Insights by Goldie: Regional food: It takes a community

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in September 2006

It’s glorious September! Arguably, it’s the most sensually spectacular and bountiful month of the harvest season. But soon, most soil activity will slow to a soft hum as the earth sleeps. Then spring will awaken the seeds and new life will emerge again, reminding us that “to everything, there is a season.”

This is not mere poetic phrasing but the wisdom of ages we would do well to consider.

Several factors have converged in our region and across the country in the past decade and a half, putting food needs and food production on a collision course. The loss of good farmland is one of the most obvious. Nationally, two acres of prime farmland disappear every minute.

The worst-hit areas are the urban fringe, where 86 percent of fruits and vegetables and 63 percent of dairy products in this country still are produced, and where the development pressures are greatest. Most cities in fact have been built on our best farmland. King County ranks fifth in the country for endangered farmland.

The amazing farmers in our region continue to struggle, enduring challenging weather and pests, increased costs and marginal profits. Still they get up day after day, year after year.

What keeps them committed is you and me and the growing legions of informed food shoppers who want fresh, locally grown foods produced by dedicated producers. This community-based trend is heartening and important, but it’s not yet representative of the typical urban shopping experience.

Local matters
The stunning fact is that most foods sold in Seattle supermarkets and restaurants are shipped by truck, rail, boat or air 1,300 to 1,500 miles, and frequently compete against foods produced within 50 to 100 miles of Puget Sound. The demand for fossil fuels drains non-renewable resources and spews tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to global warming. It’s not sustainable.

When we as shoppers intentionally spend our food dollars on foods from local, sustainable producers, we’re not just buying the best foods, we’re also making a sound investment in future access to a continued supply. Every one of our local food purchases reinforces and strengthens the consumer/farmer connection and helps reinforce our food security.

The local food renaissance is spurring growth in the variety of local foods and related food artisans: cheeses made with milk from small, family-scale goat, sheep and cow dairies; fresh handmade breads from micro-bakeries, some with Washington-grown grains; hand-gathered eggs from small flocks of pastured hens; and humanely managed, organic and sustainable pork, beef and poultry, as well as sustainable seafood, fresh and smoked, provided by local fishers.

What we can do
It’s wonderful to witness growing awareness in food issues, and there are many ways to support local producers. Lest we forget, PCC and other member-owned and locally operated food cooperatives have for decades promoted and supported local farmers and producers by providing them year-round markets for their goods.

This ongoing commitment to work with local producers provides a backbone for local farmer/local retailer/local consumer connections, and helps promote a local, sustainable food system.

PCC also continues to provide generous financial support to the PCC Farmland Trust, an independent non-profit. You, too, can help support the trust with your tax-deductible contributions — small or not-so-small. The trust depends on support from all of us who want to continue eating local organic food.

Farmer’s markets also promote farmer-to-consumer connections, providing community gathering spots and enabling farmers to recoup more of the food dollar. Many families subscribe to Community Supported Agriculture programs, paying a farmer in advance for a weekly box of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables all season long. For many farmers, CSA funds paid ahead of the season are critical for improved budgeting — to make lease payments, farm improvements, and to repair or replace equipment.

We also need to be aware of land use issues that threaten the farmer’s ability to farm and the viability of a local food system. Inform yourself on the potential effects of Initiative I-933 that’s on the ballot this November. I urge you to vote “No.” After all, if there are no local farms, there’s no local food.

Also in this issue

News bites, September 2006

PCC tops for tots, Hospitals serving organic food, USDA revokes organic certifier license, and more

Your co-op, September 2006

Talk to the board, PCC public policy report, Fall Member Meeting, and more