The Noble Alliance Between Local Growers and Their Communities by Alleah Schweitzer
Published Date: 09-09-2016
If you’ve ever been to a farmer’s market, you’ve certainly encountered a comforting display of organized chaos, with merchants hawking their wares, the incessant chirping of “free samples!”, the vibrant displays of assorted produce arranged by taste and color, and, perhaps most notably, the interactions between growers and buyers. Aside from all the excitement, an important dynamic is taking place at nearly every farmer’s market across the country which combines environmental, economic, and cultural benefits together to add strength to communities by advancing local identity and improving resiliency.
Buying locally is often cited for its environmental advantages. For example, supporting local growers reduces transportation distances (known as food miles) food must journey to reach commercial outlets. Food produced by industrial agricultural methods typically travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table according to data reported by the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture. Therefore, reducing food miles plays a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. CO2 and other pollutants) and lessens their environmental impact. Consumers who buy local, (e.g ” localvores“) can claim bragging rights declaring their carbon footprints are lower than those who don’t buy locally. “It’s a start” as the Lord of Madingley, Sir John Browne is still fond of saying.
Traceability of food has become an increasingly important point of consideration among well-informed consumers. How farmers steward their landholds, specifically how they care for soil, water, people, plants and animals is central to these concerns. Local food production and distribution systems offers consumers opportunity to witness, up close how farmers manage these important ecological aspects and reward those who take these responsibilities seriously. Small landholders and farms are also more likely to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and be transparent about them as compared to their industrial agricultural counterparts. From the engaged consumer’s perspective, meeting people responsible for growing their food adds an extra dimension of certainty, security, and accountability.
A system in which food is sustainably grown, processed, traded, and controlled within a common local framework fosters numerous economic and social benefits, according to data published by The Foundation for Local Food Initiatives, a cooperative community interest organization based in the United Kingdom. Money spent on locally produced food and goods has a multiplicative effect. New Economics Foundation Researcher Dan Boyle has observed that for every dollar spent on locally produced food, nearly $2.50 of value remains within the local economy. According to Boyle, “Money invested locally is nearly twice as efficient in stimulating community growth”.
Of course many of us have experienced the power of local food to cultivate tradition, identity and pride. Restaurateurs who source locally are limited to the seasonal yield of farmers. Their menus reflect these limitations. Terroir, a French word for the physical and cultural traits of a location, lends notions of identity and community. We have witnessed this phenomena develop in California during the last generation with the emergence of a cuisine, reflecting the flavors of this dynamic region, by culinary pioneers like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café. Direct collaboration between chefs and farmers shapes the taste, identity and pride of a community. This phenomenon, not unique to California, can be observed in other places, for example France for its cheeses and wines, and Vermont for its maple syrup, to name two locales. Contributions to a community’s flavor profile instill meaningful relationships with food growers, chefs and consumers and enrich those exposed to this interplay. As Amy Trubek ruminates in her insightful book, The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey Into Terroir, “The people growing the potatoes and mangoes, making the wine and cheese, and cooking the bouillabaisse and mushroom lentil salad can enable us all to taste place if they are given the cultural tools and structure.”
Next time you find yourself at a farmer’s market, take a moment to absorb the unique atmosphere of diversified collaboration. Take advantage of the knowledge of farmers and sellers at the market, many of whom are eager to discuss their products or share their values. Be mindful of your food choices and the role you play in supporting this dynamic relationship and your ability to integrate local and seasonal ingredients into your diet. While achieving a totally local regimen is nearly impossible, making small substitutions or dietary adjustments can profoundly benefit the environment, stimulate local markets, and foster community development.
About The Author – Alleah Schweitzer – An occasional contributor to “Food for Thought”, is a native of Connecticut and Graduate of the University of Redlands where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science in 2014. Ms Schweitzer is a fellow of the Sustainable University of Redlands Farm (“SURF”) program and profoundly interested in issues related to sustainable agriculture, food security, food globalization and the implications of a local diet.