Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
Bounty From the Market
Guest Post by Dusti Arab of Minimalist Adventures
“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” —-Adelle Davis
You may not give too much thought to what you eat today. It is easy to go to the grocery store and buy something you aren’t sure where it came from or if it is covered in pesticides, because the price is so low. Supermarkets like to make it easy. If you don’t question where your food comes from or what you are eating, then they keep their bottom line where it should be. However, more and more often, it seems people are growing dissatisfied with the grapes coming from Chile instead of the from the struggling local farmer. We have recently created the term “locavore” to describe someone who emphatically believes we should eat what is around us, instead of what we can fly in out of season. Maybe “cheap” and “efficient” shouldn’t be the primary factors for why we buy the food we do. In fact, perhaps this local movement could prove to be revolutionary.
Here are some facts to explain why changing where you get your food matters so much.
- In America, every one calorie of food requires ten calories to get it to you, the consumer. (Remember, a calorie is a unit of energy, not just something to count so you don’t gain weight.)
- The meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than the world’s entire transportation industry.
- Farmers only receive about $0.20 of every dollar you spend on food, with the rest going to pay for processing, packaging, etc.
Our food arrives in our supermarket by truck, powered by a river of oil. Most of what we eat is funded by government subsidies aimed at constantly producing more, especially more corn. But, what to have for dinner doesn’t have to have such a bleak connotation attached to it! There are options for opting out of this oil-guzzling, socially irresponsible food chain. In fact, some of them may be familiar to you, and some are probably closer than you think! For your viewing andhopefully eating pleasure are a few of the different ways to obtain food without getting it at the grocery store.
Farmer’s Markets – Typically only open from late May to early September, farmer’s markets arrive and leave with seasons in most areas. However, if you live near a metropolitan area, you may be lucky enough to have one that may be closer to year round. Farmer’s markets are great for the ambience, amazing food carts, meeting others with similar interests in whole, organic foods (outside of eating at that tasty, greasy food cart), and for being able to interact with the people who grow your food. There really isn’t another experience like visiting these markets. Just being there lets you see in action the long-term, sustainable changes taking place in our local food economies, and it is completely inspiring. At a market, your food comes directly from farm to you. The carbon offset for that is an awful lot less than buying apples that were grown in Washington and then delivered to your supermarket in New Jersey.
CSA - Short for “community supported agriculture,” CSAs are basically a “membership” you pay for the farm which then provides a box of food every week. By paying a for a share in the farm, you help the farmer with their cash flow early in the season, not to mention you create an incredible tie with them. By investing a CSA, there is a concept of shared risk. If it is a bad tomato season, you won’t get too many tomatoes that year; however, if it’s a good strawberry year, you better be prepared to make jam! CSAs don’t just provide fruit and vegetables either. One CSA near my house produces honey, lamb, and mixed veggies! Depending on what a farm produces, you may be interested in sharing in more than one CSA. Throughly research your local CSAs and participate, especially if you have kids. Often, farmers allow you to come visit the farm at certain times of the year. Teach your kids where food actually comes from, so they don’t inform you it comes from the grocery store.
Food Co-op – If you can’t give up the convenience of getting your food from just one place, turn to a food cooperative. Food co-ops are worker/customer owned stores that carry food that meets that buying group’s requirements. For instance, some co-ops are strictly vegan, while others are focused on locally produced items. Search for one in your area that meets your needs and help support your food providers of choice!
Locally Owned Grocery Stores – While these aren’t exactly revolutionary, they are better than many other alternatives. Do you know if you have a locally owned chain in your area? In the Pacific Northwest, our favorite locally owned chain is New Seasons! New Seasons is like a smaller Whole Foods, but they have much better connections to the community’s growers. Businesses like these help make communities more interconnected by linked local farmers to local businesses to local customers. It’s a great cycle that creates more jobs, and they have all of the staples you’ll need, too. It’s nice to have at least one place around where you can buy tahini and organic beer!
How to find them:
I recently conducted a very large study which sought to find out whether or not urban agriculture was economically viable in a developed country. While my results to that question showed immense promise, more interesting still was that while people wanted to buy more locally, many of them didn’t know how. This went the opposite direction as well. Many growers didn’t know how, outside of farmer’s markets, to access local consumers. There is an especially large gap between small businesses who want to interact with local growers, but they don’t know how to access them. What does all this mean? Essentially, if we open up the lines of communication, we can beat corporations like Montasanto who want us to keep buying their food from those giant chains. If we can communicate with one another, we can all eat better and help the local economy.
Here is a list of resources to get directly involved with all of the above methods:
I dream of a world where communities grow their own food, coming together to bridge the boundaries of land parcels and create partnerships with neighbors, because we are all in this together. Food ties us all together. Without our steady food supply, we wouldn’t have civilization, so why shouldn’t we allow food to return to its rightful place as one of the highest of our priorities?
“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” —-M. F. K. Fisher
Food not Lawns – H.C. Flores
The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan
USDA, NASS “Agricultural Prices” 2010
United Nations, 2006 FAO Report
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Dusti Arab, Urban Agriculture: Is it economically viable in developed nations?