s something worth celebrating; it’s deserving of a trophy and recognition.”
The campaign is an initiative aimed at celebrating and encouraging food heroes here in Northern California, Wiig says. “It’s for individuals as well as businesses to pledge their actions.”
It’s also a way to literally map the fresh crop of new farmers who have established themselves in the last five years. With the average age of the American farmer hovering close to retirement, Wiig is particularly excited about the interactive reference that has grown from the project.
“Sonoma County is really the hot spot of young farmers,” Wiig says. “We have a lot of really great examples of young folks really getting into it and reviving our local food system. This is an opportunity to visually see where these young farmers are. We’re learning about new farms, too, which is cool. For a while there, I thought I knew every young farmer in the county. But I’ve met a few new ones.”
Nearly 50 businesses have also joined the campaign, including Belden Barns, a winery that Wiig says has recently set aside a large swathe of land for a new farm family to use in growing a diversified slate of fruits and vegetables that will ultimately offset the mono-cropping that wine grapes engender.
“We want to show them as an example,” he says of Belden. “There’s nothing wrong with grapes or vineyards, but here’s an example of [a winery] doing it right.” Wiig contrasts Belden with a recent dust-up between local egg producer Wise Acre Farms and the winery with which they share a driveway. When the winery withdrew its right of way, the farm was briefly unable to welcome the nine or so customers they saw each day. When the story hit the daily paper, a gravel company stepped in with a donation that allows the farmers to have their own road access and the fray was resolved.
In thinking about the local food system, Wiig looks to national headlines, particularly the recent and dramatic downsizing of Good Eggs, the online delivery service that connects organic and local producers with area customers as a sort of virtual farmers’ market. Having received $53 million in funding since its inception in 2011, Good Eggs expanded rapidly from its San Francisco base, eventually also serving Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Brooklyn. In mid-August, the company announced it was shuttering all services except in SF and letting a large percentage of their staff go. No staff, no service, no work for local farmers.
Unless people know the relationship between grocery stores and farmers...it doesn't mean anything. Evan Wiig
“Good Eggs was the darling of this movement to revolutionize the food system and create new innovative distribution channels that challenge the conventional system we’ve gotten ourselves into,” Wiig says. “They came in from a Silicon Valley perspective, and I hope that people will learn that local foods from small-scale farmers don’t act like mobile apps do. You can’t get rich quick. They had pressure to grow-grow-grow. The local food movement that we’re part of isn’t interested in grow-grow-grow—we’re interested in more relationships, more connections, more actions that allow for our neighborhood to support a farm, as opposed to a big centralized system that puts itself in a compromised situation where you either grow or die, you either take the entire market and destroy your competitors and become The Thing or you get out of the business.”
So sure, the social media thing is fun, the rooster is a kitschy hoot, and such fundraising efforts as the Farmers’ Olympics that Wiig staged in July offer laughs and kinship. But all is moot if a more serious message isn’t delivered and absorbed, says Wiig.
“These actions don’t mean anything unless lots of people recognize the need for a different kind of system,” Wiig says heatedly. “Unless people know the relationship between grocery stores and farmers—if we don’t understand how important it is for people to understand what’s happening—it doesn’t mean anything. We have to get the public educated to the point where they care.”
Healdsburg SHED hosts a celebration of the Follow the Rooster campaign on Sunday, Sept. 20. farmersguild.org/an-evening-for-the-next-generation-of-food-september-20th.html