Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eating Local Foods Exclusively Year Round?

I recently read a Facebook post that advocated for the closing of all grocery stores so that people would simply have to buy all their food from local farmers.... A response posted said "What a great idea!", so I started to really think about this in a literal sense, NO grocery stores!  What do I as a farmer have to provide the millions of urban neighbors in the Baltimore/DC/Philadelphia metro region who need to be fed all year round?

The nearest grocery store to my house is 5 miles away. I get the majority of my food there because since I work on our family farm, I have little need to drive any further. All other grocery stores are 20 miles away. I tend not to go there unless I am needing to do other errands in that town.  I highly value my time and my fuel, so the closest grocery store gets 99% of my grocery business. I don't traipse all over looking for "deals" or special items. I shop in one place and get what I need and get out. (By the way, I hate shopping, period).  I would never drive 6 or 8 places to get "all" of what I would need to feed my family. I wouldn't go to the dairy farm, then the beef farm, then the pork farm, then the grain farm, then the fruit farm, then the chicken (broiler) farm, then the chicken (layers) farm, then the vegetable farm.  I don't have the time, nor do most of these farms have direct to consumer sales in January or February.

Eliminating grocery stores throughout our country would leave a lot of hungry people in the winter.  Below are pictures from my farm in Maryland in February along with 2 of my neighbor's farms. None of us have products to sell this time of year. While there are some farms who have year round greenhouses, there is not enough supply to replace grocery stores entirely. It would also mean a huge shift in infrastructure needed on local farms to support the damage that cars and customer traffic create. I personally prefer my farm without parking lots thank you very much, but if we need to feed everyone because there are no grocery stores, then paving over farm fields for parking lots would be necessary. After all, our lanes are not paved and people shopping for food after work in dress shoes don't like to step in mud or manure.

So what do we have growing in the winter? Below are some pictures of our current crops... or lack thereof:

 Rotting tillage (daikon) radishes.... yum?? We do have folks come pick them, 
obviously before they begin to decompose. 
We grow these for cover crop, not for food.

Winter wheat crop, ripe for harvest in July, not now.

No grape harvest till September. 

Our neighbor's peach trees... no fruit till July.

Our neighbor's blueberry bushes, no fruit till summer. 

Which also means the Maryland Food Bank gets no food until harvest.

Photo: Welcome to the 2013 Growing Season.  Cabbage, kale and leeks representing.
My neighbor's CSA has cabbage, kale, and leek seedlings... 
but no harvest!

Our farm still has some corn, soybeans, and wheat in grain tanks. Theoretically, we could sell these to folks to make their own meal, flour, and tofu. My guess is, less than 0.05% of the US population has any idea of how to go about this. I also think that 99.5% of the US population would not want to make their own meal, flour, and tofu. Who frankly has that kind of time? 

For 2 years after college, I lived in the Southern African nation of Botswana. We had no running water or electricity. We spent a lot of time on a daily basis hauling water from the community hydrant, collecting wood to start fires which we used to heat water and cook food, and pounding sorghum or corn into meal to use for cooking. This grinding process used a hollowed out tree trunk and solid, thick tree branch to pound the grain into meal. Sort of like a mortar and pestle. Incredibly time consuming and backbreaking and was a DAILY chore. Pounding grain, every day, day after day. 

I would also miss the items that we have grown accustomed to in our diet such as orange or pineapple juice and bananas. None of these grow here in Maryland.  While I "get" the local food movement, I don't believe the average American has any concept of what it would take to source all their dietary needs directly from farmers.Nor the time required to do so. Nor the resources required to do so. Not every one has a farmer's market nearby. Many farmer's markets couldn't support the mass of people who would need to be fed without grocery stores. And believe it or not, not all farmers want to be retail operations. How would I find enough people to buy the 8.5 million pounds of Roma tomatoes that we grew last summer? We'd never be able to sell 20 tractor trailer loads of tomatoes a day on the fresh. local market, which is why we grow them for a cannery, so that consumers eat them in tomato products year round!

Local food is great and benefits the local economy in season, but a number of our US growing regions do not support year round food production to the extent that it would replace grocery stores.

Support local farmers, in season! Remember that farmers also grew the items you buy at the grocery store so that we have a wonderful selection year round!


  1. Thank you for so eloquently expressing what has been bothering me about the whole LOCAL movement for some time.
    Our farm benefits greatly from the whole LOCAL thing...we direct market everything, and have for over 15 years. However, the folks that are so hyper-focused on LOCAL seem to miss out on the big picture particularly when it comes to the winter season. We are able to supply a small number of folks year-round, but it would be impossible for us (or any number of growers) to supply the region all year.
    I hope you don't mind that I re-post this on our farm's FB page. If you have any interest in reading about small-scale (very small-scale) farming/marketing, I hope you'll check out our blog.
    Thank you!
    Barbara Womack
    Homestead Hill Farm

  2. Thanks Barbara! I'm pleased to have you repost my blog! The local food movement is great for consumers and farmers both but I found the idea of "close all grocery stores" to be not very well thought out by the person who posted it on Facebook. Now I'm off to check out your blog! Jennie

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