Do Your Bit
Our goal for this issue is to provide readers with a better understanding of local, organic food, why it’s important, and the challenging landscape farmers face. But we realize that knowing more doesn’t necessarily make you feel less overwhelmed. You might be wondering, “What can I do?” or “How can I do more?” If you feel inspired to get involved, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Buy A CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares are offered by more than 12,000 farms across the country according to the USDA. When you purchase a CSA membership, you receive produce and/or other farm products at pre-determined intervals throughout the growing season. CSAs originated as a means to provide farmers with a stable market, and serve as a direct consumer investment in those farms. In a true CSA, 100% of your purchase directly benefits the farm. But be aware and ask questions—some third-party organizations offer produce subscriptions labeled as CSAs, but they are not. In a true CSA, 100% of your purchase directly benefits the farm, with no markups and no middlemen. Produce subscription programs are an outlet for farms to sell their food, but do not provide the same direct-to-farm benefits that a CSA offers both growers and consumers.
Re-think Your Food Budget. We spend less of our money on what we eat than any other country. Americans spend just over 6% of our total budget on food, whereas France spends nearly twice that amount according to the Gates Foundation. Sustainably and organically grown food costs more, and it should. Improved working conditions and increased wages mean higher food costs. In a country where poverty among farm workers is more than twice that of wage and salaried employees (PBS), we should all be shifting our priorities to not only eat better, but also to support the men and women providing our families with hard-won, handcrafted food.
Give. Think hard about what you have to offer, and then offer it. Is it time? Money? Influence? All three? Join a co-operative as a supporting member. Consider making a low-interest loan to a farm or co-op seeking investment. Volunteer your time to a co-op and/or a farm in whatever way speaks to you, be it pulling weeds and packing food, or donating your professional skills to support a farm’s success (think marketing, design, promotions, etc.). Spread the word through your network about the importance of supporting farms with direct purchases. Create and promote a CSA delivery to your workplace. Commit to building your shopping and eating habits around the growing season of your region, and encourage others to do the same.
Hold Businesses Accountable. When you eat in a restaurant advertising its farm-to-table commitment, channel your inner Portlandia and ask questions. Spend your money with businesses that are truly building a menu around locally sourced items and purchasing from farms frequently and substantially—and not just buying small amounts of produce here and there to capitalize on a trend. Farmers are held to a high level of transparency and accountability to disclose exactly how their product was grown or raised, but restaurants can advertise themselves as local, farm-to-table, and even go so far as to publish farm names on their menus and social media profiles with zero accountability. It’s on us as consumers to demand more from them.
Buy Organic. If you’re one to purchase fair-trade at the grocery, then you should also be purchasing local and certified organic produce. If you’re currently doing neither of these things, now is a great time to start. It’s better for our soil, our water quality, our wildlife, our health, and the health and safety of the people that are growing our food. It also ensures farmers a premium for their product, which helps ensure the longevity of the farm itself. Remember—no farms, no food.
Dig In. Get to know your farmers. Introduce yourself and make a genuine effort to get to know them. Build personal relationships with at least one farm that’s farming for a living, not just as a hobby. Volunteer your time to their field or market stand. Help pack CSA shares. Make a standing commitment. These experiences will not only offer the farm much-needed labor support, they will bring you to a better understanding of just what it takes for that glorious bunch of beets to arrive at your dinner table. A more personal relationship with your farmer equals a more intimate relationship with your food.
Investing in your local food economy, both emotionally and financially, isn’t always comfortable. But it’s always worth the effort. Tear out this page and place it on your fridge as a reminder of how you and your family can get involved. If you’d like more specific suggestions or support on any of the ideas above, email Holly Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.