Infinite Blogging

Tales of love, fertility and nourishing food.

Opting Out of the Food System. February 24, 2009

Filed under: Environment,Food,Growing,Health,Local,Physical activity — Annette @ 6:50 pm

<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.

Option #1. hshf_img_grow_your_own_food
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.

In Britain

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. 


Option #2.
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: 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. 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.

Option #3.
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:

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:

So, anyway, think about your food. Think about your environment. Think about your health. And whenever possible, grow your own.


11 Responses to “Opting Out of the Food System.”

  1. Lyndell Says:

    This is great for the in-kind market, trading stuff directly instead of using a fiat currency, especially considering the recession.

    Localharvest brought up a very urban address for grass-fed beef; must be his home office instead of the field.

    Wow, lamb for less than the regular price of lean ground turkey?! Beef only twice the price of the stuff I buy, hmmm. Compelling.

    I thought the middle man was supposed to be on the way out. However, it’s very entrenched, isn’t it?

  2. buckblog Says:

    ” Cannibalistic, de-beaked chickens”

    Personally I prefer my chickens debeaked.

    I find they tickle on the way down if they aren’t.

  3. Annette Says:

    Direct-to-consumer sales are on their way up with the increasing popularity of farmer’s markets and such, but in Missouri, at least, they still account for less than 1% of food sales.

  4. Terri Says:

    This is exactly what I have tried to do over the last six years, step outside of the food system. I still buy a few things from the store, but weekly grocery shopping just isn’t something I do anymore. I grow some of our food, purchase some from farmers’ markets, and purchase some directly from farmers (other than at farmers’ markets). I do buy some things that aren’t available locally at the store, but generally it’s at a store that carries bulk organic beans and grains. rather than the regular grocery store.

    When I first started the transition, I didn’t think there were many sources available where we live. But the more I worked toward it, the more I found. It sounds like you’ve already found quite a few sources. That’s awesome.

    I didn’t think I would ever get to grinding my own flour, but this past year, I did exactly that. I have a relatively local source for organic wheat (northeast Iowa), and I purchased a grinder. It was well worth the money. I’m amazed at the difference in flavor.

    Anyway, good luck with your quest to opt out of the food system. It’s a LOT of work (far more than most people realize or are willing to do), but in my opinion, it is very much worth it.

  5. lcganderson Says:

    RE: Wheat. We have a 5-gallon bucket of wheat berries sitting in our pantry; Aaron’s aunts buy grains in bulk (it seems like they buy it from the Amish, but I can’t remember) maybe a couple of times a year? At any rate, we got 5 gallons of wheat for something like $5. That’s about how much a bag or two of flour cost at the store. We have a nice old-fashioned wheat grinder and every time we need a cup or two of flour, we grind it right up. I like doing it this way because a) it’s way cheaper than buying flour in the store, but, more importantly, b) we get far more nutrients out of just-ground flour than been-sitting-on-a-shelf-who-knows-how-long flour.

    RE: Gardening. I have to say I’m surprised to hear home gardening is such a foreign concept to so many! My parents always had a garden, as did many of our neighbors. Is it a regional thing? A difference between urban dwellers and rural dwellers? Interesting.

    And thanks for posting the links; I’ve wanted to find a better source for meat (I don’t think we’ll be raising cattle any time soon; one day, but not soon).

  6. lcganderson Says:

    Annnd…. lcganderson is Desirée…

  7. melody Says:

    thanks so much for sharing about this – growing our own food and supporting local farms is definitely something my hubby and I interested in.

  8. Lyndell Says:

    My parents once had a stone wheat grinder.

  9. Sandra Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I live in a condo and don’t have a place (nor does our association allow) for a garden, but I have been considering this very subject, especially with the real possibility that at some point the global economic crisis will virtually suspend big grocery store chains from having access to fresh produce and if they get any, it will be whatever they can get and outrageously priced. So thank you for pointing me to the site and other options. Take care.

  10. Annette Says:

    Does your condo have a sunny patio or window sill? There are SO many things that you can grow in containers, even if you don’t have access to the ground! If you’re interested, check out the link to “The Bountiful Container” under my “Books I’m totally into right now” links. It’s an awesome, awesome book, and goes through step-by-step all the vegetables, fruits, herbs (and even edible flowers) that you can grow in containers. Very user friendly, very easy to read. I’m actually planning to build modified raised beds for my garden; I’m going to put a bottom on the bed (more like a container) so I don’t have to worry about weeds coming up from the bottom. Anyway, if you are interested in growing some of your own food, there are ways!

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