Fresh & Local
The $10 Buy Local Challenge
Column #31, Published April 20th, 2012
There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.
There was a small item in the “Briefly” section of the March 16 Star-Exponent that caught my attention. It said that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) announced what it calls the $10 Buy Local Challenge. VDACS cites research from Virginia Cooperative Extension showing that if every household bought $10 in locally grown products each week, $1.65 billion per year would be added to local Virginia economies.
I am actually a little troubled by this challenge. Terry and I disagree sharply on this, which is one reason I waited several weeks to write about this. I also feel a little uncomfortable about criticizing people who are trying to help, but I have something to say about this challenge. Terry has warned me to tread lightly here, and so I shall.
Terry’s take on this is that the research is undoubtedly true, and $1.65 billion is a lot of money. Why not let people know about the potential economic impact of buying locally grown food?
My problem with this is that I think “civic responsibility” is the weakest of all the arguments for locally grown food. All by itself, it is unlikely to persuade very many people to buy it.
Worse than that, I am afraid that this argument might even be counterproductive by giving some people the impression that locally grown food is a pipe dream that would never fly on its own merits. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is why in six months of writing this column, I have intentionally never used this argument. Quite frankly, with all of the strong and compelling arguments to make the case for locally grown food, it isn’t necessary to use this one.
I obviously think that locally grown food is going mainstream, and there are dozens of good reasons for it. As evidence, I would point out that Culpeper has two locally grown retail stores (Croftburn Market and Native Harvest), an at-capacity April through November farmers’ market, and a local wholesaler (The Fresh Link).
As for the reasons for it, at the top of the list is freshness and flavor. The time it takes for our produce to go from our fields to someone’s plate is measured in hours, instead of weeks for produce from huge mega-growers in California or Florida. Some produce, such as fully vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, are impossible to ship long distances and are only available from local growers.
Food borne illness is now a big concern. Every year, there is a long list of outbreaks of disease pathogens in produce from both huge U.S. and foreign mega-growers.
Locally grown food does save some energy by not having to ship produce long distances.
Variety is another benefit of locally grown food. In a previous column, I mentioned pink banana squash. We grow some unusual mesclun greens that you won’t find in a supermarket.
I have also written about my friend Michael Olson’s saying, “The farther we go from the source of our food, the less control we have over what’s in that food.” Remember pink slime?
And, yes, there are substantial economic benefits to local economies.
Locally grown food has some compelling benefits and an endless number of interesting stories. I just think it would be more persuasive if my friends at VDACS would help publicize some of these other stories.
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org