Homegrown tomatoes, they’re hard to fake. Picking a tomato out of your garden in August, giving it a rinse and slicing it for a sandwich…mmmMMMM! You can still taste the sunshine. Nutrition wise, it’s hard to beat that just picked fresh taste. I’ve personally sworn off tomatoes from a conventional grocery store, they simply cannot compare to how tomatoes are supposed to taste. Little hard, mealy, or mushy things with no aroma, they disappoint 9 out of 10 times – unless the store is smart and connects with local producers during tomato season. Our mass produced agricultural culture where every vegetable is perpetually “in season” means compromising on nutrition, texture, aroma, and taste.
Last week we heard from Ed Conrad, a true believer in increasing relentless capitalism to fix America’s woes. He is the darling of the super rich and attempts to make a moral argument for why our extremely top heavy income disparity is right and good. From his interview in the New York Times, “He looks, in particular, at agriculture, where, since the 1940s, the cost of food has steadily fallen because of a constant stream of innovations. While the businesses that profit from that innovation — like seed companies and fast-food restaurants — have made their owners rich, the average U.S. consumer has benefited far more.” Conrad measures agricultural success in terms of dollars only, not quality or nutritional economy. Conrad has a difficult time measuring anything at all in any term other than a dollar figure. He acts as if our food is nothing but static pellets to be delivered to the masses, like widgets to a retailer. Our produce was living and continues to change throughout it’s life cycle, and our life cycle depends on its life cycle. To some extent Conrad may be correct in that our food is more affordable (I’m taking his word for it at the moment), but anyone who has ever tasted garden fresh produce can attest that our large grocery store chain’s produce can be severely deficient in the flavor department.
Buying local produce – or growing your own – is smart for so many reasons. On our most basic level, it comes down to personal satisfaction; local food tastes better. It’s not just romantic notions, the food actually is better. Locally produced food is picked later than their conventional food system counterparts, it is allowed to ripen more fully, and develop in it’s own time. It is not rushed to market while underripe with the hopes that it will show up and continue turning the right color, developing the right flavor. There are no color enhancers or heavy preservatives needed to be applied or used in genetics, because the distance traveled from field to your table is not so far. Most poor little conventional tomatoes bought in a regular large grocery store have been grown in a state or country far removed, and are designed to withstand travel more than they are designed to add a slice of heaven to your sandwich. We compromise on quality when we buy produce from out of our local region.
Farmers can save on chemicals and more sustainable practices make sense when then don’t have to worry about losing profits through trucking losses. Whether dinged and damaged or simply lower quality due to travel heartiness, a farmer is going to work harder to produce the “margin of error” crop that will simply be discarded before reaching your plate. “Just picked freshness” is impossible when your tomato traveled from California and you live in New York. Local farms help us get reacquainted with our own local seasons; tomatoes in February are a luxury – or are they? They don’t taste like one.
We started this idea of eating out of season because the elite of the world could afford it. It was exotic and exciting to have an appearance of a rare fruit or vegetable on the table to impress; now that sort of display of status seems silly. The amount of energy it takes to get a morsel of food from field to table is a significant contributor to our carbon footprint and energy expenditures. The less gas used, the less expensive a product needs to be, the less pollution it creates, the easier it is to grow the next round of healthy food.
By all measures, local produce, meat, dairy and food products are better for us, but sometimes they are hard to find. As a kid I grew up amidst apple orchards in the midwest, culminating with an apple festival during harvest time. I remember one year that it struck me how odd it was that our local large grocery chains still only sold apples from the northwest and South America. Probably, the buyers of those chains simply didn’t have a mechanism to connect to the local farmers, since they only produced at certain times of year but apples were needed year ’round. Somehow our mass produced culture makes a 20 mile drive to market “more difficult” than a flight from New Zealand for our apples. Conrad’s defense of agriculture breaks down. The only way the foreign born apples could actually be cheaper than local ones is through much subsidization or a lack of ethic around paying the workers that enabled the apple’s journey.
Monsanto does not get a table at the local Farmer’s Market. The ag monoculture makes local sales less practical – no Farmer’s Market can handle a silo’s worth of corn on a Saturday morning; it also endangers our food supply. Monoculture makes all of us more susceptible to one disease, pest or problem that can destroy a harvest. Fear of these problems spurs on a heavier use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that cause cancer and pollute our water supply. Monoculture is believed to be a contributor to bee colony collapse disorder, a worldwide problem for the food chain. The problem is so significant that Monsanto has purchased the leading bee research firm to “address” this problem. Knowing Monsanto’s reputation for GMO world food domination, the chances of them actually continuing research for the benefit of mankind is slim – more likely they just bought off the messenger of bad news.
Spring is here, markets are happening, your community is out there. Local farmer’s markets promote bonding with your local food producers and neighbors. They are more social events than the industrial aisles of our big box grocers and can become a great tradition, you can also get in tune with local seasons and traditional recipes. So many of us are transplanted from our original homes, we are not familiar with the foods and food culture of where we currently live.
Of course there’s nothing more local than your own garden, unfortunately some of us simply cannot spare the time or don’t have the space. Buying local is the next best thing. It’s good for the local economy, good for the earth, good for the local community, good for our health, and best of all, it tastes the best.