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Pedaling the Local Food Movement

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In this episode, three young women chronicle community agriculture efforts on a bike trip from D.C. to Montreal. We also check in on Mark's garden and discuss Dino's newfound fame. Video by Whitney Shefte/washingtonpost.com Episode 3

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By Adrian Higgins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where do gardening, small-scale agriculture and the future of planet Earth converge? For three Washington women, it's on a road less traveled, on byways unseen from the gotta-get-there, high-speed chaos of the interstate.

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It has been a year since Lara Sheets, 26, Liz Tylander, 25, and Kat Shiffler, 24, climbed on their bicycles in Mount Pleasant and pedaled north, eventually to Montreal. Along the way they visited thriving inner-city gardens, innovative suburban farms and rooftop vegetable plots as they chronicled a grass-roots movement seeking to change the way we put food on our table.

The result is a low-budget documentary, "Garden Cycles Bike Tour," which captures the spirit of their unusual 2,000-mile sojourn and the much larger movement that inspired it. The trip has also generated a Web site and blog, http://womensgardencycles.wordpress.com.

In the course of their three-month odyssey, the women found a community garden in the gutted ghettos of Baltimore, were run off the road by a truck in New Jersey, abandoned efforts to cycle across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York and got hopelessly lost in New England towns. They slept in the gardens of strangers, discovered new ethnic food and recipes and cemented their desire to change the world by growing vegetables.

Sipping tea in a Mount Pleasant cafe, they exhibit a playful friendship burnished by the endeavor, along with a sober commitment to a cause and a belief that they can make a difference.

When the film premieres at an environmental festival in rural Virginia in September, viewers will see a documentary that speaks to a generational disenchantment with the world these women have inherited. Industrial agriculture, with its energy dependence and huge carbon footprint, is not a sustainable way to farm, they argue.

But they also see solutions: the growth in organic farming, in farmers markets and farms supported by a network of direct subscribers -- CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). And, of course, we can become our own farmers in the back yard or a community garden plot. Sheets tends an intensive herb and vegetable garden in the rear yard of the home she shares with others in Mount Pleasant. Tylander and Shiffler, roommates in Woodley Park, tend a plot at the Twin Oaks Community Garden at 14th and Taylor streets NW.

"People of our age want to get back into farming, and we wanted to get those stories out," said Sheets, explaining the goal of the film and the journey that spawned it.

"It's a social movement," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. "It's not just young people, but it's really grabbed the attention of young people because it's so totally tied to climate change and other issues that concern them."

Nestle, author of the book "Food Politics," said the movement is "not organized and very spontaneous and grass-roots, and represents the best elements of American democracy."

For Sheets, the call to social activism occurred as an anthropology major at James Madison University. Tylander and Shiffler were similarly galvanized by their studies at American University. After college, Sheets and Tylander were working together at an environmental organization called D.C. Greenworks. In college, they had made environmental films, and they decided in the fall of 2006 that they would document the movement in a monumental bike ride.

The original plan was to take a two-year nationwide tour, but they realized that would cost too much, said Tylander.


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