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It’s harvest season in Western Massachusetts and everywhere I look I see wonderful local food products for sale. We have vibrant farmers markets, colorful farm stands and productive farms in my region of the world. And of course, I have my own very large garden that is producing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, blackberries, green beans, Asian pears, eggs, honey and more this time of the year. So I am surely not objective when it comes to local food. I think about it, talk about it, and participate in growing and buying local food whenever I can.
I’ve written in the past about the need to relocalize our food system to support democracy, to build a vibrant local economy, and to move us toward a more sustainable agriculture. One might think I’d have nothing more to say about local food, but when I was asked recently to speak at celebration of local food in the nearby town of Granby, Massachusetts, I was moved to write yet another blog! Here is the outline of what I said……
While it is easy to celebrate local food this time of the year, I am concerned that an increasing number of farmers are competing for customers in a market that is not expanding as fast as production. We need more people to buy local – and we need your help to make this happen! Most people buy their food at “big-box” stores (Walmart is the largest food retailer in the world). We need your help to build a local food economy that will offer some balance to the industrial food system and give us a bit of insurance against collapse, soooooooooo….
…I’m asking you to join the “buy local food” movement and be sure to invite your neighbors!
If you are going to help, you might first think about what you’d say to your neighbors, who don’t participate in the local food movement. Here are a few of my own thoughts…..
“I care about good food…. my local community…. and my connection with the sacred.”
1. I care about good food and we know that local food is “fresher by miles.” The average food item on your plate has traveled from 1300 to 1500 miles to get there. And in spite of advances in packaging, refrigeration and handling (which are very energy expensive), sweet corn loses its sweetness within hours of picking…. and there is really nothing like an egg collected “direct from the hen” and eaten on the same day. Really… try it!
While some food items ship and store well, such as potatoes and squash…. even with these, you should try a local potato like the yellow, orange, or purple skinned fingerling potato (halved and roasted). And while one might think that squash is squash is squash….. it is difficult to get the thin-skinned Delicata squash (you can eat the skin) except from a local farm, as it bruises easily when shipped. I grow my own.
I also care about safe food, and quite frankly I don’t trust the industrial food system to keep my food free of pesticides and anti-biotic resistant bacteria and other human disease organisms (like bird- an swine-flu. You may not want to know….. but there is a food recall by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration every few days, and Congress has threatened to reduce the inspections budget. Last summer’s salmonella tainted eggs in the American Midwest was unfortunately not a surprise. I much prefer to look into the eye of the farmer from whom I buy my food.
2. I care about my local community, and I much prefer that any money I spend on food stays close to home. When I spend my money at a Super Walmart grocery store (I don’t), that money leaves the community. The purpose of a corporation is to generate profits for investors….. that’s all! Recent reports of how CEO salaries have skyrocketed makes me sick. When I buy bread from Ben and Adrie Lester at Wheatberry Bakery, I know my money is going to people I know and trust.
A study comparing a locally owned bookstore and a national retailer found that $100 spent at the local store resulted in $45 circulating in the community through services such as banks, bookkeepers, accountants and advertising etc. This compares with only $15 from a national chain. When you are talking about food rather than books, the difference is even more dramatic. The Local Multiplier Effect is an important contributor to our local and regional economy, creating jobs and building relationships close to home.
3. I care about my connection with the sacred, so I buy local. Okay, so this one isn’t quite as obvious as the other two reasons. I wrote in an earlier blog…. “Putting food in our bodies is the most intimate act we do on a regular basis. Eating food can either be a sterile, hurried act, offering little cause for joy – or a creative, spiritual act of connecting with other people, the earth – and thus with all of Creation.”
Rediscovering the sacred through growing or purchasing and preparing good food can be an act of healing. Shopping in a supermarket with its artificial lighting and hurried atmosphere is not a sacred act. We seek and receive bargains, hurry home to microwave a pre-prepared package (or perhaps stop for ‘fast-food’ on the way) and thoughtlessly shovel too much food into our hungry bellies (maybe while watching television).
Perhaps we can experience a connection with the divine……..
- by collecting an egg from under a hen you have raised yourself…
- by pouring maple syrup on pancakes from a tree tapped by a neighbor…
- by knowing the baker of the bread (or better yet, baking it yourself)…
- by shaking the hand of the farmer who dug the carrots you bought…
- by saying thank you for the gifts of creation; the fruit, the vegetables, the meat, the eggs, the bread and the wine…..
I believe there is value in rediscovering ways to connect with the sacred by growing our own food, buying real food from people we know and trust, and sharing food with family and friends in a communion of the spirit…
So, yes…. I support the local food system whenever I can. Are you willing to join me… and invite few of your neighbors?
I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends. And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now. And go here for more of my World.edu posts.