I have finished the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and it has been an enjoyable experience. My transition to a local/homegrown diet began many years ago. Besides growing food for my family, in 1992 I began selling to two local restaurants. Lettuce was my biggest seller, but I also sold eggs, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables. I had a small CSA in 1997 and 1998 and in 1999 helped start the Ashland Farmers Market. It is with the farmers markets that the public has an opportunity to meet local farmers and make further connections to buy in quantity or out of season, if possible. The Ashland Farmers Market requires that what is sold there be grown within a 35 mile radius of Ashland, Virginia and the person doing the selling must also be involved in the growing. 2001 was my last year to sell produce and eggs. I stepped away from the markets to focus my energy on teaching at the community college and on researching growing and eating a homegrown diet through my work to maintain certification as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-farming teacher through Ecology Action. By doing that, I was able to direct more knowledgeable consumers and producers to the markets.
As you can imagine, my experience with the 10-Day Challenge would be vastly different than someone who has a very small garden, if any, and depends on the marketplace for their food. You can find out what I ate during the challenge at Homeplace Earth. I can remember a time when eating locally and organically meant that the food had to come from our own farm or I had to know someone personally to buy it from. There were some local farm stands around and one farmers market in Richmond, Virginia, but the food wasn’t organic and maybe it wasn’t even grown by the person doing the selling. Sometimes the vendors would buy boxes of produce from elsewhere to resell. This 10-Day Challenge didn’t specify organic, but that’s what I look for, whether it is certified or not.
Things certainly have changed. The Ashland Farmers Market is only four miles from my home and has expanded its offerings since its humble beginnings in 1999. Even with the strict guidelines of what is to be sold and who can sell it, the market continues to grow. This is the first place I go to purchase food to supplement what we grow in our garden. Consumers know they will find food there and the person behind the counter can answer their questions as to the origin, variety, etc. It is a much different experience than walking into a “farmers market” to find that it more resembles a craft show or a bake sale than something having to do with farmers.
Farmers markets and other venues offering locally grown food have been popping up everywhere in this new century. More restaurants have locally grown food on their menus and more grocery stores are stocking it. It took a lot over the years to make that happen. Now that is a reality, we need to fine-tune what is being offered. What is missing from your diet that you can’t find at the market, but could be locally grown? By my last year of growing for the markets I started to focus more on potatoes, winter squash, onions, and garlic. I could see that they were necessary to fill out a diet. There was plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers available.
If I was still selling I would also be sure to offer cabbage and other vegetables with the directions to ferment them, along with information about the health benefits of sauerkraut and kimchi. As a grower, you can make changes in the markets by what you offer and where you choose to sell. As a consumer, you can bring changes by what you buy and by making reasonable requests. Our food systems are evolving. We still have a way to go, but if you take a look back, we’ve come pretty far already. Embrace these changing times and take on a local food challenge of your own!
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.