The Importance of Eating Locally
By Megan French, written June 2018
“When we told our youth that farming was a lowly aim compared with becoming teachers, doctors, or lawyers, what were we thinking? We need teachers for just a few of life’s decades. If we are lucky, we’ll see a doctor only a few times a year, and a lawyer even less. But we need farmers every single day of our lives, beginning to end. No exceptions.” -Barbara Kingsolver
The disconnect between food and farmer, food and environment, and food and well-being disrupts our relationship with the natural world and impedes our opportunities for growth.
Food is always at our fingertips, and access to food so convenient that we often forget the means to the end. We see the food as an obstacle before the end of a recipe, as a vehicle for body energy, and as a catalyst of social interaction, but do we see food as its components? As the parts that make up a single ingredient? Do we see the synthetics, the engineering, and the fossil fuels? Or alternatively, the soil, the sunshine, and the farmers who toiled over it?
If we begin to think of food as the parts that create it and the system from whence it comes, then we can begin to reconnect the broken links between well-being, environment, and farmers. By eating locally, we can witness and interact with the system first hand. We can see the humus of the soil, rich with mycelium and life, or the dry and dusty particles, stagnant with toxins and chemicals. We can talk to our farmer, hear her practices, her successes, and her failures. We can observe the health and abundance of the birds and the insects and the livestock.
There are four basic necessities in life: water, food, shelter, and air. We are keenly aware when most of these necessities are faulty. We are wary of unsafe and unclean water, we can feel our throats burn in times of forest fire smoke, and we feel solace when we come indoors from a cold afternoon out. But the impacts of unhealthy foods are not immediate and do not trigger us immediately.
The only true way to know our food is to know the land and the people who grow it. To grow our own food or to support a local sustainable farmer, eliminates the guesswork at the grocery store, the reading of convoluted nutrition facts, and brings certainty in a life of misleadings and advertisements. This process also allows us to reconnect with one the the things most important to our lives that we have taken for granted.
Eating locally can revitalize our community and our bodies. It can rehabilitate our impact on the soil, the water, and the air. It can teach us to reconnect with what sustains us.
Megan French, written April 2018
Before you feel hunger, a farmer gazes over her fragile forest of vegetable starts, each the size of the thread flaring from her tattered jeans. Each delicate tendril, a testament of patience and care. Each having been hand sewn into hand sifted soil, and placed in the perfect dark, warm, and humid conditions, waiting until peering eyes detect the first cotyledons. These first leaves prompt a great migration from darkness to the light; to propagation space with lots of room and plenty of sunrays. This wisp of a plant then takes these great rays to manufacture strength from chlorophyll, improve vigor, and become the tasty nutritious calories so essential to our bodies.
This meek and tender greenery is our food security for the next long cold winter. We have yet to emerge fully from this cold spring, yet a farmer must think of the next cold.
Before you feel hunger, there is a farmer planning. The first seeds in the ground will be the last to be consumed; storage onions, celeriac, cabbages, and leeks. These crops are slow growing, packing nutrients, storability, and hardiness into every cell, to nourish us all winter long.
The first seeds are started in February (January if one is crazy or tenacious), transplanted into the soil in April, and tended until harvest in September or October. When the plants are either consumed or safely stored until the next April, if luck holds and the rodents do not.
The first couple months are filled with anxiety and eagerness. The sanguine thoughts to grow, and to grow more than the previous year, are stifled by frozen dew and fifteen degree mornings, 40 mph wind gusts that rip holes in new greenhouse plastic, and waiting for water to flow in the canals. Plant starts will inevitably freeze, flea beetles will eat holes in the arugula, and hailstones will impale freshly planted greens. But, to be a farmer is to be an eternal optimist.
The farmer must purchase seeds, amendments, infrastructure and fuel, and make a guess at how hungry you will be. If the farmer is smart, she will look at records from the years past, ask markets and grocers for information, and make an educated guess of how much she can grow. If the farmer is lucky, you will tell her how hungry you will be and how much you will consume. If the farmer is fortunate, you will support her all year long.
Before you make your shopping list, a farmer is making her seed purchasing list. Before you plan your weekly menu, your farmer is planning her yearly harvest. The time it takes from germination to consumption can be months to years.
When the simplicity of a stop at the grocery store is broken down, the complexity of the food system is bewildering, lengthy, and elaborate: seeds, soil, labor, water, shelter, transportation, marketing, and storage. All of this adding up to the mere cents paid per pound at the grocery store.
The next time you visit a grocery store, a co-op, a farmers market stand, I invite you to think of each piece of food’s story, history, and journey. Before you feel hunger, support your farmer.