I cheer for the local food movement every chance I get, but I’m a little uneasy with the word “local.” Just as all politics are local, as someone famous has said, all food is local. And like politics, just because it’s local does not necessarily mean it’s good. I recently ran into an example that addresses this conundrum.
I got a phone call from a friend in Kentucky and she was all excited because what she referred to as “the peach truck” was in town. She had just come home from buying peaches from The Peach Truck (first letters all capitalized), the best peaches in the world, she declared. “There were 40 people lined up in front of me to buy peaches and just as many behind me. I counted them,” she said. Pause. “Guess what they were selling for.”
I had no idea of course and nearly dropped the phone when she told me. “Thirty nine dollars a HALF bushel.”
She thought that they are worth it. They come from a specific farm in Georgia, the Pearson Farm, that has been raising them for years. (You can find this all on Google.) The Peach Truck is the brainchild of a couple in Nashville, Tenn., Stephen and Jessica Rose, who knew about those peaches. They are picked just before they are fully ripe, loaded on The Peach Truck, which is really a fleet of trucks now, and transported far and wide, where the trucks park at prearranged business sites to sell their fruit. The Peach Truck people make every effort to project a local character to the operation even though the orchard may be hundreds of miles from the sales site. They have popularized the phrase “from truck to porch.” And as the customers wait in line to get their peaches, The Peach Truck salespeople brief them over loudspeakers as to just exactly how to handle these peaches. Do not put them in the refrigerator, wait a day or two or three for them to ripen fully. You can tell the right time by pressing them gently with a thumb until they give just a little. Then eat. Or can. Or freeze.
Truckers have always hauled produce from the south to northern markets. But rarely has there been so much effort made to personalize the process as sort of local artisanal operation, moving from orchard to truck to porch as quickly as speed limits allow with no intermediate handling or storage or middlemen. Customers of The Peach Truck feel like they are dealing with a local farmer at a local farmer’s market. The piston engine has made almost every part of the nation “local.”
So what’s the fly in the ointment here, so to speak? As any champion of literally local food will quickly point out, it requires lots of fuel. That means, if the scientists are correct, contributing a lot of CO2 to the atmosphere, thereby speeding up climate change. So how far away from the customer can a farm be and still not contribute unnecessarily to environmental damage? I leave that question to someone smarter than I am.
But The Peach Truck gives me an opportunity to compare the difference between high tech and low tech farming, which I so love to do. Here on our little farm, we have been eating our own peaches every day for a month now. I don’t think they are quite as good as the best Georgia peaches, but almost. The trees grow wild, first from when we scattered seeds and skins of Red Haven peaches we had bought around the henhouse for the chickens to peck at. The trees volunteered. We don’t do anything for them except prop up branches heavy with fruit. Some have died, but others come up from pits left by discarded or fallen fruit. Some years the weather kills the fruit buds, but most of the time we get plenty for eating fresh, canning and freezing. We generally pick ours several days before they are juicy ripe, just to keep the wild critters from eating them, so our peaches, just a couple hundred feet from the kitchen, are no fresher than The Peach Truck’s peaches sold hundreds of miles from the orchard. The difference: high tech peaches are $39 a half bushel; ours are zero dollars a half bushel.