As we see the consumer driven Organic industry rise to over 31 billion dollars and grew 9% in 2011 according to the Organic Trade Association, the word Organic now defined by the USDA has clearly become a household word. As the debate continues by University studies over whether Organic is more nutritious or simply better for you than conventionally grown farm products a vibrant movement has been gaining momentum throughout this country and specifically here in the southern Appalachia. This movement is the local food movement. We represent a diverse community of artisanal producers of fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, milk, baked goods, forest products such as mushrooms and honey. Some producers are Organic as put forth by the NOB National Organic Board, some are not.
Yet out of choice, economics or ethics alternative labels such as Sustainably grown, Naturally grown, Bio intensive, Biodynamic, Permaculture, Grass Fed, Pasture Raised and Freerange to name a few are all if not in part influenced by the forefathers and mothers of land conservation. These familial ties with our ecological past remind us to be aware, to have a deep connection to and have an abiding respect for our natural resources. I cannot think of any greater natural resource or political agenda than the air we breathe, the water we drink and food we eat. But how do small family farms that implement a sustainable strategy effect a community? To assess one effect on a community we can look at agriculture practices abroad who have implemented a conventional approach using herbicides such as glyphosate found in Monsanto’s Round-up but now marketed by agrochemical companies world wide. Glyphosate is rated by the EPA on a toxicity scale from 1-4 , 4 being least toxic, as a class 3.
. In one example according to a 2011 study in the journal Ithaka done in Berlin, Germany, crops such as potatoes that do not fully mature due to excessive rainfall have been sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. This is not limited to potato production but this pre-harvest termination has become common practice for other crops such as cereals, canola and legumes. This not only terminates the present crop but also will control weeds for the next sowing period. Moreover, according to the study “death sprayed” potatoes harden the skin surface and reduces its susceptibility to late blight and prevents germination which improves shelf life. I might add, this also inhibits the farmer from saving seed for next season’s planting. Furthermore, glyphosate has been shown to accumulate in the plants meristematic regions, shoots, roots, rhizomes and tubers. The German study also conducted a urinalysis of city workers, journalists and lawyers who had no direct contact with glyphosate or agriculture and found 5 to 20 times the contamination of glyphosate in all urine samples. This is one small example of how only one chemical practice affects a larger community.
Native Americans referred to food as medicine and revered it as sacred. They relied generation after generation on a particular food system in which each tribe adapted to the plants and animals in their homeland. This symbiosis in which we rely upon our natural resources within our local communities in particular concerning food production has been disrupted due to globalization, urbanization, cheap oil, transportation and now gene engineered modification.
For some, we seem to be living in a time of greater personal responsibility no longer relying on the promises of wellbeing from government or lab coats. Safegaurding the family farm entrepreneurial spirit is paramount in our local food system and offers an alternative choice. A culinary democracy where you have a direct vote in the way you want your food produced and in turn economically safegaurds our rural landscape and those of us who farm it . Indeed, we are directly empowered by our supporters.
There is no better biosecurity system than diversifying our food source to many farmers rather than a corporate few. Learning from the past we know the deprivation and sometimes devastation that is wrought on the environment by monoculture farming. Every local family farmer I’ve met has some form of diversification or value added of on farm products.
We individually do not feed the world but we collectively feed communities. We connect a face to the food we produce and that face is tangible to our supporters who rely on us to provide clean food and authentic flavor. We break the food chain from industrial engineering to homegrown and offer an alternative to the paradigm of how food is produced and perceived. We do this through community involvement. How? Join a CSA Community Supported Agriculture subscription; come join your friends at the local weekly farmers market. Get involved. Many farms have volunteer programs. Organize a crop mob with a group and donate time to a local farm. Get to know your farmers, ask questions such as what are you using to control pest? Rather than “are you Organic?” How do you raise your livestock? Tell them what you like; they might grow it for you.
I field more questions than the extension service. From cooking tips to what’s eating my garden to consulting local chefs; this patron interaction each week is what I like best. And my customers appreciate it. When they say thank you there is a real sense of gratitude for us showing up, being there, offering great food and that is the ultimate compliment; a true transparency between producer and the community.