It was a beautiful day at Park Hill Farms for the second annual Farm to Table Dinner, rounding out the first annual Dandelion Festival. We were so fortunate to have constant rays of sunshine and a light, cooling breeze bless us for a gorgeous day of yoga, crafts, nature hikes, tea meditation, herbal workshops, and a bounty of fresh, local food; sourced, prepared, and served with love and compassion from field to fork.
In reflection on the day’s events, it felt imperative to share reasons why it is so incredibly important for a community to have a thriving local food system. Sourcing food locally today can easily be interpreted as trendy or a fad. I’ll say it plainly here folks, locally sourced food is not a trend. It’s an absolute necessity for the evolution and safety of our species and something we all could benefit from doing, both for human health and economic prosperity. Allow me to explain.
It’s less than common knowledge that in the average US community, in the event of a crisis, the communities supply of food from grocery stores, restaurants convenience stores and home pantries would be depleted in a mere 3-4 days. Three Days! That’s as long as we could support ourselves on the amount of food that’s raised, grown, transported in and stocked in our small or large communities. Back track 50-100 years ago (ask your elders on this one), food stores would have lasted more like 6 months to a year at least as more food was grown, bartered and traded for as part of the local economy. That is no longer the case as our food supply has become more industrialized, centralized and concentrated. Leaving us to be more dependent rather than independent on sourcing our food.
-For the poverty stricken & economically challenged
In the event of a disaster, be it natural or man made, we all run the equal risk of running out of food, but on any ordinary day as you and I sit, reading this article, sipping our coffee, refrigerators and pantries fully stocked with anything we might want from gourmet pickles to steel cut oats, 22% of people in West Virginia might not know where their next meal is coming from according to The Food Research Action Council. Food insecurity, sadly, has become on of the most devastating issues that we face, even as one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Why is this? Like any issue we face as a county or individual, there are several moving parts and pieces that contribute to the problem at large, but the prevailing, in my opinion, can be charged to the industrial food system and our transition away from having to, or wanting to fend for ourselves, our families or our communities for our next meal.
As food production has become a bigger and bigger operation that’s more centralized, small farms are finding it harder to make ends meat and people have to seek higher paying jobs to afford the foods that have to travel further to get to them. As concentration of food aggregation continues, it’s easier for gaps in the system like food deserts to emerge that would have otherwise, if existent at all, been much smaller in a local food system. The bigger something gets, the more that goes unseen, causing a greater number of people to suffer from quality food access and hunger. Apply this to your own family, church, school, or workplace. It’s not an issue that’s exclusive to our food system, and not one that’s impossible to fix.
Many people would be surprised to hear, that for the bulk of the ‘food’ (we know most of it is non-nutritious and lacking any qualities that I would reserve for actual food, but for the sake of this paragraph that’s what we’ll call it) at the grocery store, the farmers who initially grew the ingredients showcased on the label, and I’m talking anything from cheerios to tomatoes, received about 8% of the money made on that product. Who’s banking, you ask? Well, it’s worth taking a look at the travel log of that food to figure it out. Before (most) commercial farmers can even sow the first seed, they’ve got to drop several hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on operation size, to seed companies for chemical fertilizers and pesticides so that the high volumes they grow will thrive in an over crowded environment. Upon harvest, food processors truck in their massive equipment to collect and distribute the agricultural product to a processing facility. Here, the food in disassembled and reassembled into a variety of any packaged food product you can imagine, or stored in a warehouse for further ripening because allowing this to happen on the vine would ensure spoilage of the product before it makes its trek from Mexico to New York. From the processor it could travel one of many directions, either directly to a market or through a wholesaler, distributor, co-op, or directly to a company warehouse. This, you can imagine, requires a lot of energy and money to arrange. By the time the food arrives at the location where it can be purchased, not only does it no longer have any resemblance of the original food itself, but it’s taste, quality, and life giving properties have also diminished. Seems to me, we’ve expended a lot of extra time, money and energy to get the food we pour in our bowl, but at what cost? In my opinion, we’re paying more money for a lower quality product to be processed, packaged, and shipped from goodness knows where, while the original food, farmer, and now our health is what’s suffering.
I could go on for days about the how’s and why’s of local food being better for our overall health, but I trust you get the picture by now. Any system where you put in more than your get back is not sustainable, and that includes our human bodies. Pumping our bodies full of ‘cheap’ food runs a high price. Devoid of micro- and phyto-nutrients that have been stripped or shipped away, the majority of foods on grocery store shelves are only making us sicker rather than helping us to construct healthy human bodies. Put quite simply, we are what we eat. And who wants to be cheap, easy or fast? Not me!
So what’s the solution? Here are a few simple strategies:
1. Grow as much of your own food as possible. To some people this sounds impossible, but it’s not. With no more than a windowsill or small terrace, you can grow a few items or several items to subsidize your grocery bill and allow for more fresh foods in your cart with the expanded food budget.
2. Barter with a farmer. Maybe you don’t have the space, don’t want to make the time, or lack the physical capabilities to grow your own food. Trade with someone who can grow it for you. Maybe you can offer to babysit in lieu of a bushel of green beans, or pull weeds for a basket of apples. If you’re willing to work, most farmers are willing to trade.
3. Patron your local farmer’s market, first. Alright, so I’m no racial idealist here. I fully recognize that you cannot get EVERY modern convenience at the local farmer’s market, but you can pick up quite a few items that would help offset costs when shopping for other household necessities, and boost your local economy so that more farmers and artisans can enter the market, creating a greater abundance of items that can be purchased right where you live. Instead of only 8% of the money spent on food going to the farmer, 90-100% of your hard earned dollars could go back to support the system rather than the hands of middle men that are no more vested (or pay taxes) in our local communities than the man on the moon.
4. Allocate more of your household budget on food. In the United States, we spend less on food than almost any other nation around the globe. Spending money on other comforts in life, and paying for food as an afterthought, perpetuates the cheap food industry, creating the appearance of healthier foods being more expensive. Try the 50:20:30 rule. Allocate 50% of your monthly income on fixed costs like food, shelter, and water. Aim to spend 20% of income on financial goals like saving for retirement and a rainy day. The last 30% you could allocate toward flexible spending like hobbies, shopping, entertainment and gas.
5. Host a farm to table dinner, and invite your farmer to be at the table. Getting back to my original point with this article, farm to table dinners have become more popular in recent years but this shouldn’t be because they’re a ‘trendy’ event to throw. Farm to table, field to fork, garden to glass is a right reserved by all. It shouldn’t be more expensive to eat this way, but a less energy intensive way to eat. Inviting your farmer to the table ensures that the other folks you invite have a real understanding of where their food comes from, how it was raised, harvested and how far it had to travel to get there. Knowing there are people, not just machines, that provide one of our three basic needs for life, is something that we all take for granted. And having the opportunity to touch the hands that feed us, allows for a better understanding of what food is, what it does for us, and overall helps strengthen our relationship with food and our food system.
How do you take ownership in your food choices? Please share your experiences with us below.
P.S. Check back soon for photo recap of the day’s events and be on the lookout for the next Farm to Table event!