I am working on a new project centered around local food and local economies, so I put up an informal survey online to gather information. I live in a place where local food is readily available, and many kindred spirits in my town answered the survey.
They all buy local food, but I realized I need demographics about people who do NOT buy local. I put that specific request on Facebook and Twitter. I got some answers and had interesting discussions with a variety of people.
It’s exactly what I thought.
The local food movement is ‘trendy’
Yet, it’s not. Readily available local and organic food goes back to where we were before Big Ag took over. Supporting your community is not trendy. It’s vital to living in a vibrant town where people support each other. How did people eat before the supermarket was invented? They grew their own, and it wasn’t that long ago!
Local food also has a smaller carbon footprint than what you find in the supermarket. An apple that travels 3000 miles on a plane or a ship has a huge environmental cost. Besides, it’s not fresh and is depleted of nutrients.
There is nothing fresher than an apple from your neighbor, and all the nutrients are intact. Once an item is harvested, it starts to deteriorate. The sooner it is consumed, the better it is. We need to eat local for better health, and I don’t think good health is ‘trendy’.
Local food is organic and very expensive.
We need government subsidies for small farms and organic food to lower prices. The cost of food from a small farm is what it takes to produce it. No organic small farmer can grow broccoli and sell it for $1/pound, which is what I have paid at the supermarket.
People on fixed incomes need to be able to afford food from a small local farm. There should be no price difference. What made pesticide laden food so special it gets subsidized? Farming was not always so toxic, but people are forced to buy it, because it is what they can afford.
Before the 20th century, there were no chemicals on our food. Why is that way of farming rewarded and its products readily available? It’s backwards. Organic food and small farmers should be subsidized, while ‘conventional’ farming is taxed, scrutinized and penalized. Our world would change in a hurry if that were the case!
The market does not take SNAP benefits
Many do, but people are unaware. Education is key to letting underprivileged people know they can buy fresh, organic, local food with their SNAP benefits. It also needs to be easy to use them at the market. At ours, you ‘spend’ your benefits at the official Farmers Market booth, and get a ‘chip’ to spend at a vendor’s booth. This helps vendors cut the cost of getting set up to accept SNAP. The market is set up, not individual vendors, but it is an extra, inconvenient step for shoppers.
The system also needs to be easy to use for farmers when they are doing their bookkeeping. Again, it’s cumbersome with extra, unnecessary steps. There is definitely some streamlining to be done.
Local food is hard to get to the market
Markets need to be centrally located, and there need to be more of them. Farmers have to be willing to travel into a city to sell. In 1983, I set up at a market in the center of a city of about 35,000 people. Senior citizen housing surrounded the market, and many of our customers walked over to buy fresh food. If the market were out of town, those people would not have had easy access.
When that is the case, public transportation needs to be in place for people to get around. Buses stop for handy supermarket shopping, but not for farmers market shopping. We need to change our public services and legislation to make farmers markets as important and available as other shopping.
Another option is bringing food to people that live in outlying areas. Sort of like the Bookmobile, which is a traveling library, we need ‘Foodmobiles’ as traveling farmers markets. This is already happening in a small way, but it needs to be expanded.
Making changes in your own backyard
Of course, the most local food is grown at home. What beats going out the back door for your meals? Nothing. The government needs to stop banning home gardens, especially in urban areas. Whatever happened to the idea of the Victory Garden, when gardening was patriotic? Now it’s illegal! This mindset has to change. Everyone has a right to fresh food.
These are just a few of the ideas I came across working on this project. There are many more that need solutions, such as the low number of farmers markets, the lack of good quality items, living in a remote area where most food gets shipped in and climate concerns. I’ll have more later!
The local food survey is here if you’d like to take part. Comments below are also appreciated! Thanks!