Bloomington Farmer's Market starts in April this year. Even if I weren't a vendor,
I'd be there, buying as much of my food as possible from my Indiana neighbors.
I believe in buying and eating local foods as a powerful political, environmental,
health-supporting, and life-enhancing act. Here are some of the reasons I think
it's important that we consider not just what we eat, but from where we eat.
Conserving fossil fuels and reducing pollution. Commercially produced fresh food
travels a long way to get to your table. One study found that tomatoes consumed
in the eastern U.S. had traveled an average of 2,786 miles. That's a lot of diesel.
Compare this to the food you can buy at the Bloomington Farmer's Market, which
must be grown in Indiana. That's a maximum travel distance of less than 250 miles--usually
much less, and sometimes just a few blocks.
2. Fresher is better. Most
produce begins losing nutrients (as well as flavor) as soon as it is harvested.
Local farmers can bring you the freshest, most nutritious foods, sometimes only
hours post-harvest. Commercial crops are bred for long shelf life, sturdiness,
and uniform size. Small, local growers, who use hand labor and don't ship their
product, can choose varieties for taste.
Trust. Buying organic at the store usually means relying on a certification agency
you've never heard of to verify that Dole or General Mills is telling the truth.
The people who sell food at the Farmer's Market are the people who grow it. You
can ask the grower exactly how the food was produced, and get detailed answers;
you may even be able to visit the farm. I believe local farmers are more likely
to tell the truth than are large corporations, because they rely on you, personally,
for their income--not on giant pools of anonymous consumers. Word of mouth is
a local farmer's best advertising, and his or her good name is an irreplaceable
Community. When you buy local, you do more than exchange money for goods. You
invest in a local economy and help to shape its course. Your money supports the
livelihood of your neighbors, not shareholder profits for people who will never
see either you or your food. And you participate in creating the world you want
to live in: For example, when you ask a local farmer about spraying and request
organic produce, you aren't just influencing the residues on that day's salad.
If that farmer chooses more natural growing methods to please the local market,
his or her decision affects our air and water quality. If that farmer is able
to stay in business by selling direct to you, many acres may stay in fields and
woodland rather than urban sprawl. When the farmer buys mulch hay, hauls manure,
or hires the neighbor kids to pick hornworms instead of buying industrial agricultural
products, your dollar enriches our community even more. By supporting and encouraging
sustainable agriculture at the local level, you can shape the future of this place.
5. It's also fun.
Come to the market--find out what is in season each month, each week. Try something
new, or something your grandparents would remember. Say hi to your friends, sign
a petition, give a dollar to the guitar player. Buy some plants and get some advice
for growing your own local food. Let your kids play in the fountain and meet the
adoptable dogs. We'll see you there!
--Denise Breeden-Ost raises vegetables
and a son with her husband, Sean, in and near Bloomington, Indiana.