With rising controversy over food labels that claim an organic, Non-GMO, or cruelty-free product, is eating responsibly-sourced foods an attainable reality or a figment of our collective imagination? Over the past 10,000 years of recorded human agriculture, we have utilized toxic chemicals and industrialized agriculture for only about the past sixty1. Our own government-run EPA “may determine that a cancer-causing chemical may be used despite its public health hazard if its ‘economic, social or environmental’ benefits are deemed greater than its risk.”2 The surprising truth, however, is that most of the world’s food supply still comes from small, local farms and as much as 90% of our nation’s food demand can be met locally.3
There is a lot of misinformation traveling the grape vine of our technological culture telling us that the commitment to eat locally, ethically, and sustainably means higher prices for groceries and a time consuming search akin to finding a rare mushroom in a dense forest. It is true that there are areas in our country, like inner cities and fiscally lean communities, that are tragically under-served in most every way, including availability of fresh and wholesome food options; yet even these populations are seeing grassroots organizations and nonprofits like The Food Trust change this reality.
Now more than ever, as women and mothers to future generations we are looking to be more mindful about what we put in our bodies, the need for a chemical free diet is becoming more evident. Toxins like endocrine disruptors in pesticides literally trick our bodies into producing unbalanced hormone levels.4 As they build up in our system, they lead to a myriad of women specific health issues from heightened mood swings to cancer and birth defects.
Equally pressing matters of animal welfare have come to mainstream attention through heartbreaking documentaries and statistics. What should be considered a criminal offense of animal abuse, practices banned in many countries, are legal and widely practiced in US factory farm. Did you know chickens can get depressed!?!5 Yes even chickens experience stress and are subsequently fed with antidepressant, antibiotic-laced food to combat the physical and emotional toll of their treatment. The disconcerting realities about the mainstream meat supply in this country have driven many of us to courageously adopt a wholly plant-based diet. But for those of us who stand firm as conscientious carnivores, there is an alternative that will give farm animals a happy and healthy life before hitting the grill.
Local farmers have an inherited and vested interest in the health of the environment, animals, and land they cultivate. While many small, local farms often lack the capital to acquire the health conscious food labels we look for in the produce aisle, they usually bring a far more wholesome product to the table than their larger competitors. So let’s bring our all mighty dollar to the aid of our neighborhood farmer’s market and keep the time honored traditions of the family farm alive. Bringing profits full circle and directly back into the local economy in which they reside, these stewards can shift our focus from disappointing government regulation and oversight to nurturing our natural resources.
Throw away the label and think local! When we start to look within our own city, county or state for our food, there are many hidden benefits.
What we reduce:
- Pollution caused by transportation of products and use of fossil fuels
- Toxic run off from feeding lots and excess fertilizer
- Soil, water and air pollution
- Harmful chemicals that affect human, animal and plant health like pesticides and herbicides resulting in resistant pests, antibiotics resulting in resistant bacteria, steroids, and psychotropics
- Outsourcing practices of large agricultural operations
- Culture of culinary cruelty and exceptions to the rule of what is considered morally acceptable
What we collectively gain:
- Food production efficiency
- Safeguarding biodiversity and the ever waning bee population
- Promotion of animal welfare
- Strengthening our local economy
- Increasing soil fertility and viability
- Promotion of long-term health for future generations
- Increasing nutrient content in our diet
- Dietary benefits of eating seasonally
- Increased affordability and availability of wholesome food options
What this all boils down to is looking realistically at our options and what is and isn’t feasible within the constraints of regional availability, a busy life, and personal finances. We all do what we can, and should in no way be made to feel guilty for what is just beyond our control. Lasting change is not something sudden and drastic. Personal revolution and growth is comprised of small steps taken over a period of time that build upon each other, originating from a place of self love and kindness. Planting seeds of desire and enjoying the benefits of these personal changes as they begin to bear fruit is where we begin. So in the spirit of breathing life into a gratifying new chapter of self care, here are some amazing and practical resources available to us, with the bulk of time consuming research and footwork already done. Keep in mind that all small, local, family farms are not created equal or beyond reproach and a bit of reading is needed to find the ones in your area that meet your specs!
The many ways we can live the “loca-vore” dream:
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A way for consumers to buy local, seasonal produce directly from a farmer in their community, basically a farm share.
- Farm Stands & Farmers Markets
- Food Buying Clubs: A way for individuals to join together and purchase bulk foods directly from vendors, usually at wholesale prices.
- Food Co-ops
- Specialty Markets & Meal Delivery
Some of the amazing national and regional resources out there:
- Local Harvest is a national resource and search tool that allows you to input what you are looking for where you live, generating a list of options (including restaurants!) in your area.
- The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) not only provides consumer resources, they represent family farm and rural groups in advocacy and lobbying for policy change on a national level, a great way to find what you need, contribute and stay informed.
- Willamette Farm and Food Coalition: WFFC is a local resource that not only lists local options, but gives each farm a blurb describing their growing/care techniques.
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life: An enjoyable must read and wonderful resource rich website for anyone interested in learning more about the nitty-gritty of what it takes to have your own garden as well as featuring delicious, seasonal recipes.
- Seasonal Food Guide: A resource for learning what is in season in your area making shopping and meal planning more exciting than daunting!
Tell us, how important is eating local to you?
1 Pesticides: The Big Picture, Pesticide Action Network http://www.panna.org/pesticide-problem/pesticides-big-picture
2 The Problem with Pesticides, Toxics Action Center, accessed November 2015, http://www.toxicsaction.org/problems-and-solutions/pesticides
3 Zumkehr, Andrew and Campbell, J. Elliott, “The potential for local croplands to meet US food demand,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13 (2015): 244–248, http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/140246
4 Endocrine Disruptors, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/
5 Zerbe, Leah, “3 Dirty Chicken Facts Exposed,” Rodale’s Organic Life, April 6, 2012, http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/healthy-chicken
Naomi Beecroft Coming from strong women who have helped pave the way for us present day ladies, I am acutely aware of the personal toll the struggle for equality, in all it's facets, can take and the importance of continuing this fight. When I was a little girl, my parents taught me to question, to listen and read with a grain of salt, to find out my own truth and not to waiver. In this way, most of my life has been a journey of experimentation, curiosity, observation and analysis. My memory is rich with wonderful and not so wonderful experiences and lessons that have molded my perspective of the world and my perception of self. Along this meandering path, I have dabbled in most any art form I could get my hands on from painting to forging metal. I have traveled, listened and experienced enough to know that the broader my perspective becomes, the more I will still realize there is yet to learn and experience. Currently, I am loving the painting, cooking, metalsmithing and hanging out with my furry friends.