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April 2006
Think Global Eat Local
By Andrea Vendittis


I regularly read articles encouraging people to buy locally grown produce, but I didn’t understand how important this practice really was until I worked at a local organic farm as part of a CSA, or community supported agriculture program. I worked one day a week during the growing season from April to October and got an in-depth view of how small organic farms operate. This was a special opportunity since I was one out of only three working members; an option where I could get a discount on my membership dues in exchange for volunteer work.

My initial experience started with planting and weeding in the greenhouse. Later we moved outside to the 11 acres of fields and added hoeing to our tasks. We spent a lot of time squatting and kneeling so we could have access to the weeds and the plants. I had to take a nap every afternoon I worked since this was extremely draining for me, particularly on hot, sunny days. I don’t think I could have done this work six days a week like the other workers.

Several weeks later, the long-awaited harvest came. Harvesting was also physical work. No gym time was necessary after carrying bushels of squash, beans and other crops through the fields. Wednesday evenings were the designated day for members to pick up their share of produce. It was always a surprise, as you never knew what goodies you were going to get.

My meals from the farm were some of the most satisfying I have ever eaten. The flavors were so fresh and alive—being picked only a few hours before preparation. I tried young garlic shoots and several other types of greens for the first time. I couldn’t believe all that I had been missing from the limited selections at the supermarket.
Another bonus of my farm experience was that I picked up a regular habit of composting. The farm had a huge compost hill where we would dump used vegetation and harvest scraps, returning them back to the land. I would also bring my compost from home.

The 20 weeks flew by and before I knew it, fall had arrived. Towards the end of the season, we started to clean the fields in preparation for winter. Part of this entailed collecting drip tape, a plastic hose that lines the rows of crops to water them. I was told that most farms throw out the drip tape after one season, but this farm saved it for two or three. Farms use an incredible amount of drip tape and it was hard to think of it all getting dumped into the landfill to spare a little extra effort. I was happy that this farm was acting responsibly and wondered about the other farms that were not.

My experience at the farm showed me that organic farming is exceptionally rewarding and challenging work. It is also unpredictable since some crops might suffer from insect damage or low germination, therefore creating a poor yield. For instance, our potatoes were tiny, not much bigger than a dime. It was a thrill to find one the size of a quarter. This can be devastating to a farmer who doesn’t depend on herbicides, pesticides and chemicals to ensure a good production.

Supporting local farms means that we will see fields of crops instead of subdivisions and strip malls. These open fields and the surrounding areas also provide wildlife habitat.

It also means that we are keeping our food close to home and spending less gasoline and energy to get it. Stores are extremely wasteful, using incredible amounts of electricity and resources to operate. Think of all the trucks that transport produce from thousands of miles away. Not only is produce shipped in plastic bags, cartons or boxes, wasting a lot of packaging, it loses vitamins, visual appeal and freshness during transport. A lot of perfectly good produce gets thrown away as a result. How many stores do you know compost their produce waste?

Many cities and towns have farmers markets. Check with the farmers to see if they have a CSA program you can join. Prices for CSA program shares may seem a little high, but when compared to buying produce separately at the supermarket, the prices usually end up a bit less per pound. Be sure to sign up early in the year since memberships sell out quickly. If the markets are further away, consider carpooling with friends and/or ask your favorite grocery store to carry organic, locally grown produce.

Also, learn to eat with the seasons. Sometimes cucumbers might not be available, but broccoli and red chard are. This natural way of eating works well for the environment since produce is eaten when it is harvested and during its growing season. This is also when it tastes its best. When we eat tomatoes and peppers in the middle of winter, they are most likely shipped from Mexico or even further away. Often they have been specifically grown and/or waxed and treated with chemicals so they can withstand transport and maintain their marketability. When the farm is out of production, seek out seasonal and locally grown produce that hasn’t traveled so far. Save the exotic produce, such as bananas, for the winter months when there is not an abundance of peaches, watermelons and other local food available.

Sometimes locally grown produce may cost a little more, but think about who and what you are supporting. You are paying someone to grow the highest quality food for you in the most responsible way. Most likely, these are people who are committed to what they are doing and enjoy doing it. This care and passion will spill into the food they grow for you.

Andrea Vendittis is an environmental and health educator. She has been a vegan for over 15 years and continuously seeks ways to reduce her impact on the earth.

 


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