Are the follwoing buzz words familiar to you?
- Consumer choice.
- Local grown foods.
- Breaking the fast-food, long-distance habit.
- Sustainable agriculture.
- Biodynamic farming, green or greener farming, organic farming.
- Land stewardship and direct local interactions between farmers
Whether you've devoured Eric Schlosser's best-selling Fast
Food Nation or not; whether you're a farmer, a gardener or
just someone who loves to eat good, fresh food; whether you're a local
resident, a weekender or an occasional visitor — if you're not
familiar with the concepts these phrases represent, you should be.
Research shows that locals and visitors alike treasure our area's
scenic beauty and our mix of agricultural and natural landscapes.
But it's becoming clearer and clearer that if we are careless with
these treasures, sprawl will erase them forever.
It's simple economics that our beloved rural landscape will disappear,
if farmers can't earn a living from their land or don't follow sound
conservation practices. That's what sustainable agriculture is all
Sustainable agriculture depends on consumer demand. So it's up to
us consumers both to demand and to seek out local grown produce, meat,
fowl and fish.
Not only will this help preserve our beautiful farmland, but knowing
where our food was produced also enhances our quality of life.
For one thing, it gives us more confidence in the quality and safety
of our food. And by cutting out shipping time — and the distributor's
time, too, if we buy unprocessed foods direct from the farm —
we get fresher, better tasting food.
If you don't think freshness matters, think about the comparison
between just-picked corn and ears that have sat on a shelf for a few
O.K., you're convinced it'd be nice to substitute more local grown
food for items shipped from far away. Yet how can you make the transition?
"Start with just one thing..."
That's the advice of Terri Clark of the Northwest Illinois Audubon
Society, whose annual Food for Thought Workshops tackle such practical
topics as how to become an informed eater and how to cook quick, simple
meals using fresh ingredients.
She says individuals should start with small changes rather than
overwhelming their families with too much change all at once. Looking
ahead to the next workshop, scheduled for Feb. 15, 2003, she suggests,
"When you're planning meals or refreshments for groups or
meetings, plan to use local foods."
How and where can you practice this "just one thing" approach?
Most local supermarkets offer organic produce sections and post notices
that other foodstuffs — such as cheese, honey and jam —
are locally produced. And when the growing season rolls around, seek
out farmers markets and farm stands (see sidebar).
Buying direct from farmers takes on a whole new dimension with Community
Supported Agriculture (CSA), where consumers essentially pay before
the planting season (to help farmers with their costs) for produce
they won't get until the growing season, during which they usually
receive weekly produce packages. (See MOSES, side bar above, for more
"There's a spiritual and ethical dimension to this..."
That's the view of John Hall, director of the Wisconsin-based Michael
Fields Agricultural Institute, which works to educate farmers in ecologically
sound practices and to help farmers and consumers become partners
in sustainable agriculture.
"Whether we live in a city, whether or not we derive an income
from the land, few of us pause to consider how vital to us are such
matters as how our food is grown, and by whom, whether growing food
is a profitable enterprise, the fertility of the soil, the purity
of water, the conservation of Earth's resources, and the sustainability
Transitioning to local grown foods also connects us with the Earth's
cycles by forcing us to eat what's in season. And when we begin to
give up out-of-season produce shipped to the Midwest from far away,
we may realize that compared to local grown seasonal fare, long-distance
food doesn't have much flavor.
A reason so many people who visit Europe rave about the food is that
Europeans traditionally choose seasonal ingredients because that's
what's available. In a recent Onlinechef interview, famed chef Alice
Waters said her original culinary inspiration came from student days
in France, when she daily walked through a farmer's market to get
to her classes.
Waters, whose Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, recently celebrated
its first quarter century, encourages Americans to know "where
their food comes from" and "to respect both the food and
the land that produced it."
The side bar above has resources to help you do just that. The Guardians
will work to expand this list on our web, and we encourage readers
to share their resources and booklists, as well.
— Liz Mitchell Laubhan