Supporting Farmers, Eating Local Food


Folks, it ain’t normal to rely on unsustainable, inhumane industrial food. It’s time to return to normal, seasonal eating and local food from time-tested farming methods.

Local Food Garden in Philadelphia

Joel Salatin’s newest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal (Center Street, 2011) describes, with Joel’s distinctive voice, how far removed we are from the simple, sustainable joy that comes from living close to the land and the people we love in the 21st centuryExplore how local food and seasonal eating, when done right, are ways to return our food system to normalcy. The following excerpt was adapted from Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

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The average morsel of food sees more of the world than the farmer who grows it, traveling an average of 1,500 miles from field to fork. It takes 15 calories of energy to put 1 calorie on the table, and 4 of those are expended in transportation.

Folks, this ain’t normal.

When you go to the supermarket, the majority of what’s for sale came from some other state. Imagine walking down the aisles, then ask yourself, “What could be produced within 100 miles of here?”

In most areas, the list is lengthy: Apples, barley, beef, beets, cabbage, carrots, cherries, chicken, corn, cucumbers, dairy products, grapes, honey, oats, pork, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, coffee.

OK, I was just seeing whether you were on your toes with that last one. But, most of what we eat can indeed be grown nearby. Often it can’t be grown year-round, however, and therein lies the conundrum. You can’t have a viable local food system without a seasonal eating commitment, which includes preserving seasonal production for nonseasonal consumption.

One solution is season extension. With greenhouses, high tunnels and more seasonal, localized eating, we can feed ourselves if we just do the following:

Reduce the Waste. Half of all food for human consumption never gets eaten. Look at what goes out the back door of a restaurant, a supermarket, any food-processing facility or even your own kitchen.

Grow Food on Unused Land. Lawns, campuses, parks, medians — we should grow our food everywhere. Land is moving out of production at an extremely rapid rate, both as a result of aging farmers and of non-farmers purchasing land.

Train New Farmers. With aging farmers retiring, we need to teach and mentor new farmers who can succeed them. The average age of a U.S. farmer is now approaching 60, but business analysts consider 35 years of age to be the median age of the practitioners in any vibrant economic sector. Unless and until the people who want to preserve farmland can sit around a table and figure out how to preserve farmers, we’re not solving the need of the hour: land stewardship.

The following stories prove we can return our food system to normalcy.

Urban Farming Done Right

In St. Louis recently, I had a wonderful time touring inner-city farms. The highlight: a one-twelfth-acre farm built on a lot formerly occupied by a condominium and presided over by several 20-somethings dedicated to biomass recycling and local food. These young people had transformed the spot into a productive farm. With chickens recycling kitchen waste, vermicomposting, and intensively worked raised garden beds, this tiny farm was producing all of the produce needed to feed 20 people year-round.