by Kathy Humiston, Book Buyer
Locally grown food—how sweet it is! I grew up eating local foods and didn’t realize at the time what a good deal it was—it was just the way things were in my family. Both of my grandfathers, when preparing their fields for spring planting, would set aside a half-acre near the house for vegetables. My grandmothers would enlist their daughters and grandchildren to help plant, weed, harvest and preserve vegetables. The bounty from those gardens would sustain four growing households each year. Berries and apples came from a U-Pick down the road; the burgers, drumsticks and bacon on our plates came from Grandpa’s barnyard, and fish arrived wriggling at the end of a cane pole—all stockpiled in the summer to be enjoyed throughout the year. The father of a classmate delivered milk twice a week. Two enterprising boys in the neighborhood used to go door-to-door selling doughnuts fresh from a local bakery, all part of the local foodshed.
Today those gardens and their caretakers are just memories, but I still try to keep most of my food purchases local when I can. Veggies come from a local CSA farm and include free memories of meeting the new litter of farm kittens, treating the farm dog, and great conversations with “my” farmers to savor with dinner. Meats in my freezer now are organically raised by a farmer in a neighboring township, and there is the bounty of many area farmers markets and orchards
Aside from my emotional connections, I try to support local farmers because I think their food tastes
better than something shipped thousands of miles. I don’t like the idea of my food supply being controlled by
a few mega-growers and I think small family farmers are better stewards of our water and soil resources. And then there is the environmental cost of shipping food around the world...all these reasons and more are discussed in-depth in this month’s featured book Eat Here by Brian Halweil and published by Worldwatch Institute.
Halweil introduces us to several farmers and organizations that are working to make locally grown foods more available to everyone. This movement is more advanced in Europe and Japan, but making strides here in the U.S. Halweil discusses the economic and social impacts of locally produced foods, both for farmers and consumers. Virtually identical “food swaps” commonly take place between nations in the name of “trade,” raising the profits to transportation companies, burning thousands of tons of fossil fuels and reducing both flavor and nutrients in our food. He tells of the implications to farmers and consumers caused by the partnership between Monsanto and Cargill—they together control seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, farm finance, livestock feed production, slaughtering and processing, food transportation and several major grocery brands. That is a huge amount of involvement in our food supplies—and potentially a huge amount of power. I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty outrageous!
This book also contains many positive stories of change and ways of changing our own purchasing/eating habits. Finally there is a thorough appendix of resources supporting local foods. There is much here to think about and much to enjoy and share. I have some way to go to feed my family as locally as I would like, but Halweil’s book has challenged me to improve—how about you?
No book discussion of local foods would be complete without reminding you of our favorite local cookbook. From Asparagus to Zucchini is brought to us by MACSAC, the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, and contains descriptions of dozens of locally-grown vegetables and herbs as well as hundreds of recipes for preparing them. The recipes are provided by local farmers, chefs, CSA members and MACSAC. This is a great kitchen resource and makes a terrific gift.