Archive for March, 2015

Have you seen this on social media lately?

“If you stopped spending money at the grocery store next week, they would never even notice you were gone. If you took a small fraction of that money and spent it at the farmers market you would help a local farmer pay the rent. You might even save his farm.”

I’ve seen it several times, and I’ve finally been able to put into words why it irks me.

DSC_0194Don’t get me wrong, I fully support locally-grown food. I love visiting Yaeger’s Farm Market, Honey Hill Orchard, Jonamac Orchard, and other area farm operations who market their products directly to consumers. But I also support lettuce grown in Arizona, mushrooms produced in Pennsylvania, and squash grown in California.

The apples I used to make sauce the other night weren’t grown locally… as I write this it’s March, and the local orchards are closed for the season. No, by the modern miracle of controlled atmosphere storage and refrigerated transportation, those apples were as fresh when I purchased them in midwinter as they were when picked on a Washington state orchard last September.

I’ve toured avocado orchards in Florida, cherry groves in Utah, and feedlots in Colorado. I’ve visited sugar cane fields in Louisiana and dairy farms in so many places I’ve lost count. I’ve toured—three times—a northwestern Illinois egg farm that has over 2 million hens. Of course I’ve also spent many hours visiting area grain and livestock farms.

The common theme across the dozens of farm operations that I’ve visited? They’re owned and operated by family farmers who take great pride in what they do and care about doing it safely and responsibly. Many of them hope their own kids will continue to live on and farm the same land.

Here’s the thing. Farmers don’t have to be located near you to care about how they produce food. When you pick up a grocery store zucchini, you shouldn’t have to see the face of the farmer to appreciate the fact that a real human being–probably several of them–cared about producing the best, cleanest, safest zucchini they could. Is a February grocery store zucchini from Florida as nice as a picked-this-morning July zucchini at the farmers market? No, but if you are craving that cheesy stuffed zucchini boat recipe, it’s still pretty awesome.

Believe it or not, 95% of farms and ranches in the U.S. are family-owned and operated. I like the idea of supporting ALL of them, even if they’re not nearby.

DSC_0260Do you want to support local farmers? You may have noticed that around here most farmers grow corn and soybeans. Some also raise livestock, especially pigs and cattle. When you buy meat, milk, eggs, and fuel, you’re helping local grain farmers by supporting major uses for their crops. When you purchase bacon or steak, you’re supporting local livestock farmers, whether the meat came from animals on their farms or not.

You can also support local farmers by taking time to understand why and how they grow and raise the things they do. Support local livestock farmers by not assuming that every animal abuse video applies to how all farmers care for their animals. Support local crop farmers by recognizing that more often than not they live on the land they farm, therefore the crop production practices they use are dictated by the health and well-being of their own families as well as yours.

By all means, shop at the farmers market. But don’t think—and please don’t imply to others—that buying eggs and frozen peas at the grocery store is something that only people who don’t care about local farmers do.

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the March 2015 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

Read more:

The Locavore’s Dilemma: Why Pineapples Shouldn’t Be Grown in North Dakota

Buying local explained: Experts weigh in on the pros and cons

Local Farms vs. Factory Farms

Read Full Post »