“A local eating challenge is a crash course in reconnection, putting us back in touch with the people who produce our food, the landscapes we live in, and even our own bodies. It is philosophy and politics lived out loud, a delicious demand for a new way of eating.” —J.B. MacKinnon, author, The 100-Mile Diet and The Once and Future World
The 10-Day Local Food Challenge is just a week old and already toddling. Nearly 60 people have signed up for the mailing list (and if you want updates on the campaign beyond October 1, you should too). Over 40 people have taken the opening survey. Some cool data below. Next week Transition US is hosting a tele-salon to introduce the 10-Day Local Food Challenge to you and hopefully many people like you. Sign up. Spread the word.
Comments and questions have already inspired me to write an essay exploring definitions of “local.” Yes, that’s below as well.
And I’ve processed 3 pounds of corn, 10 pounds of tomatoes and 5 pounds of green beans. I have salmon on order from a local fisherman. I have a monumental supply of local Rockwell field beans. And I’m buying up many pounds of potatoes from a biodynamic farmer; his crop has blemishes that make less committed consumers not buy them.
Yes, September is the time to gather food for your October Challenge.
Who’s showing up
From the surveys we can say…
* The biggest motivation so far? FUN! thank heavens local food eaters aren’t a sour lot. Second: “I believe local food is important for restoring the soil and communities.”
* 60% cook from scratch most if not all of the time – so we have cooks on board
* Over 50% eat meat to some degree
* Smallest eating radius: 5% of folks are going for under 10 mile eating radius. about the same number going for more than 100. I heard that someone commented “What’s she talking? 100 miles! I just go out my door.” So we have some 100 feet dieters as well.
We already have people from the UK, Tasmania and Nova Scotia and well as us US’ns.
What are the top 10 exotics? Tell you next time.
Comments from the survey
“Most produce, eggs and meat I eat are locally grown throughout the year. This will be a fun challenge to see what I miss and notice the things I eat frequently that perhaps aren’t from here.”
“I grew up on a small farm during the time farmers were told to “get big or get out.” I remember my dad saying, “If someone doesn’t help the small family farmers we’re going to disappear.” And for the most part, that’s exactly what happened. But now, we might have a chance to turn that around and reclaim our food supply, providing access to real food before all hope of doing so is lost forever.”
“I will be trying this experiment in Tasmania, which is a GMO-free state of Australia. But I am realizing how much harder it will be to find food produced within 10 miles (easy within 20 or 30+) plus locally -produced food tends to be very expensive.”
Is it local?
Local food as a consumer preference is definitely on the rise. Some obvious connotations are: fresh, clean, nutritious and some sort of vague neighborliness. But the term has no fixed meaning. No standards or certification. It’s a bit like love: can’t define it but know when I feel it.
Challengers preparing for their 10-days within 100 miles have asked:
* If it is processed locally with ingredients from elsewhere, is it local?
* If it locally grown but sold by a corporate chain, is it local?
* If it’s 200 miles away, is it local?
Here are 9 ways I’m currently slicing the local pie:
Miles: “Food miles” is a way to measure carbon pollution from food transport, but it’s not perfect. The global corporate industrial food system is a miracle of logistics. Apples from New Zealand could be more freshly picked than apples at the Farmers Market. Tonnage in the belly of an airplane might put less carbon per apple into the environment than a 1975 Ford pickup truckload from a nearby orchard. Distance traveled, though, stands in for many values we bundle as “local.” The shortest distance – out your back door or walking to the closest farm stand – is the most local. Obviously. Without measuring the carbon to took to make your shoes!
Geography determines climate, wind, sun, rain, soils and flows of food (10 miles over the mountain is further than 50 miles on the flat). It locates us in a real place on earth and represents the part of local that understands that food isn’t just a commodity – it’s part of the ecology of life.
Who decides is very important. In a food system dominated by corporations, these replace people as the “deciders”. When it comes to what goes into our mouths, local means that someone accountable to my community has taken this food from seed to plate, someone I might praise or complain to. Subsidiarity is a term for “making decisions as close as possible to those affected by the decisions.” For climate policy we need international forums. For seeds and soils, shouldn’t those decisions be locally sourced?
Scale: A farm can be an acre. Or 5. Or 50. Or 500. Or 500,000 (Ted Turner’s ranch). The US Census says if you earn $1,000 or more per year selling agricultural products, you’re a farm. And if you earn $250,000 or less, you are a small farm. Local favors the little guy over the corporation.
Method: Do we need industrial scale, mechanized, input intensive farming to “feed the world?” According to Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, agroecology (organic, ecologic), and not industrial scale, is the key to doubling food production in 10 years globally. Small is also beautiful where the climate is concerned: “A third of all greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, so we need to focus our efforts on an agriculture which does not degrade the soil and which increases carbon capture (i.e.agroecology).” Local farmers tend towards these soil building, low chemical input methods.
Ownership matters – farming your own land in your own way matters not just to you the farmer but to the prosperity and stability of your local food economy. In today’s market, many young farmers can’t afford to buy farmland, so they lease, functionally becoming tenant farmers – even as older farmers are aging out of farming and want to pass along their land, while still harvesting the one last crop (enough money to be secure in older age). Local means grappling with this farmland transfer issue. And it is gnarly.
Economy: a thriving local food economy creates jobs. Not the highest paying by any means, but enough for young people to bring their families back to rural communities. It also diversifies the economy, adding an important sector.
Culture: Is Italian food local if you come from Italy but live in the Bronx? Hard to say, but local, like “slow”, connotes generations around the table and the bonds that create stability.
Community. For me, this is one of the most important aspects of local. A community is a web of relationships that hold you when you fall and support you when you go forth. It is a currency really – a flow of resources, from sharing love to borrowing luggage. It is a non-governmental safety net. The richer in connections a community is, the more needs it fills – entertainment, sociability, celebrations, service groups, and this can translate into employment in the money economy. Local food is a key part of a strong community because we literally come to depend upon one another for our daily bread.
Even with all this complexity, though, I’ll bet you – and I – still think that “local” is buying big red tomatoes from the farmer who grew them. Which it is.