Friday, May 28, 2010

Know Your Farmer - Know Your Food

If you caught yesterday's blog post, I was on an outing to my local Wednesday Farmer's Market. I arrived hours after the vendors had first arrived, which would have been just before sunrise. As most of us are sleeping unaware, there is much preparation, packing, loading, traveling and set up that goes on behind the scenes to make shopping for the freshest, local, organic food in in our communities, easy and totally enjoyable.

Vendors and/or farmers at all of our local markets generally must erect a tent, table, signs, goods, displays, etc. long before shopper arrive. The day before, these same folks were out enthusiastically harvesting lettuce, pulling onions, and bunching produce by hand for selling. By late morning, most vendors are cleaned out of the majority of inventory, having supplied delicious goodies to hungry folks, eager to bring locally sourced ingredients home to help prepare meals for their families and loved ones.

Now let's step outside of that picturesque and pastoral image of the family farmer, and take a look at what happens at the grocery store. It's 5am and the 18 wheeler is backing up to the loading dock. The driver, who may have driven 30 plus hours from the Port of Los Angeles (where much of our South American goods enter the country) hops out and starts unloading canned goods (full of sodium), potato chips (made with hydrogenated oils and trans fats), and liter upon liter of sugary high fructose corn syrup laden sodas. There's the produce, mostly conventional - covered with herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and it's possibly genetically modified. The whole time this is occurring, the diesel truck is left running, dumping noxious fumes and pollution into the atmosphere. The food that is being placed on the shelves did not come from a nearby farm. Rather, it likely came from a processing plant where it was broken down and mixed with emulsifiers, additives, and coloring agents. In the end, this food-like substance was sealed neatly in packages made from virgin, bleached paper and petroleum based plastics.

The average American eats 8-10 food items a day. Each item averages 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate. Do the math - 15,000 miles per day, 105,000 per week, or 5,460,000 miles per year. The moon is about 238,900 miles away. That is roughly 11 trips there and back, in one year! For every American!!!! That's a lot of fossil fuel. Or you can choose food items that are raised locally and organically, and travel an average of less than 100 miles. Kind of a no brainer, huh?

What one purchases at a grocer might seem cheaper than the farmers market goods, but when we buy processed foods we are not paying for nutrition or sustenance (there is virtually none of that in there). Rather, we are paying for packaging, corporate marketing, genetic research, pesticides, environmental damage, and fertilizer. These hidden costs are purposefully not self evident. And, our society is paying for an epidemic of type II diabetes, childhood obesity, and a loss of food safety & diversity. Perhaps you pay less at the store, but your tax dollars directly support that worthless model of a food system through government subsidies. I don't know about you, but that just doesn't sit well with me.

I know....kinda depressing, isn't it? Well, really, we should be energized because right now the local food movement is reshaping the way we eat. Plus, there are many things you can do, today, to change the current system. First of all, know that it did not happen overnight. The policy changes that created this system occurred during the Nixon administration. More specifically, as a result of Earl (Rusty) Butz's (Nixon's Secretary fo Agriculture) agenda, which tore down 40 years of sucessfull farm policy. I don't want to get all polictical - my point is simply that the system was revolutionized in a lifetime, and it could be reversed in the same or less. How? Consumer is king. You vote with your dollars every time you take a bite. It is up to you to decide if you want to vote for local food or not.

Raw Food Rehab has a passion for help educate you on these issues. There are also countless books & cookbooks which have been written on the subject, endless documentary films, well funded institutions, grassroots organizations, and hundreds of thousands of people who have decided that it is time for a paradigm shift. Last night's event here in Tulsa at The Silo was just such an enlightening evening.

The facility itself was really impressive. It is built from reclaimed barn wood, utilizes a geo-thermal heating and cooling system, and has a permeable pavement parking lot. The owner, Sandy Dittman, graciously opened her doors for this event and her Executive Chef, Jeff Stark, prepared locally sourced appetizers that were mouth wateringly delicious!

Wes Downing w/ his wife & daughter of Downing Family Farm, Doug Walton from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Mike Appel & Emily Oakley of Three Springs Farm, Lisa Becklund of Living Kitchen Farm w/ her guest.

I was sad that I wasn't able to capture clear footage of the four Green Country farmers who were the special guests on the panel discussion, "Know Your Farmer - Know Your Food." The title was taken from an initiative from the USDA (you know how I said the local food movement is chaning the way we eat? Check this out). I hope that you will find ways to become involved in your local food scene in your area. I have been amazed at how the efforts of just a few individuals in my community are totally reshaping how Tulsans think about what they are eating and feeding their families.

A big thanks to my friends Rita Scott, the director of Sustainable Green Country & Buy Fresh Buy Local Green Country and Amanda Forman, who heads up these cool Tulsa Green Drinks events. Today's post was written with Amanda's help.

With Amanda Forman, the director of Tulsa Green Drinks (which is just one of the MANY hats this savvy young lady wears in our local food scene). Big Props to Amanda for allowing me to use some of her text in this post.
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