February 6, 2012

Spending Locally

It's easy to spend your money at the grocery store.

It takes effort to spend your money at a farmer's market or through farm pickup directly from a farmer. You have to find a place. You have to adjust your schedule to their hours. You have to contend with seasonality of produce. And if you don't get there early enough, they might sell out of the ingredient you were counting on having for dinner.

These aren't issues you'll find when you run down to Food Lion, Martin's, Safeway or Kroger.

So why visit a farmer's market? Why consider buying a whole, half or quarter of beef? Why join a CSA? Why drive out to a farm on processing day to collect your freshly processed chicken?  Why pay $15 for a pasture-raised chicken fed grass and non-GMO feed vs paying $1.99/lb for a factory chicken at the grocery store?

Eating food produced locally is not a new concept.  All our families lived this way just 50 or 60 years ago. Everyone planned their menus based on what was available in the garden at that time of the year. No one had a Shopper's Food Warehouse.  Not only is eating locally going back to the traditional farming our grandparents lived, it's in line with sustainable farming, reducing your carbon footprint, and promoting a healthier lifestyle.  And it promotes your local economy.

I won't sugar coat it: farming is hard and it's expensive. We are so used to bargain basement pricing brought to us in the grocery stores from commercial factory farms based on animals and plants genetically altered to grow bigger faster, often to the detriment of the animal. 

When the factory farms can grow chickens from hatching to processing as quickly as 23 days and it takes us at least 45 days to reach that same chicken size, you have to wonder what is going on with those 23 day-old chickens. Antibiotics and growth hormones lace their water and/or feed. They often grow so fast that their bones aren't strong enough to support their body weight and they become lame and can have heart attacks from the stress. But you can get it for a bargain at just $1.99/lb if you wait for those boneless, skinless chicken breasts to go on sale.

When you purchase a $15 chicken, your local farmer can put his chickens out in a pasture of green grass. He can give the chickens access to sunlight and fresh air every day.  He can let the chickens live like chickens should live.  He can give them time to grow naturally without growth hormones.  He can feed them organic and/or non-GMO feed to supplement their salad bar diet.  He can take time each day to watch them; observe them; get to know them. Why would he do that? Because it's his job to know his animals and be aware of any problems as soon as they appear.  For $15, your farmer can afford to do all of this and make a small (very small) profit to help him buy the next batch of chicks, fix a few fences and order the next round of feed.

If you buy one $15 chicken a week or $10 of produce from a farmer's market or a few gallons of raw milk from a cow or goat dairy, not only are you supporting those farmers but you're allowing them a modicum of profit that they will most likely spend locally to further expand or enhance their farm. Your $10 or $15 might go to a local feed mill, the local tractor parts store, or even the corner store selling a sausage biscuit for breakfast.

Local dollars circulate locally.  The small farm farmer understands the value of buying locally and is apt to return those dollars back into the local businesses of his community.  The Virginia cooperative extension office did a study and learned that if every household in the northern Shenandoah Valley area spent only $10 per week on local food every week of the year, it would benefit our community's economy by $170 MILLION.  Yes, million.

So where can you spend your $10?  Here are a few places:
This is a very small sampling. There are so many ways to find locally grown food. If none of the above are near you or aren't what you're looking for, head over to Local Harvest and do a few searches. Find some pick-your-own fields and take the kids strawberry picking this spring! Contact individual farmers and ask about their food (I promise that you will totally make their day). Make the effort.  Is $1.99 chicken really such a great deal?

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