Dandelion Communitea Cafe

  (Orlando, Florida)
Relocalizing Our Communitea
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Is Local or Organic More Important?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question, and the frustration that ensues because the answer is not absolute.

The answer is: It depends.

Our Food Philosophy outlines our thought process in depth when it comes to making these choices  in our region, but deserves some elaboration in light of a recent surge in local food.  In this article, organic is dismissed as a tree-hugging environmentalist cause in favor of local & seasonal like the Europeans do it. The fact of the matter is, the Europeans do it local, seasonal AND organic, all three go together almost without exception. Most of em go one step further and do it biodynamic, but I digress. I’d love to see how customers would respond to a menu that states: we use local tomatoes, plucked fresh from the pesticide-laden vine – enjoy!

The article, dismisses organic entirely as if it’s some green fad, yet most of the local suppliers mentioned are organic in practice, if not in certification. In fact, Deep Creek Ranch gives a really awesome explanation of why here, Rest Haven Farms talks about their methods here, Long & Scott tells it to us here. A distinction needs to be made about the challenges in certifying products and not decrying the practice of sustainably managing our crops, flocks and herds.

Let’s ask this question again, but in a different way. Would you rather feed your kids:

(A) a locally grown strawberry from a medium size farm you’ve never been to that has been grown with pesticides that are known carcinogens (see list of chemicals commonly used)

(B) a batch of certified organic strawberries from a big farm trucked in from California

(C) strawberries which were locally grown using organic principles, but were not “certified” organic since the small-scale farmer who grew them can’t afford the certification process and/or has a steady stream of customers who know him personally & take him on his word that he’s not poisoning your family or the rivers & streams.

(D) strawberries you grew yourself in your backyard, without pesticides.

I’m not the one to tell you what the correct choice is for your family, but it is important that you understand your food options at a deeper level so you can make the most informed decision given your circumstances, which may also be influenced by convenience, cost and how you prioritize your time. At Dandelion, we choose a blend of B, C & D.

Now, let’s elaborate on our answer. It depends… first on what your definitions of “local” & “organic” include. These words used to imply small scale, independent, sustainable, fair, artisan crafted, heirloom varieties. Nowadays, these words have been stripped of their soul. For example, Lay’s markets their potatoes as “local” in Florida because of their proximity, regardless of the fact that they operate as a huge industrialized agricultural operation. Additionally, the crops are not organic in the least, the potatoes are grown in fields where farmworkers are treated poorly, and the end product is actually under massive recall (not being reported in American press) at the moment. (Interesting piece about Lay’s Local marketing effort by a potato industry insider and a fabulous NYT piece here. More on the Localwashing movement in general here.)

On the organic front, a distinction can be made between “certified organic” and what I call “relationship organic” which happens when small scale growers & producers follow or often exceed organic standards but are not officially certified due to any number of factors including: cost of certification, use of hydroponics (not able to be certified), or simply because the consumer has a relationship with the grower and can discuss what pest-control, fertilization, etc methods that are used.

For more elaboration on Dandelion’s approach & practice, read Our Food Philosophy and our sections dedicated to Local & Organic.

I will leave you with one final thought – this one about flavor. On the one hand, choosing local, organic, seasonal & artisan food almost always ensures the best flavor, and I’m a big fan of delicious tasting food (as ya’ll know since you eat at Dandelion). However, let’s keep it in our consciousness that our palette cannot distinguish whether or not the health of a farmworker, animal or ecosystem was sacrificed for our momentary pleasure. We must first see & hear for ourselves what has brought some morsel onto our plate so that all of our senses might be delighted in knowing that people, animals and earth were all respected and honored in order to satisfy our hunger.

 

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Think Local First: Vote with your dollars!

I was recently asked how the economy was affecting our business and it's been an interesting diagnosis. The authentic values that are at the foundation of Dandelion are ones that naturally resonate with people and, in comparison to what I hear about most other businesses, ours is doing well in terms of patron support (thanks so much to all of you!!). Yet, rising costs from fuel, the impossibilities of affordable healthcare and a harder to predict volume (some days we are slammed, others unusually slow) make it more and more challenging to operate our business on a day to day basis.

It becomes clearer with every passing day that securing a local food supply and educating our citizens about the importance of supporting independent establishments over big box or chain stores is an absolute necessity. In my opinion, the current economic situation is a natural and expected outcome of the loss of connection between people, communities and our environment. As the current structure disintegrates, it is imperative that we rebuild and rebirth a local living economy in a way that is supportive of people & planet. This is the way humanity will be able to ensure it's long term survival with a chance at a healthy & happy quality of life.

Most observers would think that our bustling cafe translates into a healthy monetary return, but rising costs have made it a struggle to pay our bills. While we have faith we will make it long term, I think it is instructive to share this struggle with you so you can understand that your continued support of our business, as well as the many other amazing independent establishments, is going to make all the difference in these challenging times. I urge you to think consciously every time you choose to spend your hard earned money - transfer those dollars spent feeding mega business to the folks in your local community who are all feeling the mounting pressure of these rising costs and encourage your friends and co-workers to do the same. Read more...

I expect this economic correction to strengthen earth & people centric businesses in the long term as people discover that supporting local businesses that emphasize the health of people & planet, as well as profits, are good investments in their newfound wellness care and long term security. Holistic local self-reliance is the most sustainable economic solution and empowers communities to avoid the instability inherent when you are at the mercy of volatile markets for your basic needs of nutrition and energy.

I found a great piece on the internet that talks about one man's vision for local self-reliance might look like. Let it inspire you to dream about Orlando's own version! Check it out here.

Seeking Community Capital

There are many opportunities at this time for solid financial investments in our local community. If you or someone you know is interested in investing capital into community enriching enterprises and programs, now is the time to step forward and open a discussion on several projects and programs that are in the works. There are a tremendous amount of intelligent, hardworking and conscious individuals within the for profit and non-profit sectors who have the knowledge, passion and ability to make our community an amazing place to call home. Please connect with me if you are interested in learning more about some unique opportunities in our community. Email julie-AT-dandelioncommunitea.com

 
 
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