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Food for Thought

Posted: Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

An Aprovecho volunteer, Daniela, planting potatoes in the garden.

Juicy red tomatoes sit under a tent in a local farmers’ market, waiting for customers. Those tomatoes may seem like any other tomatoes, but they didn’t travel half way across the country. These were grown just a few miles away.

Most of the produce found in grocery stores is shipped from thousands of miles away; sometimes labels even state that the product is from Chile, which is about 6,000 miles from Oregon.

With this in mind, a rebellion is starting to sweep across the U.S.

Communities around the nation are making the leap towards locally grown food and eating seasonally. The proof is in farmers’ markets; they have become a trademark and are in nearly every community today.

Steve Baker, the garden manager at Aprovecho, a community just outside of Cottage Grove, referred to this effort as an “empowerment project.”

“People take on the task of sourcing their own food by going to individual farmers or markets, rather than just going to the store and relying on things that are processed and brought in from all over the world,” Baker said.

But there is one misconception about this movement.

“Living locally is not a new thing,” said Beth Pool of Sustainable Cottage Grove. “It’s been done for thousands of years.”

The industrialization of food started in the late 1800s. Before that, most of the food products consumed were still very local. Industrialization intensified during World War II because manufacturers had to find a way to store food and make it last for long periods for soldiers overseas, and the process has only intensified since then.

Now, many of the products available in grocery stores are either frozen or prepackaged.

“It (packaged food) started with good intentions, but it quickly grew into the monster phase,” Pool said. “Real food is what grandma ate.”

Many also marked the start of the industrialized food revolution as “the destruction of family.” Recipes from past generations were lost because families no longer taught the younger generation how to cook. One of the only means of learning how to cook was in schools.

This eventually sparked a revolution in Italy. In the 1980s, the Slow Food Movement started as a rebellion against the fast food industry because a McDonald’s was opening in Rome.

Soon the movement turned out to mean much more. Families would prepare an entire meal together, giving them the opportunity to talk and connect with each other in a way that had been lost over the years. In addition, the Slow Food Movement promoted using locally grown food. This movement was so big it spread to hundreds of countries, including the U.S., and there are now over 100,000 members, according to the movement’s website. This may have initiated the big push to buy from local farmers’ markets instead of large grocery stores.

“Living locally is important for a lot of reasons,” Baker said. “It connects you to the local community and increases the economic feasibility of your region.”

Living locally also provides much healthier food for communities.

“Produce from the Southern Hemisphere is picked too early, and it wasn’t grown with nutrition in mind in the first place,” Pool said. “A local farmer is growing for his or her community, so the farmer is keeping nutrition in mind as well.”

If a local farmer doesn’t focus on quality he or she will lose support from the community, where a large farm will not. Some local places are even taking this further than just providing a healthy product for the consumer.

According to Baker, the food that Aprovecho produces is beyond organic. Baker describes organic as a set of government practices that are more geared at large-scale farms. All work done in Aprovecho’s garden, which covers just over an acre, is done through human power and without the use of chemicals.

“We live in one community, and it’s in our interest to strengthen our county,” Baker said. “We don’t really have enough energy to try to help other counties, even though we do try.”

Like many environmental groups, the Aprovecho community is trying to get the message of sustainability out in the world.

The message is resonating with larger and larger audiences.

“There are many things about this industrial food system that are unsustainable. And that word really means something; it doesn’t just mean we don’t like it,” said Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” in episode three of the PBS documentary “Food Miles.” “It means there are internal contradictions that will lead to breakdowns.”

Often, the breakdowns are with food quality itself. The more handling and longer it takes, the lower the quality of the food.

For the complete article see the 05-15-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 05-15-2013 paper.

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