Why Local Food?
By Kelsey Johnson
“You are what your food eats.” Or at least that’s what Wild Rose Pastures in Reasoner preaches. What they mean is – “healthy people come from healthy food,” and the way food is produced has an impact on not just the animal or produce itself, but ultimately the person who eats it.
This is the same mindset that drives Blue Gate Farm in Chariton. They “provide Certified Naturally Grown specialty fruits & vegetables, raw honey, free-range eggs and alfalfa hay, all sustainably raised on [their] small family farm.”
Rosmann Family Farms in Harlan also roots their farm in sustainable agriculture. Ron and Maria Rosmann were “not satisfied with conventional farming practices,” and began “to explore sustainable agriculture methods.” They believed their “goals of building up the soil and not just the plant, using different tillage methods, and improving the genetics in the livestock were reachable.”
What makes these farms possible is demand from local eaters for the sustainably grown food on their farms. All these local, Iowa farms have an interest in providing their customers – and friends – with the best food Iowa has to offer, and that means not just worrying about their yearly yield, but thinking about the means by which it is produced, looking forward to how they will continue to sustain those products for years to come, and connecting with the customers who keep them in business.
The local food movement has flourished in recent years. In its annual directory of farmers markets the USDA listed just under 3,000 around the country in the year 2000, which rose to almost 8,000 last year. Buying locally is associated with a host of benefits that include better nutrition, environmental sustainability, greater sense of community, a stronger local economy, and higher quality. Buy why should our relationship with our food extend beyond our immediate need for nutrition and energy? Well we talked to some of our members and asked – Why local food?
Kerri Rush of Fresh Café & Market believes that buying and selling local produce is “really important to me and my business for a lot of reasons,” she said. While she admits that prices are sometimes higher than her mass-market competitors, there is a different value in the products she provides. “I don’t have the buying power of franchises, chains, or superstores. But usually when I explain this to customers they understand that I’m not holding large stockpiles of my kale chips,” she said. “But I provide fresher, local food because it doesn’t travel so far, and nutritionally it’s so much better for our bodies.
In any case, figuring out nutritional value is complex at best, and relies on multiple factors such as harvesting, packaging, and shipping practices. Buying locally also doesn’t ensure that a farmer took the steps to create a more sustainable product. However, a study published by Kathleen Frith through the Harvard School of Public Health in 2007 reports that, “relying on local sources for your produce needs has some distinct advantages.” These advantages include minimal shipping and handling, crop diversity, and the farmer’s own desire to provide food of high-quality, all of which join together to result in a better product.
Nutrition aside, you can’t deny one of local food’s most compelling benefits: taste. Sondra Felbstein from SalAmander Farms says plain and simple why she loves local food: “Because it tastes better than anything you can buy otherwise.”
Along those same lines, Alba restaurant also utilizes local foods in order to increase the quality of their product. Chef Joe Tripp lets food drive his menu, always featuring what’s in season. “We use fresh ingredients from local farms because they travel less than anything we could pick up from the store,” he said. “When farmers are out of an ingredient they’re out and we know they’re not at their best anymore so we change our menu to focus on what’s fresh.”
But buying locally is more than any one of its singular advantages, it’s a compilation of factors that work to build a new way in which Iowans, and all people, think about their food. It’s a movement that both builds community and relies on it to sustain its mission. “I think it’s important to support local small businesses and farms,” said Kerri Rush. “If we join together as one force we’re more powerful.” So when you pick up sweet corn this weekend, you’re not simply investing in the probability that you are getting a higher quality, nutritious, and more sustainably produced product, but forming a relationship with a farmer, and building a connection with your local community. And we think that sounds pretty darn delicious.