Solution: Eating Local
(contributed by Sarah Trone Garriott)
Eating Local Dependence on fossil fuels can be cut drastically with changes in food consumption. Little changes have a big impact. For example, “If every US citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week” (Kingsolver, 5). Instead of paying the lion’s share for foreign oil, each dollar spent on local food goes directly into the local economy. At farmers markets and through Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA’s) programs, the money goes directly to the farmer who grows the food. This money is then spent in the local community. This is a significant change from the tiny fraction that conventional farmers receive—after the corporations, processors, advertisers, transporters, and retailers get their share.
Is it possible that sustainable, local agriculture could feed the world? The answer is a resounding yes. While Agri-business claims that the industrial model is the only way to feed the world, sustainable agriculture has proven itself to be just as, or even more, productive. According to a recent USDA Census of Agriculture, “Smaller farms produce more food per acre…they use land, water, and oil much more efficiently; if they have animals, the manure is a gift, not a public health threat” (McKibben, 67). When conventional farmers switched to sustainable techniques, their yield remained the same, but their costs (fertilizer and pesticides) decreased (McKibben, 70). No matter where one lives, local food can be a possibility. In a number of places it is already a reality. As McKibben notes:
Shanghi—the city with the world’s fastest train, the tallest hotel, the biggest TV screen—60 percent of the vegetables and 90 percent of the milk and eggs come from urban farms. A recent study estimated that even London could grow a fifth of the fruit and vegetables its ten million residents consume on just 10 percent of farmland left among its sprawl (82).
If the average citizen pitches in, the impact of local food can be revolutionary. Recent history reveals what a little cooperation can do. When German U-boats blocked the import of food during WWII to the United Kingdom, the “Dig for Victory” campaign urged citizens to garden every spare inch of soil. The impact was dramatic, as “these urban gardens quickly produced twice the tonnage of food previously imported” (Kingsolver, 250). The United States soon followed suit with “victory gardens” popping up in nearly every backyard. Clearly, when consumers to take a more active and informed role in food production the results are significant.
So what is stopping us from eating local? Unfortunately, the entire system of food production and consumption is set up to favor agri-business. Big corporations have a monopoly on processing and distribution of their crops. Right now, almost three-quarters of government subsidies go to farms that are among the top 10 percent in size (McKibben, 86). The little guy has very little opportunity to get their produce and livestock to the consumer. Still, little changes result in big opportunities for family farms. As McKibben notes, “In a few districts of England, town planners have subsidized local schools and hotels so that they’ll purchase more local food; after several years, the average age of a farmer in those townships has dropped to thirty-two—from fifty-five” (87). In conventional agriculture, farming is a losing business, as big business takes everything but the risk for growing the crop. However, direct local sales to the consumer offer a lot of hope for frustrated farmers. An increase in farmers markets, from 340 in 1970 to 3,100 in 2002, have given these farmers greater opportunity to sell their crop (McKibben, 81). Local food efforts like farmers markets and CSA’a are actually slowing the loss of small, family farms. By 2005, there was a 19 percent increase in farms as newcomers returned to the land (McKibben, 82).
Steps You Can Take to Support Local Sustainable Food Shopping:
- Buy whole foods. Less processing and packaging means fewer steps from the field to the table. Using whole foods may take some changes in your cooking and diet, and a little more time in the kitchen. Remember, food is one of the most important elements for survival, isn’t your body worth it? See below for recipes guides.
- When you purchase food, look for items that are “in season.” This means no fresh blueberries in March, no fresh asparagus in September. Thinking about food “in season,” helps us get back to the reality that everything has its season. You will find seasonal food tastes fresher, has better color and more nutrients.
- Ask about local produce at your grocery store. If there are apples grown in your region, why is the store stocking only apples from New Zealand? Make requests for products you would like to see. Remind them that you are the customer and are always right.
- Shop at farmers markets and/or join a CSA. This is a great way to be certain that your money is going directly to the farmer. You’ll get to enjoy the best of the season, with food that was raised to be eaten, not raised to be shipped thousands of miles. Many farmers markets and CSA’s offer dairy and meat in addition to vegetables. See below for help on finding local food in your area.
- Preserve food for later use. Food is cheapest and of the highest quality at the peak of its season. Take advantage of the abundance of the harvest by freezing, drying, canning or pickling. A little work in the summer months will yield a freezer or pantry full of food that you can eat year round. It’s easier than you think. See below for resources on food preservation.
Growing Your Own:
- Growing your own produce is a rewarding and delicious experience. Even the smallest yard is an opportunity to raise an abundance of produce. Don’t have a yard? You can grow tomatoes and herbs in containers. Or seek out a community garden plot. You’ve never really had a carrot until you’ve pulled one out of the ground yourself. See below for gardening resources.
- Keep livestock. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You’d be surprised how many cities will allow residents to keep chickens. A growing number of urban and suburban dwellers are raising hens in their yards. Your neighbors will love the farm fresh eggs, and the chickens can eat the bugs out of your garden plot and fertilize it with their manure. See below for resources.
- Compost. Rather than trash your food scraps, turn it into useful soil. No matter what your living situation, you can compost without causing a stink. There are many techniques that will help you reduce your household waste and improve your garden. See below for compost resources.
Advocate for Change
- Write, email or call your congressperson and tell them that local food is important to you. Millions of dollars in government subsidies go to support destructive agricultural practices. Ask them how they are helping local, sustainable agriculture.
- Find out is your city has policies that support local food. Are there designated community garden plots? Can people keep chickens? Are there incentives for local businesses to use and sell local food? Ask your city council representatives to make it easier for people to access local food.
- Organize your friends and neighbors. Some changes may seem too difficult to take on alone. It helps to have other people to share information, ideas, and recipes. In a supportive community you will have a stronger voice.
Inform Yourself Readings: Kingsolver, Barabara. Animal Vegetable Mineral. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.
McKibben, Bill. Deep Economy. New York, NY: Times Books, 2007.
Coburn Flores, Heather. Food not Lawns. White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green, 2006.
Creasy, Rosalind. The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping. Sierra Club Books, 1982.
DeLong, Deanna. How to Dry Foods. New York, NY: HP Books, 1992.
Kelley, Jeanne. Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2008.
Kingry, Judith and Lauren Devine, Eds. Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, 2006.
Nichols McGee, Rose Marie and Maggie Stuckey. Bountiful Container. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.
Pollan, Michael. Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York, NY: Penguin, 2007.
Riotte, Louise. Carrots love tomatoes. North Adams, MA: Storey Press, 1998.
Recipes: Chesman, Andrea. Serving up the Harvest. North Adams, MA: Storey Press, 2007.
Fearnley-Whittingshall, Hugh. The River Cottage Cookbook. Berkeley, CA: Tenspeed press, 2001.
Green, Aliza. Beans. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2004.
Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. From Asparagus to Zucchini. Madison, WI: Jones Books, 2004.
Moosewood Collective. Moosewood Restaurant New Classics. Clarkson Potter, 2001.
Websites: A listing of local in season foods for your area: http://nrdc.org/ International local food efforts: http://grassrootsonline.org/ Online community of “slowies” who share resources and information for eating and preparing local, in-season and sustainable food: http://slowfoodusa.org/ Find CSA’s and farmers markets in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/ Plants and resources for growing your own organic and heirloom vegetables: http://www.seedsavers.org/ Online community for local gardening efforts: http://www.kitchengardeners.org/
A how to guide for raising your own eggs: http://www.backyardchickens.com/
Resources, links, and instructions for composting: http://howtocompost.org/