Friday, December 30, 2011

Know Your Farmer: Locavore or Globavore?

I love eating. I think a lot about where my food comes from and the farmers who produce it.  

My family predominantly lives on food we grow ourselves or which is grown locally by our neighbors. Our kids raise 4H hogs and one always goes to the freezer each year once the county fair is over. Our other main source of protein is venison, hunted on our own property. I was taught canning and freezing by my mom, and so I continue the tradition of “putting up” food when it is in season for use in our menus in the off season. I buy local peaches, strawberries, blueberries and other produce to can or freeze and use to make yummy dishes all year long. In this sense, I am very much a “locavore”.

The “buy local” movement has a lot of momentum and has done great things for local farm economies, not to mention the health benefits of eating food produced in season and from within your own community.

But as I sit here in New England, nearly 400 miles from “home”,  visiting my family for the holidays, and thinking of all the farmers I know around this globe, I’ve decided there are merits to being both a locavore AND a globavore.

I love being a globavore mainly because we know so many farmers in so many countries around this world. My family hosted International 4-H Youth Exchangees (IFYE’s) and young farmers for nearly 30 years. These young farmers and IFYE’s came from over 20 different countries making our connection to “Knowing Your Farmer” very meaningful and personal. In turn, members of our family have been able to travel to visit and spend time with several of these farm families on their farms in foreign lands.  “Know Your Farmer” takes a whole new definition when you’ve lived and worked with farm families around this globe.

I LOVE New England maple syrup, made by my dear friends who still tap trees and boil sap the old fashioned way. I think of them every time I use their syrup on my pancakes or French toast.

A couple of New England ice cream and cheese processors are my favorite brands because I know dairy farmers in the New England area whose milk is in the product.
Our Maryland neighbors milk cows for the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative. Supporting those brands the buy from the cooperative helps our neighbors.

I love pickles. I think of my cucumber-growing, fellow Eastern Shore woman-farmer Hannah who grows for a local pickle company every time I eat pickles.

I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of friends I have who are poultry farmers. I know how much they care for their chickens and know I am getting a quality product supporting a fellow farmer when I buy the brands for whom they grow chickens.

When our freezer runs low on our own meat, I look for certain brands pork. My friend Jen is a hog farmer. I’ve been to her farm. I know how she operates and look for the brand that buys her hogs.

Distant Schmidt cousins who immigrated from Germany to Chile when our branch of Schmidt’s immigrated to America, are one of the largest table grape growers in that country. I think of them every time I buy Thompson seedless from Chile at my local supermarket. A relative grew those grapes.

We have dear friends who farm paprika peppers in South Africa. I think of them and remember my time in South Africa every time I use paprika as a seasoning.

I was fortunate to travel to Vietnam in January of 2011. I think of the rice and tilapia farmers I met when I consume either of those food items and hope they are doing well. While I don’t “know” them well, a face-to-face meeting with a farmer makes you have a better connection to how your food is produced, regardless of location.

That trip highlighted how food is globally interconnected and how important U.S. agriculture is to so many people outside our borders. Visiting Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Taiwan, I understood the importance of U.S. farm exports to feed people in countries with too little land mass to feed their own population. U.S. farmers support so many people beyond our own farm-gates, supporting globavores by choice and necessity.

On the flip side, the majority of what we grow on our family farm stays within 100 miles of our farm, a well used “rule of thumb” for defining “local” by many who have hitched their wagon to the local food movement. From our farm in MD, 100 miles reaches to PA, NJ, VA, WV, DE and DC. Whether its tomatoes to a cannery, fresh market green beans to a distributor, grapes to a winery, corn to a grain elevator, or soybeans to a tofu-maker, much of what we grow stays “local”. Our family farm supports many other local businesses both as a buyer of items we need to operate our farm, or as a seller of raw food or feed items to another family-owned local business. The fabric of the rural economy is very much a “locavore” economy, not only of food, but of products and services to and from family farms.

Locavore or Globavore, food is about relationships.  “Local” to me can be grown thousands of miles from me, but grown by a friend or distant relative. Knowing your farmer isn’t about distance, it’s about relationships. Consumers can connect their relationship to food by patronizing farmers markets, CSA’s, farm stands, creameries, or wineries, and by looking for local products in the grocery. But don’t lose sight of the fact that my friend Hannah may have grown those pickles you’re crunching, my friend Jen may have raised that bacon you had for breakfast or that my tomatoes may be in the spaghetti sauce you had for dinner last night. Just because our faces are not on the product, or you didn’t buy it direct from one of us, doesn’t mean that item wasn’t grown by a family farmer whose main interest in producing a safe and healthy food for your consumption.

Have a safe and blessed New Year!

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