Eating Green: Locally Grown Food Nourishes Kids and the Planet

Becoming a locavore is the latest way to save the planet. A 21st-century version of the “flower power” peace movement of the 1960s, what began as a grassroots movement to eat local food and help the environment is gaining in popularity. The word “locavore,” which was coined only four years ago by a group in San Francisco that challenged people to eat locally grown food, has become such a buzzword that it was the 2007 Oxford American Dictionary word of the year.

The term combines the word omnivore with the word local. The commonly used definition of locavore is a mouthful: A person who prefers to eat locally grown/produced food as part of a collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place.

But what does that really mean?

Locavores talk about supporting sustainable agriculture, which is basically an integrated system of farming devoted to using resources wisely to support the economy, workers, consumers and society as a whole. Much of the argument for promoting sustainable agriculture stems from a public interest in obtaining healthy foods, conserving local resources and fossil fuel, saving local farms, and providing a safe food supply (knowing where food originates).

To accomplish these goals, many locavores eat only foods produced within a 50- or 100-mile radius from their home.

“It takes 1,500 miles for the average piece of food on your plate to actually get to your plate, so buying locally helps reduce fossil fuel emissions,” says Lisa Forehand, extension and outreach coordinator for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and president of the Triangle Meat Buying Club.

Forehand says she buys local foods for health benefits, taste, the security of knowing her food source, the conservation of resources and the opportunity to support local farmers. She likes the idea of putting money into the local economy to keep green land open. “If everyone in North Carolina spent 5 percent of their total food budget per year on buying local food products, it would result in $1.7 billion in state revenue,” she says.

Introducing kids to fresh food

Cary resident Juliann Zoetmulder says she wondered at one time whether her three young children would ever experience the taste of truly fresh food because of the growing distance between farm and table for the current generation of children living in our nation. She finds that fresh foods taste better than foods that travel long distances to get to the grocery stores.

“Maybe kids don’t like vegetables anymore because it doesn’t taste like a vegetable,” she says.

Zoetmulder really started thinking about her food choices and options when she read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, a book about how our food is grown. In the book, Pollan discusses industrialized farming, organic foods, and what it’s like to hunt and gather food yourself.

Zoetmulder and her colleagues were so frustrated with the lack of nearby fresh, local food choices that they worked together to start the new Western Wake Farmers Market, which will have a grand opening May 2, 2009, at Carpenter Village Marketplace in Cary. The market will feature about 20 local farms and be open until November. Zoetmulder collaborated with Jennifer Gibbs, Kerry Haggerty, Terri Melcher Nelson, and Mia South to organize the venture.

“We can grow so many things here in North Carolina, and it tastes so much better,” Zoetmulder says. “If you can go (to a farmers market) every week, then you have a connection with the farmers, and for the kids to see that and connect with the farmer and see that food comes from the farm is an invaluable experience.”

The new farmers market in Cary is among a host of markets sprouting up all around the country. According to data from the U.S. Agriculture Department, the number of farmers markets steadily increased to 4,685 markets in mid 2008, up nearly 7 percent from the 4,385 farmers markets in 2006. Sales at markets totaled $1 billion in 2005.

Papa Spud’s Organics online farmers market is another novel addition to the Triangle area, delivering seasonal food procured from local farmers to customers in Raleigh, south Durham, Morrisville and Holly Springs. The company is considering drop-off spots in Wake Forest for its weekly deliveries.

Co-owner Ben Stone says the overall response to the business has been good. “I think it’s a combination of two considerations for most of our members,” he says. “They are environmentally conscious and want to support local growers, and they also don’t always have as much time to take advantage of other more time-consuming opportunities in our area.”

Small steps can have a big impact Martha Newport of Carrboro began thinking more seriously about food choices following the birth of her son, who is now almost 2. Newport, who had shopped at farmers markets in the past, now considers her options more carefully. Her family often takes Saturday jaunts to the Carrboro Farmers Market, and she also visits a local butcher, Cliff’s Meat Market. Although Cliff’s sells meat that isn’t local, it is something of an icon in Carrboro, having been open for more than 25 years. Newport also visits Weaver Street Market, a food co-op.

“When we first started this, it was primarily for the health of our family. But now we walk downtown and make a day of it, and it makes us feel part of a community,” Newport says. “We also wanted our food to be clean and safe, so even though it can sometimes be a bit more expensive, we cut out other extras to make up for that small bit of increase.”

Newport says she still goes to the grocery store for some staples and household items, but she plans her purchases based on what is in season that she can buy at the local market. “Our Saturday morning shopping really puts us in touch with our town,” Newport says.

For many people who eat local, that sense of connection to the community and the opportunity to buy fresh, healthy food products for their family is well worth any extra effort or cost.

Carol McGarrahan is a Triangle-area freelance health and science writer. She misses days wrapped in sunshine when she picked plump blueberries and handed them over for a succulent, warm pie that could fill a mouth with a sweet tartness better than any candy bought after a Friday afternoon bike ride to the 7-11 store.

Top 10 Reasons to Become a Locavore

1. Health
2. Taste
3. Environment
4. Food safety
5. Support family farms
6. Preserve community
7. Conserve fossil fuels
8. Educate children about resources
9. Support humane treatment of farm animals
10. Support fair treatment of workers

Compiled from information at http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues

Get tips on finding locally grown food.

 

For More Information

 

Sustainable Table
www.sustainabletable.org
General information about benefits of sustainable agricultur

Chatham County N.C. Cooperative Extension
www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg
Triangle-area markets, CSAs, farms and other local resources

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
www.carolinafarmstewards.org
Information about promoting sustainable agriculture in the Carolinas

N.C. Choices
www.ncchoices.com
Find farmers markets, meat-buying clubs, N.C. Choices farms and more

N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
www.ncfarmfresh.com
Lists farmers market locations and information

Durham Co-op Grocery
www.durhamfoodcoop.org
1101 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham 919-490-0929

Papa Spud’s Organics
www.papaspuds.com

Triangle Meat Buying Club
www.trianglembc.org
Works to connect local producers of meat (all kinds), eggs and cheeses with consumers. Started because local vegetables are fairly easy to come by, but meat and meat products are difficult to find.

Weaver Street Market
www.weaverstreetmarket.coop
101 E. Weaver St., Carrboro 919-929-0010
Southern Village at 716 Market St., Chapel Hill 919-929-2009

Categories: BT Health & Wellness, Early Education, Family Health, Fit Family Challenge, Green Living, Health, Lifestyle, Nutrition, SK Health & Wellness