Fresh & Local
The Revolution Has Begun
Column #1, Published Sept 23rd, 2011
Where does most of our food come from? For the majority of us in the United States, the answer is: from a very, very long way away. Certain areas – including California, Florida and Mexico– are blessed with ideal conditions for growing food. These conditions include fertile soils, mild year-around growing seasons, a large supply of migrant labor, and in many cases government subsidized irrigation water. All these advantages made possible the creation of huge mega-farms which benefited from large economies of scale. These farms could grow, pick, pack and ship produce to anywhere in the country more cheaply than local growers could grow it. The result is most of our food comes from far way. This is the economic model that has existed for decades.
But there is currently a food revolution going on. The model is now changing. Locally grown food, which many people once considered a fad, is now making permanent inroads. By some estimates, locally grown produce is now a $20 billion a year business.
There are a variety of reasons behind this revolution. There are problems with freshness inherent in shipping produce long distances. Even if it is cooled quickly and kept refrigerated, produce is highly perishable. The longer it takes to ship, the shorter the shelf life. Some produce, such as fully vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, are impossible to ship. Oil prices have recently sky-rocketed driving up the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel. It is now much more expensive to ship produce long distances. There is a long list of well publicized outbreaks of disease pathogens in produce from large mega-farms. Food borne illness is now a big concern to many people. And California, in particular, is becoming an increasing hostile business environment. These are all contributing factors.
But also, our attitudes toward food are changing. Much of the rest of the world puts a very high value on good food. People in countries like Italy, France, and Spain seem to most Americans to be fanatical about food. But in these cultures, there is nothing more important than sharing a good meal with family and friends. It is not just a biological necessity. It is a celebration of everyday life. Many of us are increasingly adopting these attitudes, and locally grown food is the freshest.
Interest in locally grown food is growing rapidly, and there are dozens of interesting stories from this revolution that many people don’t know about. These are the real stories behind the story. This column will be a regular Friday feature to discuss locally grown food and to share some of those stories. If you have an interest in food, check back here on Fridays.
My wife and I had a part-time business selling produce and flowers at local farmers’ markets for close to twenty years. When we wanted to make the jump to full-time, we got crucial help from a wholesaler who deals exclusively in locally grown produce. If you didn’t know there are local produce wholesalers in the area, then check back on Fridays. I have a lot to say about the wholesalers and the important roles they play.
There is also now a retail store in Culpeper that handles local and specialty meats and foods. I will interview the owner of Croftburn Market. I will also talk about farmers’ markets, explore the issues surrounding the definitions of words such as “local” and “organic,” and discuss what is in season. If you have an interest in food, plan on making this column a Friday habit.