Go Local

01 May 2014, Posted by Dave in Dig Deeper

There are some very good reasons to “go local” when buying food. Here are two of our favorites:

1. The Personal Connection. We can get to know our farmers, and see how they care for the land and water. We know they don’t use poisonous pesticides or herbicides because they’re concerned about the health of the people who eat their food, and the wild plants, birds and fish living around them.  

2. The Power of Positive Spending. We use our food dollars to support those farmers who care about our health and the natural world. And by keeping those dollars in our area, we support the farming communities around us. We’re not giving our money to multi-national food corporations that will spend it on lobbyists, campaign contributions and stock buy-backs. 

But there’s another good reason to buy local that a lot of people aren’t aware of. It’s called Food Security. The drought in California  is bringing that into focus for a lot of people. It’s pointing toward some potentially serious food scarcity, bringing much higher food prices to the entire country:

“Anywhere between one-third and one-half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown in California, meaning Americans are facing higher prices on melons, broccoli, baby greens, almonds and other popular crops.”

California farmers have been planting more water-intensive crops in recent years, like berries and nuts, instead of the old staples like tomatoes, spinach and cantaloupes. All that, while the long-term weather forecast for the state predicts no break from the drier conditions for the next year or two. Anyone who’s been to California’s Central Valley in the summer can tell you it’s practically a desert already – dry, dusty and very hot. A crop’s success or failure there depends on irrigation water from the dwindling Sierra snowpack. 

And a lot of the “organic” produce you see in the big grocery store chains is grown in the Mexican desert, requiring huge amounts of irrigation water. The food is picked well before it’s ripe, trucked a thousand miles or more and stored in enormous, refrigerated warehouses. Does that seem like a ridiculous waste of water, oil and electricity, so that shoppers can pay more to be fooled into thinking they’re being environmentally responsible and organic? 

Here, in the upper Midwest, the great majority of cropland is covered in soybeans and corn, mostly to be made into processed food additives, animal feed and ethanol. But growing numbers of farmers around here have been bucking the trend. They’re raising vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and meat that together make up a healthy diet with plenty of tasty variety.  

And variety really counts in another, very important way. These farmers are diversifying the sources of our food. We’re better off when we don’t have to worry about California’s Central Valley becoming too hot and dry to raise food. Or about the alarming problem with soil pollution in China (20% of our frozen spinach and 50% of our apple juice comes from China). And water pollution there, too (where farmed Tilapia fish, bound for the U.S., are fed a diet of pig manure contaminated with Salmonella). 

Spending a few more dollars for organic, locally raised food isn’t wasting money. We’re building security, a food web that we and our families can count on no matter what happens to the national economy, or to pollution in other countries, or to the world-wide climate. 

Healthful food is as elemental to our existence as clean air and water. When we can feel confident about where it’s coming from, that’s one less thing to worry about.

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