Eat Local: Finding Your Place in Our Local Food Network

 Photo by Cat Mayer

Photo by Cat Mayer

The trend of local and sustainable farming is all around us, but why is it valuable? Why should all of us — regardless of background, income level, ethnicity, or education — care? WHY? Health! Better taste! A deeper tie to our neighbors, our community, and our land!

Health issues abound, many of which are directly due to the way we choose to feed ourselves. We readily supply our children with candy and cupcakes at school, church, and other events, but we don’t make whole foods a choice. We bring donuts to work out of habit, when we could bring fresh fruit, salads, and bacon from local farms.

With a visible, integrated local food network, not only are all of us (children included) able to see that there are options around produce and meats, we can easily integrate these options into our everyday meals.

Instead of passing out cake and junk food during parties, we could be sharing candy-sweet heirloom tomatoes or peaches and cream. Healthy eating is easy, and it is no more costly than eating poorly — especially when you factor in the high price of cavities and doctor visits.

Have you ever tasted a tomato from the grocery store? The answer is “No, I haven’t.” You can’t taste a tomato from the grocery store, because it has no taste! While our national food distribution model with mega farms behind it is a miracle that keeps the nation and much of the world from starving, it does this at the expense of taste and nutrition.

Tomatoes, strawberries, and everything else is engineered to look a certain way, withstand shipping and wild temperature variations, and handle harsh treatment at the hands of dozens of people who move it across the country. Local food isn’t engineered at all. You get ugly tomatoes that taste absolutely amazing!

Feeling a sense of community, especially in the modern era, can be a challenge. But all of us have to eat, and all of us love the land. There are few simpler ways to feel like you are part of a community than eating locally and sharing in the bounty of what is produced in the region.

Did you know you can get fresh lettuces, mushrooms, onions, kale, and other produce in the middle of the winter in this town — all fresh from local greenhouses? Well, now you know. Try it out, and you’ll want to hug a farmer as the snow falls around you. (It will be a snowy winter this year, they say!)

 Photo by Cat Mayer

Photo by Cat Mayer

How can you support and build the local food market? As a consumer, work to add local produce and meat to your diet. Be creative with introducing new, fresh foods into your kids’ meals and snacks. Bring something homemade or homegrown to your next party or potluck. As a farmer or rancher, look at other producers in your area as potential partners instead of competitors, and work together to bring more options to the area and support one another. As a restaurant or food-based business, work with local farmers and distributors to get a mix of local ingredients into your recipes, and help educate your customers about what you’re offering.

With a robust local food network that is easily accessed, we all can be healthier, enjoy the taste of our food more, and be tied much more closely to our neighbors, our community, and our land.

Mark Beckner is the owner of Rooted Gypsy Farm in Grand Junction, Colorado.