You walk into the supermarket hundreds of miles from the nearest peach orchard and see what looks like a handwritten chalkboard sign proclaiming the unripe peaches to be “locally grown”. How can this be?
Many large food retailers, such as Walmart, define local as being from the same state. If you live in northern California and buy food produced in southern California that could mean over 700 miles by air, much more by road. Other stores use a maximum distance, such as 50 miles for Raley’s. Whole Foods dodges the question by saying they often use state lines or regions of their own definition but generally leave it up to the individual store.
You wouldn’t say that your “local plumber” or “local dentist” is someone in a town 300 miles away that you’ve never visited, so why say that about food?
For us at Hopping Rabbit Farm, local produce means that it comes from a farm you can comfortably visit from the place you live. For us, local also suggests belonging to your community and that you are able to know the producer personally.
Because we believe in truly local food production, we will never sell our produce through distributors who might take our produce far away and sell it to someone who has no knowledge of the farm or who we are.
So why is locally produced food important anyway?
Impact on your health: Fresher produce isn’t just tastier, it is better for you. The USDA acknowledges that for most types of fruits and vegetables essential vitamins and nutrients are lost from produce very rapidly after harvest. The produce we sell at the Groveland Farmer’s Market or at the farm is generally picked the same morning we sell it. That means it’s just plain better for you.
Impact on your taste buds: Everyone knows that a peach you buy at Walmart just isn’t ripe. Produce, and fruit especially, that has to be shipped long distances is picked unripe so it can withstand the rigors of shipping. This goes for tomatoes, green peppers and even things like squash. Of course most produce tends to lose flavor when stored for long periods. We notice the difference and so do our customers!
Impact on the environment: It should go without saying that the farther your food is shipped the greater the environmental cost. So even if you are buying organically grown produce, it’s carbon footprint could be huge. In addition to the environmental cost of transportation, the cost of shipping puts pressure on producers to grow food as cheaply as possible, meaning even “organically grown” produce may be done so unsustainably using whatever methods extract the most income without regard for the future of the soil or environment.
Impact on producer income: Consumer expectations mean vegetables can only be sold for a certain amount of money. When you ship a green pepper 2000 miles from Mexico to sell it for the same price as something grown one mile away so much more of your costs are put into transportation, handling, and refrigeration that you have very little left over to pay the producer. Of course, if that pepper is sitting in a warehouse or on a truck for two weeks, you couldn’t charge very much for it, could you? So this may be cost-effective for the huge producer, but it naturally hurts the people who are doing the actual work. This also tends to deflate prices which means local small growers who may have higher costs don’t get paid as much either!
Impact on your community: When you buy something produced where you live, that money stays in the community. In our case, we support local businesses as much as we can and favor buying supplies from local stores. This means if you buy produce from us you are supporting the local economy and helping to create and maintain jobs here — both directly and indirectly.
Impact on jobs: To keep prices artificially low in selling produce that has to be shipped so far, big producers need to keep wages low. If the produce is grown in this county that almost always means hiring illegal immigrants who are grossly mistreated and poorly paid, and who usually send a large percentage of their earnings out of the country. We understand fully why someone might want to live and work in this country for economic reasons, but the impact of illegal immigration on our economy cannot be denied. And no matter who is employed to produce crops, higher shipping costs mean lower wages.
Know your farmer, know your food… support your community!