Tag Archives: ann arbor local food

Local Food: Tell a Friend

I am a big fan of local food.

I picked up my Thanksgiving Turkey this year from the farm it was raised. And the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cranberries, eggs and corn meal in the meal were all local.

With that said, I really, really want to see the local food movement grow.

But do Local Food Eaters really want it to grow?

I have been thinking about that lately and part of me thinks NO.

The reason I say this is because I question the incentive for individual local food eaters to bring more people into the fold.

Are local food eater like myself telling friends, increasing our numbers, dragging reluctent friends to the farmers market?

A few years back, I belonged to a food club that offered raw milk. The club was kind of secretive, and I got the feeling that most in the club wanted to keep it that way.

More local food eaters means more competition for the limited supply of locally produced food.

Would the good nature local food eater (myself included) feel OK when they can’t get into a CSA, or they can’t get local eggs, or they get shut out of a community garden plot, or if there is a wait list for chicken when it once was easy to get?

Promoting local food feels like shooting ourself in the foot.

It’s like telling everyone about our favorite restaurant, which results in us never getting a table.

The incentive to not share in our good thing is strong.

But this mentality has a risk because we need more local food eaters.

Without more local food eaters, the movement is sunk because more local food eaters means more local farmers and larger/more farmers markets to meet demand, more local food restaurant, more prepped food products and more access all around for locally produced grown food.

There currently is not enough farmers market shoppers in my town to buy up the current farm production.

There are simply more food shoppers shopping some where else then from local farmers at the farmers market.

So perhaps the current group of local food folks have little to worry about, but that is my point here.

I feel that local food eaters and the movement enjoys the current size of the local food movement and I am one of them, I have to admit.

There is plenty of local food for us now, but not if our numbers grew.

Indeed local food access has grown. It is easier to eat more locally (in some areas). And without the work of local food advocates for years, the current folks like myself who enjoy access to local food would not be able to enjoy their local Thanksgiving.

But I do feel that the movement is vulnerable to stall because of an inclussive and hoarding mentality.

What I say, eventhough it may be shooting ourselves in the foot in the short run, is to tell a friend about local food. Get more folks to eat more locally.

This means dragging your friends to the farmers market until they become regulars, and then not complaining when it gets hard to get some of your local food items.

Be patient supply will grow to meet the increased demand and that is better for all of us.

Should you have a garden to support local food or just buy local food

I have been into the local food thing for a few years now.

It feels good, but I have to wonder if my efforts are making a difference or if they are largely symbolic.

Is there a better way to go about it?

My thoughts take me to my garden this year. I had a huge garden, which unlike other years produced a small yield for the space/time spent.

Most years, I grow so much that I cannot eat it all nor do I have the time to cook what I can eat. I have tried to grow foods that stores longer as a result.

But I end up giving a lot away if I can. I never plan for the excess, so my donation effort is pretty random and not very efficent.

In recent years, I find that I am growing more flowers instead of food to avoid the excess. At least the bees are happy, which is kind of a big deal too.

This year however, the hot weather destroyed my Spring crops. The grass burried my smaller crops regardless of long hours weeding. And the late start of the garden left me with no yield for my sweet potatoes.

With that said, I discovered that even extremely split cabbage still tastes good and flowering arugula tastes great too, which I had figured it to be done for. So maybe my yield was a little better then I thought.

I did not do the farmers market with my sprouts and bake goods this year, so I found myself as a shopper instead of vendor.

As a shopper, I noticed that I found that my garden competed with the market vendors. Instead of buying their produce, I had my own in my garden (sort of).

I never thought about it until this year, but did having my own garden make sense on a local food movement level?

Would both I, and the vendors (and the local food movement) be better served if I did not grow a garden, but instead bought from a local farmer instead?

I don’t have the exact numbers, but a garden can be a costly endeavor. There is the community garden rental, the cost of adding nutrition to the soil and then there are the plants and seeds, equipment/tools, plant supports (tomato cages) and fencing, not to mention the garden time.

I am not sure how much I spend in a given year, but it must be a few hundred dollars unless I found crazy good deals or started my own seedlings.

If you are willing to get your plants in late, you can find great end of seedling season deals at the farmers market.

Which again begs the questions, do farmers selling seedlings at the farmers market compete against themselves by promoting home gardens?

I figure that gardeners are the same customers who shop at the market, and they end up buying less because they bought seedlings.

I guess it ends up being a matter of timing because farmers end up having seasonal produce available before the gardener has theirs, but eventually they catch up with each other.

All of this has me second guessing my garden.

Of course, not all gardeners grow enough and many farmers market shoppers do not gardener at all.

Part of me thinks that at least on a local food movement level that I should still grow a garden, but I am starting to think about growing a high yield, low labor, low cost donation garden if I want to push local food to donate.

And that buying from a local farmer would make more sense.

Is the local food movement about growing more local food as efficently as possible and getting that food to more local mouths?

Are we simply playing a numbers game?

To a large extent, I think it is.

When I go to the farmers market, I still see tables of produce left at the end of the day.

If the local food movement is so big and growing, wouldn’t there be a run on local food with every vendor selling out?

After all only a small presentage of the food produced and consumed in any given area is local.

So it stands to reason that if the local food movement is so big given the huge amount of media dedicated to it, we would hear about fights over the last cartoon of eggs and shoving matches at farmers markets over a bunch of kale.

I could be wrong here, but it looks like the local food movement is having a hard time creating a demand for the current yield of food that is being produced let alone pushing for larger growth.

At least that is what it looks like at the farmers market.

The local food movement needs more mouths I figure reagrdless if I have a garden or not.

100 Mile Diet: Ann Arbor Michigan

100 Mile Diet: Ann Arbor Michigan

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I read the book Plenty, by J.B. Mackinnon and Alisa Smith which chronicles their year of eating a diet sourced within 100 miles from their home in Vancouver, BC. The book was a catalyst for the term the 100 mile diet. I found their story inspiring and since then I have been trying to source as much food as possible locally. I have a home garden, go to the farmers markets, joined a CSA, and look for local labels at the grocery store. To find your own 100 mile diet range check out this map site.

I am not a purist by any stretch. The hardest items to give up for me in order to live a 100 mile diet are citrus fruit, chocolate, vanilla, spices, salt, avocado, coastal fish, coconut, certain cheeses, almonds, pine nuts, rice and both olive and peanut oil. Most packaged foods like my cereal and rice milk would be off the 100 mile list as would almost all meals out. I don’t drink coffee, but I imagine that it would be hard to give up for those wanting to live a 100 mile diet too. And would say cigarettes be included? What are the chances of finding 100 mile cigarettes? I do not smoke, but I figure for smokers this would also me an issue.

I suppose I can switch to butter instead of oils, and use vinegars for acidity instead of citrus, but it would not be the same. The 100 miles diet plays into the idea of true regional cuisine and specialties. I love the idea for example of needing to go to the Pacific Northwest to have fresh salmon, the gulf coast for shrimp, or Maine for lobster. 100 mile cuisine offers a challenge to create culinary tradition from what is on hand. It also encourages food producers, farmers, chefs and artisan to produce regional items like wine, beer, cheese and a wide range of food products to create a robust local food economy. If more people switch to a 100 mile diet and demanded locally sourced food, a market would be created to fill the need for local artisan staples.

Of course not every 100 miles are built the same. A 100 miles diet in San Francisco for example is easier than say the desserts of Western Idaho. The authors of Plenty did enjoy a more temperate Pacific Northwest climate for gardening and access to coastal food. For example, when I lived in Portland, Oregon, I was able to grow veggies year round in my community garden plot. This is a luxury I miss now living in Michigan.

Ann Arbor, Michigan where I currently live is a pretty good area for the 100 mile challenge. It has an active agricultural community, a growing number of farmer’s markets, CSA’s, and a good growing season and soil to grow our own food. There are local producers of grains and flours, dairy, meats, some cheeses and even white sugar from beets. Local sugar can be a real challenge. There is even a meat CSA in town that could provide local meat year round. I think meat eaters may have it easier than vegetarian for a 100 mile diet because staples like meat can be frozen throughout the winter.

The real challenge of a 100 mile diet is winter. It is one thing to eat local in the summer or during the fall harvest season. After all, I have a table full of baskets of tomatoes from my garden ready to be canned right now. There are pounds of potatoes that I have not dug up yet in my garden and there is too many pole beans then the family can eat in a weeks. Winter squash is on the way and I am hoping for a broccoli, collard and arugula harvest that I planted late before the cold weather comes through. And the farmers markets are now packed with a huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Fast forward to winter and those resources are dried up.

Could I really eat a 100 mile diet for a year like the authors of Plenty? I am not sure I can do it for a year, but I have tried making a few 100 mile meals. For example, I made a dinner of chicken from my CSA with garden herbs and local butter, collards from the farmers market, and potatoes my garden. The only thing that was not local was salt and pepper although I think I can get local salt with a little more research.

The authors of Plenty started their diet in march which was a challenge. I figure I would start in June when the farmer’s markets were open and I had my early spring garden going strong. I would also do my homework to make sure I had staples on hand or available. The authors had a hard time finding flour for most of their year. Local was not the buzz it is now when they started. More and more 100 mile food items are coming available. The Coop and local grocery stores are now using local as a marketing tool and provide labeling to make it easy to find items. And more and more resources are coming available to help find local foods. Sites like Local Harvest are helping to make eating local more possible.

The big reality of living a 100 mile diet is that for the most part, I would have to cook almost all of my meals from scratch. That would mean using almost no packaged products, condiments or sauces. I would have to make my own ketchup, mustard and brew my own soy sauce if I wanted to have them.

I am not sure what rules I would create if any on my version of a 100 mile diet. If for example I could not find local salt, I would bend the rules to make sure I had it. What about spices, pepper, chocolate, and the rest? I think I could give them up for a year in favor of other flavors. I could use more fresh herbs then I use now and get more into using chiles for spice. I would need to find some kind of vegetable oil for salad dressing, but that would be about it. Of course, it is easy to talk a big local eating game, but living it is an completely different thing. I could go through 100 mile diet withdrawal and grab for a meal of coastal fish with spices from indian and coconut milk sauce, imported rice, a cup of coffee, and a chocolate dessert with vanilla bean.

Please comment on your 100 mile diet. And what foods would be on your hard to give up list?