<steps up on soap box>
I made a decision a couple weekends ago. As much as possible, I want to opt out of the Food System.
Do you know where your food comes from? Unless you grow it yourself or buy it direct from a farmer, we can almost all unanimously say no. And why would we care?
I’m tired of pesticides. Synthetic fertilizers. Food safety concerns. Salmonella in our processed peanut products (not peanut butter, for the record). Salmonella on our tomatoes…wait, no, just kidding, hot peppers. (Sorry about destroying your livelihood, tomato growers.) Cannibalistic, de-beaked chickens. Antibiotics, hormones, injected sodium solutions. Animals that are penned up, fattened up and slaughtered to make room for the next animal. Inhumane slaughtering practices. Mad cow. Cows that never have access to grass and whose meat is lacking in omega-3s as a result. Chemicals leaching into our food supply. Food travelling 1500 miles from farm to plate. Pollution associated with mass transportation. Farmers receiving 6-10 cents of every dollar spent on food sales.
All of these things are the result of Big Ag, a limited number of growers trying to produce massive amounts of food to feed the rest of us at a cheap price. I’m not here to denigrate these folks; I wouldn’t want the responsibility of feeding hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people. My point is to say that there are other, better options.
Grow your own food. This is such a strange concept to most of us (myself included, prior to about a year ago). I didn’t know anything about growing plants, never mind trying to grow something that I could eat. I didn’t know anything about farming, and didn’t hold farmers in especially high regard. Now, that’s changed. Dude, if you have ever learned anything about soil quality and maintaining fertile soil, you know that farming is HARD. Farmers aren’t guys in straw hats who couldn’t cut it down at the community college. These guys know their stuff and work their hearts out.
On the other hand, growing food to support yourself in your back (or front) yard is do-able. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. During World War II, Victory Gardens in the US,
produced up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce being consumed nationally.
the government realised that the population would go hungry if the war was to last longer than a few months. The result was that formal gardens, lawns and even sports pitches were transformed into allotments, large and small, and everybody on the home front was encouraged to become a vegetable gardener. …
Between 1939 and 1945 imports of food were halved and the acreage of British land used for food production increased by 80%. It was estimated that over 1.4 million people had allotments by 1945.
As I mentioned earlier, we’d be a lot better off financially (not to mention nutritionally and physically) if we grew our own food. And to answer the question about what to do during the winter, there are ways around this. Root cellars, cold-hardy crops, Four Season Harvest, etc. Again, during World War II, pamphlets were sent out to Britains to teach them how to grow year-round. So, we’re capable, it’s just that nobody cares enough to do it.
Local farmer’s markets and CSAs (direct-to-consumer sales). If you don’t have the time, energy or interest to grow your own food, you can have a local farmer grow it for you. I think most people are familiar with the concept of farmer’s markets, but you may not be familiar with CSAs. CSAs are pretty much the coolest thing I’ve learned about in the last year. Essentially, you find a local farmer and purchase a “share” in the farm. Generally you pay up front at the beginning of the growing season, which provides the farmer with the start-up costs needed to get the farm going. Then, every week throughout the season, you get a delivery of local, seasonal produce. This varies from farm to farm, but generally it’s vegetables, possibly fruits, flowers, eggs, bread, whatever. Sometimes you can buy an add-on share of bread or whatever in addition to your vegetable share. If you have a smaller family, you can often get a half share instead of a full share. The price per week is usually pretty reasonable, somewhere between $15-30/week. For fresh, locally grown vegetables, often organic!
THE place to find CSAs is Local Harvest: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ Just search by your zip code.
I told my sister about CSAs and suggested that she look into it, and this was her reply:
Thank you so much! There is a farm only four minutes from my home that is organic (uncertified). 14-18 lbs. per week for 20 weeks for $450 and no work required. Wow! What an incredible find!
If you do the math, that’s less than $1/pound. And it’s local. And the payment actually goes to the farmer. Who just happens to be part of your local economy.
Local Harvest will also help you find local farmers who raise cattle, chickens, etc. http://www.localharvest.org/ Just type in your zip code and look at what pops up. I was surprised to see that in the Columbia area we have several farmers who raise grass-fed beef, free range chickens and all sorts of good stuff. Goodbye, Walmart meat.
Non-local, direct-to-consumer sales. Basically, buying directly from a farmer somewhere other than where you live. I don’t know about you, but where I live we can’t grow oranges. I’m very supportive of the local foods movement, but I don’t think local foods is an either/or option. I’m not anti-pineapples, and I don’t have a vendetta against bananas. I don’t think I need to remove these foods entirely from my diet because they’re not grown locally. But for the foods that can be grown locally, buy locally. If you can’t, try to buy directly from the farmer.
Again, Local Harvest is the place to go: http://www.localharvest.org/store/
You can do this for all sorts of food products. A couple weeks ago I went to a talk on sustainability in which the presenter mentioned how one of the Universities of California (I can’t find the link right now) has a connection with a fair trade coffee producer from Costa Rica, imports the beans directly and ships it out to people here.
It’s about changing how we think about food.
Am I going to grow my own wheat and grind it to make flour? Probably not. But maybe I can buy directly from a reputable farmer. I do plan to grow my own vegetables, and possibly also some fruits (paw paws are native to Missouri, apparently, and I didn’t even know what they were).
Can you really survive on food you grow yourself? Looks like the Urban Homestead folks do it, on a 1/5 acre lot (granted, they live in California):
The yard has over 350 varieties of edible and useful plants. The homestead’s productive 1/10 acre organic garden now grows over 6,000 pounds (3 tons) of produce annually. This provides fresh vegetables and fruit for the family’s vegetarian diet and a source of income.
Their lot is actually smaller than the one our house sits on. And they’ve started an online community to support people who grow their own food: http://www.freedomgardens.org/
So, anyway, think about your food. Think about your environment. Think about your health. And whenever possible, grow your own.