Circus Smirkus Thrives on Local Food
Lucy Caldwell Jul 21, 2012 The Beat 0 comments
The circus is a quintessial summer event. When the big top rolls into town, rumours spread about elephant sightings, supposed meetings with clowns in bars, and the love affair between the two main acrobats. A circus brings not only a wonderful performance but also a bandwagon of excitement wherever it goes. Part of its charm is the mystery of this magical community that rolls in, able to perform seemingly impossible feats defying the laws of gravity and making us laugh 'til we cry. Who are they? Were do they come from? What do they do outside the ring?
In the case of Circus Smirkus, the performers are youngsters between the ages of 10 and 18, from New England and around the world. During the off-season, you may see them getting dropped off at school by their parents or running around a grassy field at soccer practice. But from early July to mid-August they are part of a traveling circus troup, joking, contorting and twirling through New England and upstate New York. Circus Smirkus's goal is to promote the skills, culture, and traditions of the traveling circus. They inspire youth to engage in the circus community and every year young performers (or "troupers") are recruited into the big name circuses like Cirque de Soleil, The Ringly Brothers or the Big Apple.
If their reputation in the ring wasn't enough to draw interest, this year Circus Smirkus has added a local food aspect to their Northeast tour. Marialisa Calta, the public relations coordinator for this year's Smirkus tour, talked to us about the initiative saying, "A circus, like an army, travels on its stomach, and we've always filled ours with delicious, healthful foods. This year, a good portion of those edibles will come from farms, farmers' markets, co-ops and distributors in or near the communities where we perform. Supporting local growers ensures that more dollars stay in the community longer, supporting other businesses! We've been having so much fun meeting growers, and our 'Pie Car' (circus-ese for cook wagon) has had so much fun cooking up these nutritious whole foods for our troupers and staff."
Instead of commiting to one food supplier for the whole of their tour, Circus Smirkus changes their food supplier every time they change location. Their aim is to source 30 percent of their food locally, finding new suppliers for each town they visit. They've plotted their suppliers on a map (which you can see here) and the way the blue points are spread out, you can track the troup's progression up from Massachusetts through Vermont, New Hampshire and eastern New York.
The mastermind behind this local food sourcing initiative is Willow Yonika, a former highwire performer for Circus Smirkus. Willow is now a registered nurse who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Health Policy at Columbia University. While working as a nurse, Willow encountered many patients who had fallen critically ill because of diet related issues, and this prompted her decision to return to academia and study health policy. She hopes to fix the health problem at its source, making healthy eating the norm.
Willow is working closely with the head chef, Katie, who is very happy about the local ingredients she has been able to work with this year. "Giving a chef good ingredients is like giving an artist good tools", she says, while heartily confirming that this year on the tour "every single meal has been delicious." This is high praise when the chef and her team have to prepare lunch and dinner for 65 to 70 people (29 of whom are ravenous teenage circus performers) every day during the seven-week tour!
The initiative has not been without challenges. While there is always local food to be had at various farms near each performing site, getting it can be tricky. The food is there, but not always readily available. It can also be diffiult to get in touch with farmers who are working in the fields all day. Coordinating meet-up times and getting in touch with the spotty cell phone service that's still typical in the hillier parts of New England can complicate things further.
But it is a challenge that Yonika is handling gracefully — currently, they are exceeding their 30% local goal and are breaking 40%. As Circus Smirkus travels northward, each site brings its own challenges, meaning that adaptability is key. Willow hopes that this summer, her experience with the touring circus will help her learn to apply similar local food sourcing initiatives to companies. If her success with the circus is any indicator, stationary companies will be as easy as shaving cream pie!
For more information about Circus Smirkus (schedule, tickets, history, etc.), check out their website.
Photos courtesy of Circus Smirkus. TOP: Maia Gawor-Sloane, 17, of Richmond, Vermont, a wire-walker and aerialist in Circus Smirkus, enjoys a plate of locally source food. BOTTOM: Circus cooks Amity Stoddard (foreground), Katie Schroeder and Jessie Lundeen prepare a meal in their mobile "Pie Car."