The expansion of a local food supply is not only an exciting prospect, but also a practical necessity. As Gary Nabhan points out in Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, this future is now. However, we still have a long way to go to develop a sufficient local food supply, and the actions of each individual make the cumulative difference.
How do we get there? There is a difference between buying locally produced food and food from a locally owned store, although an intersection between the two is possible. Farmers need both primary markets (e.g., farmers’ markets or direct to the customer)—as well as secondary markets (e.g., grocery stores and restaurants) to financially sustain the farm.
In the broader sense, a purely economic view of a food system considers the means of production, distribution and consumption. In contrast, a culturally based view includes much more: seed saving, nutrition, medicinal uses, ways of storing, cooking, sharing, expressing gratitude and spiritual beliefs. Preserving the rich heritage of traditional food knowledge is of utmost importance for New Mexico ecosystems. And buying locally produced food is the key.
• New Mexico loses more than 35 acres of farmland a day (American Farmland Report). Retaining agricultural land rather than losing acreage to development is only possible by keeping farms in use and supporting local farmers.
• Farmers need income to retain their farms. Over 60 percent of New Mexico farmers make less than $10,000 a year.
• When you buy at farmers’ markets, except for a booth fee of $20-$30, 100 percent of the sale goes to the farmer. A local farmer gets 60 to 70 percent of the retail price when selling to stores.
• Foods in season cost less. Eating according to the readiness of crops can free up funds for eating organically. This is also the time for freezing, drying and canning.
• Eating locally is important for your family’s health. Local vine- and tree-ripened foods contain more nutritional value than foods picked green and shipped from afar. The nutrition in organic and heirloom varieties is higher overall than conventional varieties developed for bulk to increase profit, as shown by the Organic Center in Oregon.
• By talking directly with a farmer, you can find out what you are getting and not getting, in terms of varieties and whether pesticides or other chemicals are used. There are good bargains on non-pesticided, yet not-certified-organic vegetables at the farmers’ market. Vegetables grown abroad and shipped, even organic, are usually picked before they’re ripe and then sprayed with argon gas to slow further ripening.
• The taste of fresh, ripe, picked-that-morning produce is simply delicious and beyond comparison.
• As fuel prices escalate, those cheap imported foods may no longer be available. Small farms use less fuel to produce the crop than agri-biz. Looking to the future, developing local products is a wise approach to fuel conservation.
• Buying locally and learning about foods through meeting the growers is an educational experience and helps preserve local food knowledge.
• Children’s health and developing nervous systems depend upon good quality food. Avoiding the ingestion of pesticides is particularly important.
• Fostering a cooperative community with your food dollar is the path to a viable food system.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Taking the effort to purchase food locally is a way to know our place in the universe, a way of being in relationship with place in our ecosystem. What can you do to further a shift to locally produced food?
- To give full benefit to the local farm, buy directly from farmers and from the stores that buy from local farmers. As one farmer told me recently, “Growing is the easy part; the selling—the marketing—is the hard part.”
- Ask store managers where their food is produced—if it’s not clearly marked, it is a clue that where it’s grown is not on their radar screen. Talking with managers enhances their awareness that imported is not favored by customers and can lead to a shift.
- Many CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share programs operate during the winter, balancing greenhouse produce, stored foods and locally made food products. (http://ediblesantafe.com/csa)
- Shop at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market pavilion throughout the winter. Opportunities abound. The Farmers’ Market Institute provides funding for greenhouses, extending the growing season year-round. Farmers sell stored root vegetables, herbs, greenhouse-grown greens and products made locally from produce. Jams, dried herbs, dried beans and posole, soup mixes, soaps, and handmade goodies make great gifts. (www.santafefarmersmarket.com)
- Support the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, the behind-the-scenes nonprofit actively engaged in strengthening northern New Mexico agriculture. Information on programs and membership can be found at www.farmersmarketinstitute.org
- Avoid eating processed foods—they contain much less nutrition and more additives, preservatives and dyes—plus they are more expensive than whole foods. You vote on the region’s food supply with daily choices of fresh foods.
- Support the return of local roadside vending. Twenty-five years ago farmers in New Mexico were selling produce roadside and have since been pushed out of numerous areas due to policy changes in regulation.
- Express thanks to farmers for their hard work and dedication in producing locally. See what a difference this appreciation makes to their day.
La Montañita Co-op’s global ends statement reflects the values and actions needed for a healthy, local food supply: “A cooperative community based in the shared benefits of healthy food, sound environmental practices and a strengthened local economy, with results that justify the resources used.” This philosophy works toward economic justice.
CONNECTING TO OUR FOOD
I encourage you to look at food in a broader way. In the Indigenous sense, the healing properties of food on an everyday basis—and the spiritual nature of foods— are also an important part of the food system. Eat in your ecosystem and feel a connectedness to nutritious varieties. A sustainable food supply is local by definition, supporting New Mexico cultures, our economy and healthy ecosystems.
As we enter the holidays, this can be a time for living by the seasons and appreciating the harvest. Thanksgiving is an opportune time to be grateful that we live in a region retaining a high level of traditional food diversity. Our actions to support farmers now will determine our food future.
Susan Guyette, Ph.D., is Métis (Micmac Indian and Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. She is the author of Sustainable cultural Tourism: Small-scale Solutions, Planning for Balanced Development, co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature, and the author of several texts for American Indian Studies.www.susanguyette.com