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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Buy Local, Buy Fresh

Most states have buy fresh buy local programs to promote agriculture.

The local foods movement seemed like a fad just a few years ago. Mainstream media and the general public basically relegated local foods advocates to a few, “radical tree-hugging, barefoot hippies,” as I heard one person declare. Well, no more. What may have once been a fad is now a national cultural shift in thinking about food sources. Food recalls and food scares for items like spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and eggs in recent years, has awakened people to the need to know the safety of their food and who produced it.

Reeds Spring farmers market is an evening market with entertainment.

I became keenly aware of how big a change this movement had become when I was a delegate from the U.S. to the first Slow Foods Conference in Turin, Italy in 2005. Gardeners, growers, artisan cheese makers and lots more, came to the conference to share how they were making a living selling to local consumers. Five thousand delegates attended that year and the conference grows larger every year.

Fresh vegetables and herbs, picked the day you buy them.

The garden interns we host at Long Creek Herb Farm each year are mostly in their 20s, young people who are intensely interested in where their food comes from. They come to learn how to grow food without chemicals, they want to know how to grow food to feed themselves and their families. Many would rather go without a food item than to buy it from a big box store.

Fresh flowers are big sellers at farmers markets.

Farmers markets are the meeting place for local growers and local consumers. Most markets won’t allow imported produce - whether it’s imported from over seas or simply grown on big production farms two states away. Many farmers markets require organic certification to even sell at their market. The advantage for consumers is we know our supplier. If you buy from a chain store, you have no idea if the produce you buy comes from China or South America or what chemicals were used. You might learn a week after your purchase that the spinach you bought was recalled because of botulism. But if you bought your spinach from a vendor you know at a farmers market, you know how he grew your produce. You know he uses ethical means of growing and washing your produce because it’s in his interests to see you again the next week. The food you buy from him is the same food he feeds his own family.

There are more farmers markets across the Ozarks this year than ever before. Increasingly the big box stores are getting in on these changes. Wal-Mart and Sysco, the world’s largest retail store and the world’s largest food supplier to restaurants, have both started adding organic produce and locally-grown foods to their food lines. Consumers have demonstrated they will buy from local producers if it is available.

Young tomato grower at Reeds Spring Evening Farmers Market.

Every time you buy from a local producer, whether at a farmers market or through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) you are helping keep local money in your community. You are also helping farmers continue to produce high quality, healthy food that is safe to eat. Support your local growers by shopping at area farmers markets!

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