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03-21-12-veggies.jpgMarsha Howe describes herself as someone who cares a lot about food and sustainable living. When she moved to Fayetteville from San Diego, she searched the grocery stores for the local, organic food she had come to love, but according to Howe, “it was slim pickings.”

Instead of complaining and resigning herself to the status quo, she decided to start a movement to address the accessibility of sustainable, local food. The result was the Neighborhood Grange Network, which is scheduled to meet on March 25, at the Museum of the Cape Fear from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Howe says that Fayetteville is new to the idea of sustainability, citing the city’s relatively recent adoption of curbside recycling, and has a different type of soil and environment than what she was used to. She checked with the county extension office for more information on how to garden in her new surroundings, and the seeds of an idea were planted.

“I feel called,” she says. She got excited when she realized that she could be part of bringing the locavore movement to Fayetteville. Since she was learning, she thought, “what a great time to help others learn” about sustainability and local food.

In December, she first explored the idea of joining forces with like-minded people, and about a month ago, she set up a Meetup.com page for what she had come to call the Neighborhood Grange Network. According to the Meetup page, Howe was inspired by the rural tradition of farmers coming together in a community grange hall. According to Howe, about 12 people attended the first meeting, and now approximately 45 people are involved. “It has snowballed in a wonderful way,” she says.

The group’s goal is to share sustainable skills, resources, and support for backyard gardeners and our local farmers. Howe says that she wants people to have access to good, safe food grown in a way that is good for the community. Through the Grange Network, she hopes to educate people on what it means to eat in season. She says that, based on what is available in a typical grocery store, it seems that everything is always in season, so people are no longer in touch with what is actually seasonal. “When people eat in season, the nutritional value of their diet doubles,” Howe said.

In the future, Howe hopes that Grange Network members can support local farmers as well as educate themselves by participating in crop mobs, in which people volunteer to work at a local farm at a designated time. On the effectiveness of such efforts, she asks, “Do you know what a few people can do in an hour?” In addition to this, she hopes to establish a local Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, in which people purchase produce directly from local farms, and the group is actively working to get more Fayetteville restaurants to serve locally grown food. Eating sustainably and locally, she says, is “a great way to support local farmers.”

Howe has set up a booth for the Neighborhood Grange Network in the Transportation Museum on Franklin Street, and the Meetup page (www.meetup.com/NeighborhoodGrangeNetwork/) has more information for anyone who is interested in joining.

“It’s more than about food,” Howe says, “It’s about community, neighbors, and sharing.”

Photo: The group’s goal is to “share sustainable skills, resources, and support for backyard gardeners and our local farmers.”

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