Long Distance Eating

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One of the most eye opening first steps in my local food journey was the realization that almost all of the food we eat every day comes from a very, very long way away.

If you haven’t already, read the labels on the food and products you buy every week, you will be surprised by the distance between production an consumption.

My business mind boggles at how you can grow blueberries in Chile and ship them to Regina in January and sell a giant plastic bucket of them for $2.99.

There has to be a jet involved there somewhere.

That got me thinking. 

How would you feed your family if Wal-mart, Safeway and Superstore were out of business?

It is a scary thought. One that is easily dismissed by the “too big to fail” argument that keeps us consolidating our food production into fewer and fewer hands that are farther and farther away from our mouths.

“What would you do if the price of food doubled?” is a more likely question that is no less terrifying.

There are many links in the remarkable chain that is our food production and distribution system. It is truly a marvel of human ingenuity and supply and demand economics.

The price of oil is just one of the links in the chain that includes water availability, low cost labour and high yield crops. However, oil is also a critical factor in all of the other components, whether that is to feed the pumps that move the water, fuel the trucks that transport the labour and their machines, or to produce and distribute the fertilizer and pesticide that produce the yields that allow me to buy a super-sized plastic container of blueberries from Chile for $2.99.

Ask yourself, does it make sense that a huge portion of a soft fruit can be grown and shipped over six thousand miles away, to be purchased “fresh” for less than the cost of a Venti at Starbucks?

The miracle of the markets is an easy trope to trot out to explain it – but the reality is simply that the true cost of those blueberries is not accounted for in the price.

The role of farming has shifted focus from being a steward of the planet’s abundance to maximizing economic return to keep the growth imperative going.

The hard lesson of past civilizations (Romans and the Mayans for example) seems to be lost on us as we focus on greater levels of consolidation, monoculture production and corporate farming where the bottom line does not take into account the true costs.

All life on the planet is supported by the fertility in the first few feet of the earth’s crust.

It took humans thousands of years of trial and error to learn that when you grow corn, beans, and squash in the North American climate you can produce and effectively store enough food by volume and by nutritional profile to feed and support a family on a small portion of your own land.

In a beautiful example of one of nature’s ‘closed loops” the Three Sisters, as they are called, work together to maintain soil fertility. The beans replace the nitrogen that the corn takes from the soil while the corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb. The squash creates the cover to keep the water in the soil and weeds at bay as well producing a high volume and easily storable food source. Corn produces lots of storable calories in multiple forms, but it lacks the amino acids the body needs to produce protein. The beans cover that off to create a balanced diet.

Asian cultures discovered their own “Three sisters” in the way that ducks, fish and rice can work together in a paddy to support life and invest in the natural capital of soil fertility.

Today, we have abandoned this knowledge and stewardship and replaced it with mass scale monoculture with oil dependent inputs like nitrogen-based fertilizer and chemical pesticides that are all purchased with credit. The distance between the farm gate and plate has never been farther. Farms are corporations, even when mom and pop are the shareholders. Investors can even speculate on the return on the year’s crop by purchasing a mutual fund based on the productive output of a portfolio of corporate farms.

The results of corporate farming have been fantastic. The cornucopia of food available year-round boggles the mind. Production and per-acre profitability have skyrocketed as we have removed ourselves almost entirely from the process of food production and consolidated this basic human task into the hands of some very profitable corporations.

However, the true cost is not on the balance sheet. The balance sheet measures only the profit that accrues.
The natural capital cost of this approach to agriculture is not being accounted for in the loss of soil fertility, food security, and, more alarmingly perhaps, the hard fought human knowledge of how to feed ourselves without destroying the means of production. It is just too damn easy to kick the can down the road when the full consequence of this inaction will not be felt for decades.

Local & Fresh is a one small step towards changing this global trend.

We can’t change the global economics that drive corporations to do what they do, but you can change things right here at home. Three times a day you can support local food.

We want help you make that choice a little easier by providing a convenient and cost effective way to buy local food. Tell us what you think, tell us what you want buy, and tell us who you want to buy it from. You will find a survey on our website (localandfresh.ca) where you can also sign up to stay in the loop as the seed of this company begins to grow.

Or reach out on Twitter @Fresh2home!


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