Saturday, June 18, 2005

eating close to home

Eating locally produced foods is a way to reduce your footprint on the Earth by reducing the oil consumption and emissions that transportation produces. You may have heard the oft-quoted statistic that the average food travels 1,500 miles before getting to you plate. That comes from a study by Rich Pirog, Marketing and Food Systems Program Leader at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

This article at Science News Online explains the ins and outs of determining the real cost of the foods we eat:

What most consumers probably don't realize, Pirog says, is that the majority of their food makes a long haul. In a new report from his center called "Checking the Food Odometer," he calculates the average distance that 16 popular types of produce take to Iowa restaurants and conference centers. For locally grown and distributed goods, the average was about 56 miles. For those that take a more typical route from the lowest-cost provider and through a distributor, the average was 1,500 miles.
But it is not just about the distance traveled, it is also about the energy inputs required. For example:

...Spanish tomatoes can be delivered to Swedish consumers at a lower nvironmental cost than that of locally grown ones. How? The Spanish tomatoes are raised in warm, open fields, while the Dutch and Scandinavian ones have to be grown in greenhouses warmed with fossil fuels.

So how can we determine the "food miles" of our foods? We can ask. We did a local survey and were dismayed to discover that the produce at our "local" farm standish stores was not necessarily local. Pirog wants to put labels on foods that indicates the distance traveled and the environmental impact. Whole Foods indicates the source of the produce right next to the price.

If you are lucky enough to have a farmer's market near you, then you are set. You may even be able to sign up to have food delivered to a drop point near you year round from a farm through Community Supported Agriculture. The USDA website quotes Susanne DeMuth who defines it this way:

In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

They have a data base of CSA farms; maybe there is one near you.

Another resource for locating local produce is the Local Harvest directory which links consumers with providers.

The freshest, healthiest, most flavorful organic food is what's grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Just click on the map below to zoom in, or use our search form for quick results. If you are a farmer, market manager, or run a business
related to locally-grown food, you can add your listing to our directory - free.
We did a search using our area code and found an organic farm just five miles from us that runs a stand every Thursday--you can bet we'll be there!