I have never considered myself an “environmentalist”. I don’t spend much time thinking about how the animals I eat are treated. I firmly believe that everything on the earth is for “the use of man”. That said, I do believe in being responsible for everything that we have, and a little effort goes a long way.
Our culture is one that has slowly moved us further and further away from food production. We celebrate that our hands don’t “get dirty” and think that we have somehow elevated our society to a superior standing. We don’t mind importing our food from Brazil, India, Chile or any other country as long as all we need to do is pull it off the shelf and swipe a card. We generally want to be as far removed from the production process as possible - who wants to pluck feathers from a chicken or spread manure over a field? The irony of it all is that we will never be able to fully remove ourselves because we ALL need to eat.
I have been amazed with how little I know about where my food actually comes from. I am thrilled when I can find salmon for $2.99 a pound, or when I am eating fresh asparagus in the middle of the winter. I have never given two thoughts to the origin of these pleasures. To be honest, I never even thought I SHOULD be thinking about where my food comes. I guess it is another of the many things that I have taken for granted.
The truth is that how I spend my money has power (and a lot of it). And the large corporations that prepare my food, package my food, and then convince me to buy it know how much that buying power is worth. How I spend my money on food determines so much more than simply what I eat. I never realized this before. I never realized that I can take back a little bit of that power by thinking just a little bit harder of where that money goes. I could go into LONG detail about all the many reasons (political, environmental, health etc) about why supporting my local farmers is important, but here is the bottom line (in general terms):
It is better for my health – accountability is created when we cut out the middle man. This accountability is what ensures product quality.
It is better for my community – we all benefit when money is kept within our own cities. Whether this is from tax benefits (more money for schools and streets, etc), job development or even a better feeling of “community”, our money is better used at home than abroad.
It is better for the soil – traditional multi-crop production is SOOOO much better for our earth than the conventional single-crop production that is taking over our farmlands. Also, CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) pollute the environment with animal waste, whereas the waste from pasture-raised animals act as a natural fertilizer.
It is better for the animals – the difference between how a ‘farmer’ versus and ‘agribusiness’ treats animals is EXTREME. This may not be something you even care about, but just consider it “killing 2 birds with one stone” (no pun intended) when you support your local farmers.
It is better for the environment - the amount of fossil fuels it saves buying local versus, say 2000 miles away is significant. Once again, little changes can make HUGE differences.
The only thing that it is not necessarily better for is my pocketbook. This doesn’t mean it HAS to be more expensive, but generally buying from your local farmer means FRESH food which is usually more expensive than the processed crap you can buy for a dime. That said, when comparing apples to apples (literally), I have found that my local farmers almost always beat the everyday store prices.
There are a few ways to get started. First of all, find out where you local farmers market is. Many cities have an organized market at a designated location on weekends from late spring to early fall. www.localharvest.org
If you do eat meat, find a local farmer that you can buy your meat directly from. There are many options for buying portions of the cow itself. Go directly to the farm and check it out for yourself. Find out if they use hormone or antibiotics. Find out if they are pasture fed or grain fed. (Each of these things directly affects your health).
Buy local eggs and honey. It might take a little research on your part to find, but as the demands for these products goes up, so will the supply.
If anything, ask your grocer where the produce comes from. Support local food production by purchasing local peaches that week rather that bananas from South America. It seems silly that for years I didn't know, or care, what fruits and vegetables were in season. It is only logical that a fruit that is ripened naturally and that did not travel 2000 miles to my kitchen just MIGHT add a little more benefit to my body. So if I have a buck to spend, why not spend it on the fruit that is in season.
For awhile I thought maybe I should be supporting third world countries since our country was already so bounteous. I quickly learned that using my grocery money is definitely NOT the most productive way to do this. “Developed nations promote domestic overproduction of commodity crops that are sold on the international market at well below market price, undermining the fragile economies of developing countries….Global trade deals negotiated by the World Trade Organization and World Bank allow corporations to shop for food from countries with the poorest environmental, safety, and labor conditions. While passing bargains on to consumers, this pits farmers in one country against those in another. Product quality is somewhat irrelevant…” Steven L. Hopp
All in all, these are enough reasons for me to use my money a little more wisely. I am not saying that I won’t enjoy asparagus in the winter or that I will stop buying bananas. What I am saying is that we all need to educate ourselves a little more about where our food comes from. I definitely recommend the documentary that was recently released called Food, Inc. It may not turn you into an instant vegan, but you just might feel an increased desire to know exactly what you are putting into your body. Someday it would be nice if the public knew as much about their food as the huge conglomerates that produce it do. I'm not saying that we need to go to extremes either. Like I mentioned, we have a lot of power with our money, and a little effort goes a long way.
I found a local guy who just started harvesting honey this year. He was nice enough to show
me and my kids his bees. This picture is him showing us the honeycomb. I'll admit that
the honey I purchased was a little on the expensive side, but well worth the time he spent
educating us on bees!