Tricia is a sustainable food staff writer for Justmeans. She is passionate about food: growing it, helping others grow it, and eating it. She is an environmental educator who has been working in community-based education for fourteen years. She enjoys growing food in her small garden and runs a gardening mentorship program for local families. She's also a member of six community supported agricult...
Rethinking Local Food
In the last few years, there has been much ado about local food. It has been called The New Organic. In a world that may be poised to shift from carbon-based fuels to other sources of fuel, seeing local food as a fuel for local economies makes sense. Creating relationships with local farmers, branding a business as one that supports local farmers, and keeping money and resources within a community all make sense. Local feels good.
However, there is also the question of efficiency. Trying to grow a warm-weather crop like tomatoes in a cool, damp climate? The tomatoes are stunted and get blight. They struggle to survive. Greenhouses come into the picture, and cloches and all sorts of devices to help those crops survive. Even including their transportation and packaging impacts, these local tomatoes could end up using more of the earth's resources than those grown nearby.
Diagnostic tools help weigh the costs and benefits of eating local food or imported food, of canning food to preserve for the winter versus trucking in fresh food. However, the scenario rests on an important assumption. It assumes that we will continue to eat like we have been eating, feasting on tomatoes and watermelon even though we live in a cool climate. This does not need to be the case.
Let's pretend for a minute that there is only local food. We cannot fly food in from long distances away, we can't truck it in from other countries. We need to rely on what we grow locally, and we need to do it in a manner that supports the local environment. What then? How would we eat? Well, we would eat what grows well in our climate, and we would eat seasonally. If our climate grows kale really well, we would become masters of kale. Perhaps we would grow a few tomatoes to go along with it, but these would be considered crops that required a lot of resources and time input. A farmer could grow a lot of kale or a few tomatoes, and prices would reflect that. Out of necessity, we would change our eating habits to focus on those foods that are suited to our area.
Local food may be the new organic, but neither the local brand nor the organic brand are perfect creatures. Local food can still use a lot of resources, and organic food may be imported from far away. If you're branding your business, your restaurant, or yourself as a supporter of local food, take the next step. See what grows well with few resources, and support farmers in their efforts to grow those crops.