But first, a note from the Editor-in-Chief. Much of what changed my eating behavior was the hard facts about industrial agriculture. The following section provides an overview of the positive reasons for eating locally-produced organic food and describes the problems created by industrial agriculture. The main text will provide you with the core information but if you would like to digress into the Sidebars you will find details, some of them technical and some a bit scary. These are the details that changed me.

The list of reasons for eating locally is long and sometimes complex and the story of how we came to rely on non-local agri-business is complicated. This book can tell only a part of that story. If you want to dig deeper we suggest reading all or some of the following books and/or watching some of the movies listed.

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, is an insightful description of the current state of our food system. The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, is a thorough and fact-filled discussion of the origins of our current agri-business based food system. It covers issues at the local and international levels and discusses some possible scenarios for starting to solve the problems. For a delightful description of one family's adventure in local eating, read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Among the informative movies are Food, Inc., King Corn and Super Size Me.

The Pleasures of Eating Locally[edit | edit source]

Local food tastes better, supports the local economy, helps to build "community," and protects agricultural land and open space.

Locally grown food tastes better.[edit | edit source]

Fresh food, picked when ripe, just tastes better! Peaches are juicy, fragrant and delicious, carrots are crisp and sweet, and tomatoes are flavorful. Food from the garden or purchased from the farmer has probably been picked within 24 hours of your eating it. Local food from locally-owned grocery stores is likely on the shelves sooner than food shipped from a great distance.

Food also tastes better if it's ripened before being picked. Industrial produce is often picked unripe and engineered to appear ripe days or even weeks after being harvested.

Having a wide variety of food also adds to our eating pleasure. Local farmers grow many varieties of our favorite vegetables and fruits—many varieties that we may not have seen before. They often bring heirloom fruits and vegetables back into production. Contrast this with some facts about industrial agriculture:

  • Industrial agriculture has reduced the varieties of fruits and vegetables available by 75 percent since the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Today, 75 percent of the world's food is generated from just 12 varieties of plants and five animal species.

For example, iceberg lettuce, frozen and fried potatoes, potato chips and canned tomatoes make up almost half of U.S. vegetable consumption.[1]

Local fresh food is healthier for you.[edit | edit source]

Local organically-grown food that is eaten soon after being harvested is higher in nutrients and does not contain pesticides and added hormones found in industrially-produced food.

A recent study showed that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. In the week or longer delay between harvest and the dinner table, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality.[2]

Most local farmers use organic farming methods. These methods build soil and soil fertility. Paul Roberts states,"Soils rich in organic matter have a greater capacity for additional nutrients—that is, they can absorb more fertilizers, whether natural or synthetic, and convey those nutrients more readily to plants."[3]

Pasture-raised chicken and grass-fed beef are free from the antibiotics used to stimulate growth and to control the spread of pathogens within Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs). Organic, grass-fed beef and dairy products are free of growth-stimulating hormones.

Buying local food helps build our economy and our community.[edit | edit source]

When money is spent locally, more of it stays within the community. Several studies have shown that every dollar spent in a locally-owned store has three times the effect of a dollar spent at a store owned by a distant corporation.[4]

Economics Professor Dr. Steven C. Hackett, Ph.D., Cal Poly Humboldt, explains:
appropriate substitutions of local food for imported food create benefits for the local economy. One can think of the income circulating in a local economy as being analogous to the level of water in a bathtub. Like the spigot that adds water to a bath, new income is injected into the local economy when people outside of the area purchase locally-produced goods and services. Some of that income is spent locally, and thereby becomes income for others as the pattern repeats itself in a process referred to as the multiplier effect. Like the drain at the bottom of a bathtub, however, when we buy goods and services from outside the area, income leaks out of the local economy. The more imports we buy, the more income leaks out of the local economy, and the smaller is the multiplier effect. Gold Rush mining camps, for example, needed to import most all goods and services, and oftentimes became ghost towns when the ore played out.

When we make the conscious decision to buy locally-produced food instead of food produced outside the area, we are reducing the leakage of income out of the local economy. By doing so, we increase the multiplier effect, meaning that a given dollar injected into the local economy generates a larger quantity of new income for local residents. Conscious consumers also know that we shape our local economy and our local community by the way we spend our money. Our spending can be thought of as votes cast for the types of farms, businesses, and products that we want in our community. By buying locally-produced food, we are casting our dollar votes for local farmers, as well as the businesses and organizations that process and market these goods to the public. We come to recognize that supporting our local farmers helps preserve the open space and working landscapes that are a keystone of our quality of life. Over time these commercial relationships expand into something more—a complex set of relationships built on trust and reciprocity serving as the "social capital" that give communities the capacity to find common purpose, adapt, and thrive.

In addition to putting more money back into the local economy, buying locally creates a greater level of charitable giving. On average, local businesses contribute four times more money as a percent of revenue than distant corporations.[5]

Eddie Tanner, owner of Deep Seeded Farm and author of The Humboldt Gardner, writes his perspective on building community:

Eating locally is more than just a great way to get the freshest foods and to support the local economy. It is a way to connect with our environment and strengthen the ties that make us a community. Eating is our most fundamental link to the natural world, and by looking to local sources we become attuned to the abundance and the limits of the soil under our feet and the climate we dwell in. Never before in history have we had more opportunity to separate ourselves from our environment, and thus it has never been more important to consciously make that connection. In taking this action, we become more in touch with our humanity. By sharing local foods and recipes, and by connecting with local producers, we come to a fuller realization of what it means to be a member of the community.

Local Food Preserves Open Space and Supports a Clean Environment[edit | edit source]

The Humboldt Community Alliance with Family Farmers explains As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. A well-managed family farm is a place where the resources of fertile soil and clean water are valued. Good stewards of the land grow cover crops that prevent erosion and replace nutrients used by their crops. Cover crops also capture emissions and help combat global warming. In addition, the patchwork of fields, hedgerows, ponds and buildings is the perfect environment for many beloved species of wildlife. That landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable. When you buy locally-grown food, you are doing something proactive about preserving the agricultural landscape.

Problems Avoided by Eating Locally[edit | edit source]

Eating locally-produced food avoids many problems caused by the industrial food system. These problems include contributing to climate change through carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions; poisoning of our waterways, our food and our bodies; spreading of pathogens; contributing to poor health through processed foods high in fat, sugar and salt; and practicing farming techniques that strip land of top soil and soil nutrients. Many of these problems contribute to food insecurity and all are damaging our bodies and our planet.

High Energy Cost[edit | edit source]

One of the first benefits that comes to mind when considering local food is that less energy is used in its transportation.

Locally-produced food requires 17 times less petroleum than does a diet based on food shipped across the country.7

Dr. Steven Hackett, Cal Poly Humboldt:

My friends and I who enjoy long-distance cycling eat particular foods to help our performance. Many cyclists believe that bananas, being rich in potassium, will help prevent muscle cramps during a long ride. I prefer avocados, which contain nearly twice the potassium of a typical banana, as well as B6 and oleic acid, a great mono-unsaturated fat. While these great foods help me ride many miles on my bicycle, they themselves must travel even longer distances as freight from where they are grown to my grocery store. The banana I eat on a ride may have been hauled by diesel truck from the plantation to the Guatemalan port of Quetzal, transferred onto a freighter (powered by bunker oil) to Port Hueneme, and again loaded onto a series of diesel trucks that brought that banana to a grocery store in Humboldt County, California. The fossil fuel burned in order to transport a banana more than 2,500 miles results in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. If one were to tally up the greenhouse gas emissions each year from the foods we eat, the goods and services we buy, the vehicle miles we travel, the electricity we draw from the grid, and the natural gas we use to heat our homes and businesses, we would arrive at the carbon footprint associated with how we choose to live our life.

It ends up that many locally-grown foods provide good sources of potassium and other nutrients. Examples include the potatoes, blueberries, and strawberries growing in my vegetable garden. In good years, I am able to get a few tomatoes from early-maturing varieties I try to grow in my cold frame, and those tomatoes are also an excellent source of potassium. By appropriate substituting local food for imported food, we can continue to enjoy a rich and varied diet while reducing our carbon footprints.

Water and Air Pollution[edit | edit source]

Use of excess nitrogen fertilizer, common practice in industrial agriculture, pollutes waterways, killing aquatic animals. Nitrogen in water also causes illness in humans, and removing it from water supplies is a great expense for many cities. Organic farmers do not use artificial fertilizers.

Dead zones in bodies of water are created when excess nitrogen causes algae blooms. The algae dies and sucks oxygen from the water, killing fish and other oxygen-dependent animals. The number of dead zones in our oceans has risen to more than 150—up by a factor of over two from 1990, as reported by the United Nations Environmental Program.[6]

The loss to commercial fishing amounts to billions of dollars a year and means less food for people. Excess nitrogen is also linked to a number of human health risks, including miscarriages and cancer. Federal and State environmental agencies now regard farming as one of the biggest polluters of the nation's water system.[6] Including pesticides, annual cost of surface-water contamination was calculated to be $16 billion.[7] Excessive amounts of nitrogen also pollute the air. Nitrogen combines with oxygen to form nitrous oxide (N20), a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.[6]

Loss of Topsoil.[edit | edit source]

Organic farmers use cover crops and manure to build and fertilize soil. Industrial agriculture causes loss of topsoil.

The National Academy of Sciences has determined that cropland in the U.S. is being eroded at least ten times faster than the time it takes for lost soil to be replaced. Many of the industrial agricultural processes leave land bare and subject to topsoil loss from both water runoff and wind. Food production increases with the use of nitrogen fertilizer but the soil needs to be replenished

with organic matter as well. The future food supply depends on soil and soil high in nutrients for plants. One encouraging development is that a few otherwise industrial farms are starting to use no-till practices that protect the soil as well as sequester carbon.

Pollution by Pesticides[edit | edit source]

Organic farmers do not use pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) and thus do not poison and pollute waterways and soil. Most of our local producers use organic methods. One of the most widely used herbicides (weed-killers), Atrazine, is linked to heart and lung congestion, muscle spasms, degeneration of the retina, and cancer, as well as the wholesale extinction of some species of amphibians.

Atrazine is the second most frequently detected herbicide in water from drinking wells.[8] Insecticides and fungicides, many based on organophosphates, are heavily relied on by growers of alfalfa, almonds, carrots, grapes, apples, strawberries, peaches, walnuts, corn and cotton, which together account for half of all organophosphate use.[9] These products disrupt a pest's central nervous system. Organophosphates not only affect the pest, they also poison people, helping to make farm work one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.[10] Less obvious is the fact that insecticides also kill beneficial insects such as bees, as well as insects that prey on the pests. Finally, the pests can develop resistance, which requires the development of new or stronger chemicals, in a never-ending cycle.[11]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Nochi, Kim, Stern, Anna, Piebel, Doug, "Just the Facts, When Corporations Rule Our Food", YES Magazine, Spring 2009; pg. 24
  2. Community Alliance With Community Farmers,www.caff.org
  3. Roberts, Paul, The End of Food. New York. New York; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2008. pg. 154
  4. Everybody Eats, Yes Magazine, Spring 2009 pg. 32
  5. "The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Businesses vs Chains, A Case Study in Midcoast Maine", The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Businesses vs Chains, A Case Study in Midcoast Maine, September 2003
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Roberts, End of Food pg 217
  7. Roberts, End of Food pg 221
  8. ibid
  9. US Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Facts Sheets on Atrazine, Mar 21 2007, http://web.archive.org/web/20140105115944/http://www.epa.gov:80/safewater/contaminants/dw_contamfs/atrazine.html
  10. Roberts, End of Food, pg 218
  11. ibid
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Created April 7, 2010 by phil
Modified December 7, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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