Instead of listening to me blab this week, I want you to read this. Mark Spoke in Viroqua a couple weeks ago. This article was published in the Kickapoo Free Press a three weeks ago: http://www.kickapoofreepress.com/cms/node/170
The pinnacle of good taste by Mark Kastel
No community in this country has more at stake, in terms of the integrity of the organic food industry and viability of the local food movement, than the greater Kickapoo Valley. That claim is hard to verify, but Vernon County is thought to have more certified organic farmers than any other county in the entire United States. With a number of organic business enterprises also located here, including the $500 million Organic Valley cooperative, we can all be proud to say that we live in a truly agrarian community.
As elsewhere, the local food movement has exploded here. Recent growth in direct marketing by farmers, including farm stands, farmers’ markets, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, has eclipsed organics’ 20 percent per year increases. In the 10-year period ending in 2006, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of farmers’ markets around the country doubled to about 4,400, although this estimate may be low.
Even with this explosive growth, the percentage of national food consumption attributable to these “alternative” marketing mechanisms still languishes in the low single digits. As the national economy adjusts to steeply rising energy costs and potentially runaway inflation, how would shifting to a more local diet impact the health of our local community?
Local Economic Health Simple economic statistics illustrate the upward potential. Last year, the typical American family of four spent more than $9,000 on groceries. Given the population of Vernon County alone, that reflects about $250 million in economic activity. Right now, the majority of those dollars flow out of this community and never come back. If you spend your food dollars at Wal-Mart, most of them head down to Bentonville, Arkansas, and are then redistributed to agribusinesses around the country. Based on research at the Cornucopia Institute, we also know that some of the consumer dollars spent at Wal-Mart on organic food wind up in China.
If only 10 percent of our community’s food dollar were spent at locally owned retailers that sell locally produced food, it could equate to as much as $25 million in new local economic activity.
Then there is what economic development experts refer to as the Keynesian “multiplier effect” theory. Those local dollars are thought to bounce around up to seven times before they leave the community. That’s $175 million of local commerce.
We know why consumers first come to organic food. It’s a selfish reason, and there’s nothing wrong with that: We all want to offer the very safest food to our families. Concerns about antibiotic resistance, impacts of artificial hormones, the unknowns of genetically modified organisms, and the well-documented deleterious effects of agrochemical exposure are the big drivers.
However, what is frequently overlooked is the nutritional and flavor differences found in organic and locally produced foods. There is an old saying, “All health begins in the soil.” Industrial monocrop agriculture quickly depletes many important micronutrients from the soil. Production depends on heavy inputs of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but puts less emphasis on manganese, boron, and the millions of microorganisms that inhabit every teaspoon of healthy soil.
The bottom line is that if these and other nutrients are not in the soil, they aren’t in the corn, soybeans, or hay. That means they’re not in the cow or the milk your family drinks. They’re not in you. And these are the nutrients that make organic and locally produced food healthier, and make you healthier, too.
A growing body of scientific evidence strongly indicates that there is a direct correlation between the nutritional value
of your food and how it is grown. Organic food contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acids (cla), a group of fats tied to overall health and prevention of heart disease and cancer.
If that’s not enough of a sales pitch, the Chefs Collaborative members around the country will tell you that organic and local foods are just flat-out better tasting. The same soil quality that enhances the nutritional content has a direct bearing on the flavor profile.
Forget about the USDA’s pyramid. The pinnacle is local and organic. But even at the height of the summer’s bounty in Wisconsin, right now, the majority of all the fruits and vegetables in our state are imported from California. I don’t care if that head of lettuce is organic—if it’s from California it’s old food. And the nutrition and flavor begins to degrade the minute it leaves the field. It could very well have been picked 10 days ago.
On the other hand, when you visit the farmers’ market, receive your CSA box, or visit the local food co-op, the food you are buying might have been picked that morning. Forget the price. There is just absolutely no quality comparison.
As our overall economy ratchets down, more and more families have to watch their budgets. I would argue that the last thing to scrimp on is the quality of your food. It’s no joke: On many occasions I’ve heard people say that they “can’t afford organic food.” And then I find that the same people are driving $45,000 vehicles and watching plasma television sets that put them back $1,000 to $3,000.
Every family must make these hard decisions for themselves. But I can tell you, both as a family and a society, there is a big potential payback to the investment in quality food.
This country spends less on food than any other nation in the world (approximately 8 percent of our gross national product.) At the same time we spend more on health care (16 percent) than any other nation. Forty years ago these percentages were almost exactly reversed. And what has this realignment in our economy brought us? Certainly not better health— we rank 42nd in terms of infant mortality and 23rd in life expectancy.
It is a hell of a lot less expensive to prevent cancer than to cure it. We know that some of the compounds found in commercial foods are carcinogenic. Furthermore, an emerging body of scientific literature leads us to understand that the present safety criteria used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set safe thresholds for residues in food might not factor in all the potential risks.
Although well under EPA limits, many synthetic chemicals are now believed to act as endocrine mimickers—simulating our natural hormones. Even in infinitesimally small doses, if exposure to these chemicals occurs at critical times in utero or during early childhood development, profound cognitive and physiological abnormalities can occur. These exposures can have lifetime impacts. Organic food provides documented lower exposures.
In addition, from a macro standpoint, we know that if we continue down the same road of unsustainable consumption of carbon-based fossil fuels, we’re going to destroy this planet. If we want our children to have a healthy future, in addition to our personal food choices, we all need to work on local, state, and national initiatives to reduce global warming. Taking away current subsidies for industrial food, shipped back and forth around the world, will go a long way in reversing the damage we have already done to our planet.
I’m sure I don’t have to convince readers that geopolitical forces, in addition to energy and climate issues, have created a less stable world. With our “just-in-time” mode of food and consumer product distribution, most of this country’s communities have just a three-day supply of food in their pantries and on store shelves. By creating a sustainable food shed locally, we would be taking out an insurance policy that hopefully will never have to kick in. Our grandparents looked at the canned goods in their root cellars as their own food security program.
There are lots of ways to fight the “corporate takeover” of organic food. Today there are 10,000-cow industrial-scale dairies producing so-called “organic” milk. And there are “organic” egg farms with as many as one million laying hens. We know that, unchallenged, these will drive our local farmers out of business. We all must challenge these kinds of faux organic farms, and the corporations that control them, in Washington, in the courts, and in the marketplace. Agribusinesses, stung by recent food contamination problems in spinach, lettuce, peppers, and almonds, are also gearing up to require that we sterilize or sanitize all of our fresh food by means of pasteurization, fumigation, or irradiation.
If they succeed, not only will we be deprived of the high nutritional values described earlier, but some of their technology requirements will force many smaller family-scale farmers out of business. We need astute consumers to stand with family farmers. consume more local food
Want to save on food? Eat in season! Potatoes, carrots, turnips, and winter squash, along with local organic and grass-fed meats, should be on your menu throughout the winter, along with wonderful hoophouse-raised local spinach. Cut back on all that California produce and open up a can of beans from your garden.
You get what you pay for. If we just quit buying processed foods or eat out less, we can afford wonderful local and organic produce, meat, and dairy. And if you calculate the overall benefits to your family, I can’t think of a better investment for your loved ones, our community, or the planet. Pay now, or pay later.
Mark Kastel is codirector and senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute. He lives on a 160-acre organic farm in the Kickapoo
River Valley, near Rockton. He will be talking about the threat to authentic food sources in Viroqua on September 18. To learn more about
these issues, go to www.cornucopia.org.
So….WHAT’S in the BOX???
Carrots- Keeps best in a plastic bag in fridge.
Purple Potatoes– Purple on the inside too! And they stay purple even after you cook them.
Broccoli— Another week of gorgeous broccoli. Keeps best in a plastic bag in fridge.
Cherry Bell or French Breakfast Radish- Fall radishes are always much crispier, less hot and hardly ever woody. Gotta love fall radishes.
Bell Pepper, Hot Pepper- Beautiful peppers. Possibly the last week if we have a frost coming! Maybe one more if we’re lucky!
Parsnips- One more time. Parsnips will store for quite a while in a plastic bag in fridge.
Red Leaf lettuce or Romaine Lettuce has been gone for awhile, maybe just a couple more givings to cap off a nice season.
Kale- One last giving of Kale. Either the Curly Green, Lacinato, or Redbor Kale.
Pie Pumpkins!- See recipes for pumpkin pie made from real, actual pumpkin that’s not from a can!
Onions- You can always use an onion!
Cilantro- Yummy cilantro loves cool weather. Keeps best in a plastic bag in fridge.
Leeks- These seeds were started all the way back in early March when there was still a foot of snow on the ground. At long last, here they are!
Next week! A short list of items that we may have next week, but will not promise to have. Due to the unexpectedness of the season, anything could pop up or go down hill in no time. Beets, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Rutabega, Celeriac Root, Onion, Nappa Cabbage, Parsley, Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, Peppers.