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Eating Close to Home: the Locavore and Other Challenges

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Thu May 29th, 2008 at 07:50:49 AM EST

What happens when one takes on the challenge to eat only locally produced food (and wine) and all within a 160 kilometer radius (100 miles) for an entire month? It's about getting back to our grassroots, supporting our local farmers and reducing the miles our food travels from paddock to plate. It's that simple. It is a movement sweeping the world.

Coined by a Bay Area group, the term "locavore" refers to people who only eat food grown, processed and produced within a 100 mile radius of where they live.

More and more of us are turning our backs on imported products and getting back to our grassroots supporting local farmers and producers. Eating local food cuts back the distance it travels from the paddock to the plate and in turn reduces harm to the environment.

Diary rescue by Migeru


How many times have you heard "I can't eat local foods because they cost too much?" Well, it's a challenge as every ingredient in every mouthful eaten for the month should come from the local food markets right down to the last grain of salt. Vegetables, meats & seafood are relatively easy. But exotic fruits, coffee, tea and many spices are virtually impossible. Forget that trip to the Asian market for that month! The point is to learn where your food comes from, save energy and keep farms from being sold to developers, or worse, turned into GMO experimental stations. With the price of foodstuffs (and everything else) going up I think it's time to alter our lifestyles now before we may be forced to do so within the next decade.

The locavore movement, like the slow food movement, is an idea of our times and should be given some consideration. The first thing to do is to join a local food group as an alternative to the global corporate models where producers and consumers are separated through a chain of processors/manufacturers, shippers and retailers. The development of local food systems is not only about environmental impacts but also the social and economic benefits encouraged through building local relationships. Get to know the name of your butcher, baker, the sales staff at your local farmer market and you will be rewarded with better produce, smiles and savings. What's not to like about this?

Google your area for existing food groups, join the fray and start eating healthily, and locally whenever possible. If there are no such groups in your area, start one, it's relatively easy nowadays with the "internets". Ask friends and relatives if they would be interested in starting a communal vegetable garden, start growing simple crops like tomatoes and runner beans, baby potatoes and carrots. At home, use every container and space available like a disused bathtub, a sunny corner on your balcony, window sills, wooden crates etc...and try your hand at growing food you like.

Another consideration is to raise hens, those free range eggs will provide first class proteins for your breakfast, and a couple of goats if you have a small plot of land (a friend of mine, an Australian, has recently bought 3 acres of scrub land a hundred miles north of Sydney, with four friends, for not much money, and are busy raising hens & sheep, and have planted a huge vegetable patch which will supply quite a few families) for milk and cheese (making goat cheese is quite simple).

During the early 20th century, the demise of the family farm and the growth of corporate farms was experienced through much of the developing world. The corner shops also disappeared and gave way to supermarkets. In the late 60's and early 70's with the growth of the back to the land movement there were increasing numbers of small farms selling a variety of products to local communities. But since the 70's the increase of multi-national food companies has increased the size of not only farms but the overall food system. And that's our mission: to start up local food networks including community gardens, food co-ops, Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), farmers' markets, and seed savers groups. In the next few days I'll do a piece on how to start a vegetable patch, if you have any questions, post them below.

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I think producing locally, consuming locally, supporting local producers, is a way of promoting respect of the environment both by reducing transport distances and helping increase sustainable practices in farming as opposed to industrial malpractice: both locally and elsewhere in the world. It's also a way of increasing food quality, both in terms of nutrition and flavour, and of maintaining, or rather improving, the fabric of rural society. Put more crudely, there's good food in it, and there's jobs in it.

So I'm not just a locavore, but I work with a local cooperative group that currently brings together a dozen producers and now eighty households and counting. It's centred on a (SW French) small town of 4,000 inhabitants and a neighbouring town of 2,000, with surrounding villages; producers are at less than 10 miles with the exception of 20 for the added luxury, wine. I'll be writing about this (the group and especially the wine, since next Saturday we'll be meeting with the vigneron to taste and choose the mix he'll be putting down in a cask for us). I know, Brother Donkey, that you want to hear about such things, all I'll say for the moment is http://www.coteauxdengravies.com.

Price: yes, it's a barrier. Though by supporting the producer with a commitment to buy over a season (paid in advance if the producer feels it necessary) and concentrating delivery at one spot weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, it's possible to get prices down to a reasonable level which is considerably lower than the market price for the same high-quality (mostly organic) produce. I mean to write about this too, because there's certainly a lot to be said about it, in particular how to bring in people who don't have the means to pay even these prices - which is something we intend to try to do.

Is it easy to put together a group like this? It takes work. There are no legal difficulties in France where farmers have the right to sell their produce directly on the farm, on street markets, or by delivery. So work, networking, work.

A tiny criticism of your diary? It's not necessarily that easy to get some land and raise goats etc. Making goat's cheese may not be all that hard, but making good goat's cheese that you really want to eat often is not all that easy... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 04:11:56 PM EST
Well, I'm an elitist ;.) I live on 2 acres of scrub in Eire and I may be drunk with the idea of "goating", nevertheless, worth a try. Yes, being a city dweller does have drawbacks if one wants to start a wee farm!
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 10:42:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Austin TX is a great place for eating locally, with nice farmers' markets and local farms one can visit personally to get produce, canned items, even meat and dairy.

We've been taking it one step further as much as possible by growing all our veggies in the not-very-large yardspace around our house.  It makes for strange-looking grounds with raised beds and odd-shaped gardens, but enjoying the fruits of our labors (lots and lots of labors) is quite wonderful. We're eating lots of summer squash right now, four varieties, and four varieties of green beans, too.  I'm pacing the floor waiting for the tomatoes to ripen.

Thanks for your food movement articles.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 03:14:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is beginning to become a personal obsession. I'm now worrying as to whether I should focus my plans on helping to build this localism in E Europe where I have reservations about safety or if I should relocate to some place on the Atlantic coast, which will restrict what I can afford.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 09:15:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you comment further on your reservations about safety?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 09:26:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is undeniable that Bulgaria is a very corrupt country. It isn't just me believing that as I only go on hearsay from people I talk to. The EU has protested about it, has protested about the number of journalists who've met untimely ends. The police forces seem to have interesting attitudes.

Which suggests to me that banditry and feudal protectionism isn't far beneath the surface. So, if things start to go wrong and food distributions systems begin to break down, those who have organised themselves into a localised food production system may find themselves unwillingly parasitized and protesting against theft could be a fatal mistake. I'm kinda unwilling to get down with that.

I tend to believe naively that things won't get that dangerous in W Europe, although I think that SE England could become problematic. But the access to weaponry isn't that common.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 09:48:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But Bulgaria is not the only country in E Europe. Try Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland.
by Dr Minorka on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 08:27:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the legal arrangements? Say, what happens when there is a natural disaster (storm, hailstorm, drought), and the farmer is unable to deliver?
by Dr Minorka on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 08:32:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The guiding principle would be support for the farmer. If there were moneys outstanding (ie paid in advance), they would be carried forward till the farmer was in a position to supply again.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 09:59:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you familiar with the Path To Freedom project?

On 1/10th of an acre (roughly 404 square meters), in urban Pasadena, CA, they produce 6000 lbs of organic produce/year using environmentally friendly growing practices. The results are incredible.  Not easy to accomplish, but possible.

They've even got goats!

by Bruce F (greenroofgrowers [at] gmail [dot] com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 09:07:11 AM EST
No but I bookmarked it, thanks. Their garden looks a bit like mine, overrun with boxes filled with growing vegs!
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 11:01:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Poor me! Foods that I like are not produced in the nearby environment in which I live.
by PerCLupi on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 08:37:07 AM EST
TIme to move, then?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 09:02:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a problem: within a 160 km radius, I can only find Burgundy, Macon, Côtes du Jura and Arbois, Beaujolais, Côteaux du Lyonnais, Côtes-du-Rhône, Côtes du Ventoux, Côteaux du Tricastin  and some other lesser known wines...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 09:29:44 AM EST
Caol Ila might be hard to come by...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 09:42:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But you haven't got Coteaux d'Engraviès...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 09:45:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Engraviès toi-même !

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 03:47:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, now. Jealousy will get you nowhere.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 03:59:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for starting my day off with a good laugh!

You forgot Coteaux des Baux...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 10:16:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I tried to be honest: Les Baux are 220 km from Lyon. Otherwise, I would have added Chateauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Lubéron, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, Cassis and Corbières...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 11:08:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and bandol, no?

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 12:33:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bandol is 300 km away from Lyon...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 03:48:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there is that...but I thought your filed was expaning, man! Cassis is 275 km away...

Should meet halfway in Valence sometime....

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri May 30th, 2008 at 03:42:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The cure for excessive transport (strawberries in January) is not localism. It is sensible transport.

It is much more efficient to grow wheat in the wheat belt on large mechanized farms and ship flour to consumer markets. The inefficiencies of small farmers growing grains would not make up for the savings in transport.

In many regions (I'm in NY metro) there isn't enough arable land near by to support the population, especially in winter.

I'm all for eating fresh vegetables in season and encouraging farmers to cater to this market, but moderation in all things. There needs to be a balance. The best way to cut down on excessive transport is to price things accordingly. I don't know how to do this, winter strawberries come from South America or Mexico where labor is cheap.

My pet peeve is bottled water. When you find a way to get rid of this foolishness then perhaps we can address excessive transport of food.

The agribusiness is yet another example of negative externalities not being factored into the final price. Perhaps rising fuel costs will cause this type of activity to become self limiting. More important is what to do about the poor regions of the world which can't produce enough food because of environmental or political reasons and can't afford to pay for imports. Buying your cabbage locally won't solve this problem.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 05:00:04 PM EST
I think the key here is that there's a difference between excessive transport of food and transport of food. What we have now is excessive transport of food with over-centralized production, resulting in a system that's incredibly dependent, in every way, on fossil fuels. Localism is an overly extreme backlash, but perhaps an extreme backlash is needed to reign in the insanity at the other end of the scale.

Ultimately, I suspect you'll be proven right. Bulk staples and other things that store well will be centrally produced using sustainable methods in places where it makes sense to do so, and shipped slowly to the places that need to consume them. Spices and other low-volume, low perishability items probably fall into the same category. What needs to stop is the central industrial production and long-distance high-speed transport of perishables - meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc.

by Egarwaen on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 06:51:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed.  Things like coffee and tea have been long-distance export items for thousands of years, and there's no reason that can't continue.  Wine and liquor as well.  Sugar too, I suppose, although we definitely ought to cut back on sugar consumption in general.
by Zwackus on Fri May 30th, 2008 at 05:47:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Europe we could go back from cane sugar to beetroot sugar (though when discussing biofuels afew mentioned that beetroot cultivation has a high impact on water and soil resources).

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 30th, 2008 at 06:07:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I completely agree with the comment, but disagree far more than you do with the diary.

Isn't the best way of reducing the environmental impact of agriculture to industrialise food production more, not less?

Inefficient, local (organic) agriculture must be more energy intensive simply due to the lower yields and increased number of food journeys.

The paragon of 'ethical' living who only eats organic locally produced food, who goes to the farmers market to pick out a some choice organic produce before going to the baker and the greengrocer will have a far greater environmental impact than the person who goes to the biggest supermarket they can find and stocks up for two weeks on non-organic mass-produced food which is shipped from accross the world. Although the former will doubtless eat better.

If the environmental impact is key then the number of 'miles' travelled by your cut of lamb is entirely irrelevant - what's important is the emmissions per kilo. A huge container ship has so much produce on board that its emmissions per kilo of food or per calorie are miniscule (especially when compared with the farmers van taking a small amount of produce to the market to be bought by shoppers who mainly drive to the market).

Air-freighted vegetables and fruit are heavy on carbon use but I think its a small price to pay for much needed employment in Africa/ Latin America.

Even better if you can order the food online and have it delivered to your house by a big van (the bigger the better, providing deliveries are efficiently organised).

Ethical consumption seems to fail everywhere due to its unintended consequences: Organic production reduces yields and increases prices (even for non-organic produce). Fair trade distorts price signals and allows a few priviledged producers to benefit while the majority loose out (due to lower prices). Localism increases carbon emmissions.

Maybe we should ask our Governments to lead on these issues with an international carbon tax.

by lemonwilmot (lemonwilmot at gmail.com) on Fri May 30th, 2008 at 12:52:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Numbers, not speculation, please. This argument - on either side - is meaningless without numbers accompanied by enough information to allow us work out whether to trust them or not.

Proof by assertion is nonsense.

Further, there are questions of sustainability for industrial agriculture, on all sorts of fronts.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri May 30th, 2008 at 01:27:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Science News reports (link below) that eating red meat is worse in terms of climate change than having veggies shipped from hundreds of miles away. That said, I love my farmer's market here in Washington, DC, and the ones back home in San Francisco. But best of all were the incredible weekly markets around the corner from my flat in Paris.

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/31673/title/It%E2%80%99s_the_meat_not_the_miles

The original story:

http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2008/apr/science/ee_foodmiles.html

The study (subscription wall):

http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/2008/42/i10/abs/es702969f.html

by yally04 on Fri May 30th, 2008 at 08:28:00 AM EST


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