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September 25, 2010 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Eating 'local' is touted as healthier and friendlier to the environment than shopping from large commercial food sources that spend petroleum products shipping food hundreds and thousands of miles from their place of origin. Farmer's markets are on the rise. Yay! But some of those farmers have a secret: They don't grow their own.

It may not be a new phenomenon.

And those berries may not be quite as pesticide free as you think.
posted by SLC Mom (148 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
it's kind of an unspoken secret here in NYC that some of the bigger "farmers" at the Union Sq market are actually more like distributors. some of the produce of NY farms doesnt even come from the state but from places like NJ and CT.

and as far as i know, there's no requirement for the produce to be pesticide-free; but the farmer's try ('cause, honestly, it's cheaper and the produce just tastes better).
posted by liza at 9:16 AM on September 25, 2010


You know, I always wondered if you could make money buying veggies from the store and selling them at the farmer's market.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:17 AM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


Isn't the rule in NYC a growing radius around the city rather then a rule you have to grow it yourself?
posted by JPD at 9:19 AM on September 25, 2010


You know, I always wondered if you could make money buying veggies from the store and selling them at the farmer's market.

Probably not from the store but you definitely can if you buy them from the local produce distributor. In St. Louis, for instance, there's a large warehouse where various produce distributors sell in bulk, mostly to grocery stores. The minimum quantities are pretty high, but the prices are indeed very low. Around here it's not uncommon to see folks at the Soulard Farmer's Market selling obviously non-local produce (pineapples, bananas, Washington apples, etc) out of the boxes you get from the distributor. So, yeah, it can be done.
posted by jedicus at 9:24 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, you mean there aren't a bunch of farms in the middle of Los Angeles?
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:25 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just because it is from NJ or CT doesn't mean it it bad. If my apartment was just barely taller, I could actually see NJ from my house. CT also borders NYC itself. Why would stuff from there be so bad?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


it's kind of an unspoken secret here in NYC that some of the bigger "farmers" at the Union Sq market are actually more like distributors. some of the produce of NY farms doesnt even come from the state but from places like NJ

Your secret, our state nickname.
posted by asperity at 9:27 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is the worst breed of shitty local news scare story designed to infuriate their viewers. (See the sidebar on the "grow their own" link-- locals are 71% furious!) If you RTFA, sounds like out of the "more than 300 farmers markets in the LA area," each with, presumably, dozens-- or more-- of vendors they found exactly two dudes selling stuff they didn't grow, and one whole entire lady making false claims about pesticides. This is completely a non-story, and totally unworthy of a post here.
posted by dersins at 9:28 AM on September 25, 2010 [41 favorites]


Farmers who sell at these markets are supposed to sell produce they've grown themselves, and they can't make false claims about their produce. We did find plenty of vendors doing just that, like Underwood Farms, which sells produce at 14 markets, all grown on a family farm in Moorpark.

Oh man, if I were Underwood Farms I'd be pissed, because a lot people skimming the article will read that as "Underwood Farms makes false claims about their products" when in fact the article is singling them out for praise.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:31 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's a popular market here int the (formerly farmland) 'burbs that hundreds of people flock to every day, by car. The produce is lined up on shelves in boxes plainly marked with the brands of the farms or distributors that provide the goods, few of which are local. Almost all of it is identical to the produce at Safeway, yet people still make the pilgrimage in pursuit of... what, authenticity?
posted by klanawa at 9:35 AM on September 25, 2010


Dr.Enormous: There *are* farms in Los Angeles county.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:36 AM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know, I always wondered if you could make money buying veggies from the store and selling them at the farmer's market.

You could probably make money pulling weeds and selling them as rare herbs. Yuppies are gullible.
posted by jonmc at 9:46 AM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


How could eating local be healthier?

Something about food makes people lose their minds, I swear.
posted by delmoi at 9:48 AM on September 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I help run a community supported agriculture program and my family has a farm. I've always thought the whole idea of seeing your farmer at the farmer's market every Saturday was kind of overrated. The price of that practice is that farmers have to get up at 5 AM to drive their truck to the market, often while their neighbor does the exact same thing. Burnout is common and I think that's why even in NYC many of the "farmers" at the market are hired workers from well-off large conventional farms. Much of the produce is stuff you can buy at the local grocery store. Truly small-scale farmers and organic farmers often stay home.

I'd personally rather see one truck take all the produce to market and that's starting to happen. I don't think the future of sustainable food is in farmer's markets, but in buying clubs and distributors like Freshdirect. I run a meat-buying program and through buying meat in bulk and picking it up every other month, we keep costs down for our members and farmers love us because they don't have to cart all that meat into the city. The members have a large amount of control over the cuts the animals get butchered into, their feed, and the breed. I'm convinced that the best way to get a high-quality product is to deal with the farmers that are focusing on their product rather than marketing themselves at the farmer's market.
posted by melissam at 9:48 AM on September 25, 2010 [33 favorites]


I will just say that, having spent several years of my youth working in kitchens, I see all kinds of unsafe food handling at NYC street markets and farmers' markets (and there's one out my front door and one next to my office, so I observe them regularly). I'm ok with produce, but have my doubts about the wisdom of selling raw meat out of the back of a truck.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:59 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, you mean there aren't a bunch of farms in the middle of Los Angeles?

Not farms in the middle of LA, but within an hour and a half drive are vast apple orchards, most of the US's stone fruit crop, of course lots of citrus, tons of vegetables -- Southern California is probably the most diverse agricultural producing area in the United States. So a bunch of farms in the middle of Los Angeles? Yes, basically.

Fraud at farmer's markets has nothing to do with local ag production -- if anything, it probably increases fraud; because there's so much growing that goes on around here, it's easy to masquerade as a real farm.
posted by incessant at 10:02 AM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


delmoi, it's healthier because the produce is fresher and there's less pollution produced to get it from the farm into your belly.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:02 AM on September 25, 2010


You could probably make money pulling weeds and selling them as rare herbs.

Purslane, dandelion and lamb's quarters are fabulous salad greens and were selling for $5 a pound last month at the San Francisco ferry building's market, which is pretty upscale. You'd have to pull weeds all day to clear much of a profit.

How is eating local healthier? Less time from ground to table, sometimes. Fresher is usually more nutritious.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 10:07 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


How could eating local be healthier?
I think the idea is that if you're shopping at the farmer's market, you're avoiding overly-processed foods. Of course, a locally-produced deep-fried whatever is still unhealthy.
posted by sanko at 10:30 AM on September 25, 2010


there's less pollution produced to get it from the farm into your belly.

This is absolutely not true. It takes less energy to move your one, say, apple from new zealand to your table, than it is to take your one apple from the local orchard to your table.

The difference is that the new zealand apples are shipped overseas along with several million other apples, and you'd buy it at the grocery store along with a bunch of other items.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


I knew someone would pick at that. I think it's arguable in either direction though, depending on a variety of factors (who I buy from, how much I buy at a time). The fact is that is everyone, everywhere shopped locally there would absolutely be less pollution caused by it.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:43 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


some of the produce of NY farms ['at the Union Sq market'] doesnt even come from the state but from places like NJ and CT.

Kind of off topic when the discussion is about eating local, don't you think? The farthest-away population center in Connecticut is sixty-some odd miles CLOSER to Manhattan than New York's agriculture school.
posted by thesmophoron at 10:44 AM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


sunshinesky: The fact is that is everyone, everywhere shopped locally there would absolutely be less pollution caused by it.

Even that's not necessarily true. It probably takes a lot less energy to produce fruit in suitable regions than to produce it in marginal regions, and it might take less energy to grow fruit in giant monocultures than to produce a mixture in each region.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:49 AM on September 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


ok, I will discontinue my use of sweeping comments. I am not a environmentalist, or an economist or a farmer, but I do support local agriculture.

Nobody can argue with that.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:55 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


How could eating local be healthier?

I take it the point was that the origin of the food is not causally relevant to what it does inside your body.

Compare an organic tomato from your garden with an organic tomato from 1000 miles away. It's still an organic tomato.

Compare a donut from the store around the corner with one flown in from the other coast. It's still a narsty donut.

The only legit arguments for eating local might be ones about environmental imapct of trucking, the community good that comes from having a farm close by, etc. Not health.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:55 AM on September 25, 2010


Threeway: How can it possibly take less energy for an apple to traval from New Zealand to my house than it does from Georgetown, Ontario which is a one hour drive away? Ship transport is efficient, but not THAT efficient.

As for blueberries from Chile, those must be flown to Canada, whereas Ontario blueberries are picked up north and trucked down; even when they fly, it's a fraction of the distance.

I refuse to buy any fruit that has flown farther than I ever have, let alone blueberries when we have the best in the world.

Denial of the energy costs of transporting fruits and vegetables around North America is getting as illogical as climate change denial.

We aren't talking about fruit growing in marginal regions -- we're talking about fruit and vegetables from Ontario, New England, New Jersey, New York State -- these are all great fruit & vegetable growing places. What they DON'T have is a winter growing season. (And people are too used to being spoiled with out of season plants).

As for marginal growing places -- the Central Valley in California IS the marginal growing location. Irrigating the crops growing there cost a huge amount and is destroying the local water systems.
posted by jb at 10:58 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, monoculture agriculture usually requires less labour, but also usually involves more chemical input in the form of fertilizers and pesticides. Very low labour agriculture -- ie mechanized --will also use more energy than more labour-intensive agriculture.
posted by jb at 11:01 AM on September 25, 2010


The fact is that is everyone, everywhere shopped locally there would absolutely be less pollution caused by it.

It's a beautiful dream but I have a few issues with it. I live in Illinois, and I am surrounded by fields of corn and soy. Corn and soy, as far as the eye can see, and little of it is for the produce section at the grocery store. If all of us Illinoisans wanted to buy locally grown produce, we'd be in trouble, and I doubt there'd be enough to support us all. Also: winter. Mass transit of produce allows us access to a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables we either can't grow here, or can't grow here year-round. Don't get me wrong, I love shopping at the farmer's market for 4 months out of the year, but I'm pretty grateful that I have access to stuff like fresh tomatoes, oranges, and broccoli for the other 8 months of the year.
posted by hegemone at 11:03 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Something about food makes people lose their minds, I swear.

Food is to the early twenty-first century what sex was to the mid-twentieth century, i.e. something about which a lot of people have strongly held but largely irrational beliefs.
posted by valkyryn at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2010 [31 favorites]


I suppose a lot of this depends where you live. I patronise a small produce store, locally owned. They go up to the Raleigh farmers market to get some things but they also buy from local farmers, one of which also sells flowers and such directly to the florist I work for. Yay for no Big Agro. (wish I could say the same for all my grocery shopping...)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Denial of the energy costs of transporting fruits and vegetables around North America is getting as illogical as climate change denial.

I'm sorry, but that comparison is just ridiculous. The costs of non-locally-grown produce, by all accounts, are negligible. There's little or no concrete environmental benefit to eating locally, although there may certainly be a social/communitarian one.
posted by nasreddin at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


jb:
Denial of the energy costs of transporting fruits and vegetables around North America is getting as illogical as climate change denial.

How does one even deny energy costs? Are they not typically passed on to the consumer? Economies of scale allow shipment of food over great distances to be practical.

I've got some nice farmer's markets around these parts. But their only real advantage I can see is that they offer items that cannot be found at the supermarkets.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:11 AM on September 25, 2010


I'm imagining a world.

I get up in the morning, pull on my boots and my jacket, knowing the leather from those came from a cow who died from old age after a life of free range grass munching in the beautiful sunshine.

I sip my coffee, knowing the guy who grew and picked the beans, had health insurance, a retirement plan, and was able to vote freely for the candidate of his choice.

I clock in, check my email, knowing the guy who wrote the code to make this possible has way cool stock options, and the paper I have to print stuff out on, is recycled.

All is well, right up till lunchtime.

See, I likes me a slice of tomato on just about everything. Now, I know for a fact the best tomatoes I have ever tasted come from two doors away from my neighbors' garden. I get free tomatoes all summer, he gets his sidewalk cleared with my snowblower all winter. It's never been put in writing, it's just sort of an understanding

So I know when I order, I'm not getting one of those tomatoes. I'm getting something that has been picked early, genetically engineered to last a week or two in a truck. And I also know my boots and coat and lunch came from an animal who got a steel bolt shot into his brain, his skin ripped off and dowsed in toxic chemicals, and his flesh ground up and fried to my liking. I'm OK with all of that.

I like my boots, and my coat, and my coffee, and my cheeseburger with a slice of tomato and extra mayo. And I like my damned cigarette on the way back to work.

If folks are feeling ripped off, or in anyway outraged with the notion that farmers market produce isnt what it is advertised as, then all I can say is, we have a whole lot of two things on this planet. Dirt, and water. Grow your own.

Till then...it's food. Eat it.
posted by timsteil at 11:13 AM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


hegemone: Illinois land is capable of growing things other than corn and soy, but the current economic organisation and government incentives act against this. American farmers who grow staples like corn and soy receive subsidies. But if they put any of their land to fruits or vegetables, they lose those subsidies. This is insane, but true.

Economically, the whole fruit/vegetable market is dominated by massive agri-businesses in California and Florida. They have the longer growing season, but they also have economies of scale.

But that does not mean fruits and vegetables cannot be produced at a profit elsewhere. In fact, Walmart has recently started supporting locally grown fruits & vegetables, and it's not because they are concerned about the environment. It's because they are interested in breaking down the domination of the larger agri-businesses and increasing their own profits. They have recently made arrangements with farmers in other states (Texas was what I remembered from the radio program on this) that if the farmers can get their produce to certain distributing centers, Walmart will pay the local farmers what they had been paying for California/Florida produce + what Walmart had been paying to ship the fruit from Cal/Flor.

--------------

As for why Farmers' Markets - well, the farmers I used to work for did the farmers' markets because they made a lot more money selling their eating apples and pressed cider directly to consumers rather than distributors, even after renting the space and paying me (a city kid with a black thumb) to help them unload the truck and sell stuff once they arrived. They did several a week, and that was what kept them going. Their other main option was selling apples for apple juice, but that paid a pittance.

Their cider was awesome - until a few years ago, when the law changed, it was unpasturized and it would ferment in your fridge to become just a little bit sour and delightfully fizzy. I've never tasted any other cider that's come close.
posted by jb at 11:17 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the back of my head, I predicted this kind of thing would be rampant, but I had no proof. But here in rainy, cloudy Seattle, I'd often be thinking, "You mean you personally truck this over the Cascades every week and turn a profit? How??? Do you have magic elves working for you and filling the gas tank?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:19 AM on September 25, 2010


That 'negligible' link is an opinion piece, and mentions 'studies' with out any reference or link.

It is going to take more than that to convince me that shipping apples 6000 miles takes negligible energy.
posted by eye of newt at 11:21 AM on September 25, 2010


2N2222: just because it's profitable doesn't mean that their isn't any environmental effect from oil-based transportation. Many profitable things are, nonetheless, environmentally detrimental. Just like it's profitable for everyone to fly everywhere, and it's profitable to drill in deep ocean areas and it's profitable to skip safety procedures. There is a fancy economic term for this, I'm sure, but basicaly environmental costs are not charged to producers/distributors, and thus not passed on to consumers but the planet as a whole.

Though we do sometimes pay a premium for imported goods: apples from California and New Zealand are more expensive than Ontario apples in Toronto. However, their domination of the market and distributing means that sometimes shops simply don't carry the cheaper local apples. And they won't, unless people demand them.

Similarly, shops don't carry our unusal season Ontario apples - the ones that come out early or late, like Paula Reds (ripe in July/August) or Russets (ripe in Nov/Dec, and which store well over the winter). The marketting in apples has concentrating on just a few popular varieties, like MacIntosh, Granny Smith or Empire, so that's what people expect and that's what shops carry. This has nothing to do with the quality of the apples - russets are awesome -- but marketting.
posted by jb at 11:25 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Go read up on "economy of scale."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:25 AM on September 25, 2010


Wait. No one is actually growing bananas in middle TN?

FUUUUUUUUUU
posted by jquinby at 11:25 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


More and more rooftop farms and other urban farms are popping up in citites. For example, there's Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn and BrightFarm Systems in the South Bronx. Here in Boston ReVision Urban Farm has taking over abandoned lots and transforming them into farms which supply the "underserved community of Dorchester."
posted by ericb at 11:26 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is going to take more than that to convince me that shipping apples 6000 miles takes negligible energy.

The argument isn't that it's negligible in some kind of absolute way. It's that it's negligible in relation to the other environmental costs surrounding food production and preparation. If you have any links or arguments refuting that specific contention, I'd be glad to see them.
posted by nasreddin at 11:26 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


*has been taking over...*
posted by ericb at 11:27 AM on September 25, 2010


jb - subsidies: yes, totally. I meant to factor this into my above comment. I know we could have more diversity -- people do it in their backyards all the time -- but I just don't see it ever happening on a large scale because of the substantial corn and soy subsidies.

(Also that thing about Walmart focusing their purchasing power on local fruits and veggies is producing some confusingly mixed emotions in me.)
posted by hegemone at 11:29 AM on September 25, 2010


There is nothing new here. There is fraud in every business. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Most people take less time researching their food than they would buying a car. When I go to the farmer's market or the local farms, I talk to people. I ask them about their farms and their produce, and I ask them what they use to fertilize crops and control pests. It's not an interrogation session so much as a pleasant conversation. I get a feel for their nature and philosophy. It's not just about food freshness and taste, but about caring for the earth and our children's health. I get to know them. I go back to buy from them again and again. It's virtually impossible to fake this.

How could eating local be healthier?

For a number of reasons, delmoi. Less air pollution from transporting produce, varieties that are riper or tastier or more nutritious than those that can withstand piling into a semi-trailer truck and transporting. Vegetables and fruits that have often been picked the same day and so are tastier and more nutritious. The benefits of talking to the grower to get recipes and cooking suggestions. The possibility of getting heirloom seeds for your own garden (save a few seeds from those tomatoes and squash to grow next year).

Something about food makes people lose their minds, I swear.

You can tell when they start making irrational and sweeping generalizations. Have you been eating again, delmoi?

You know, I always wondered if you could make money buying veggies from the store and selling them at the farmer's market.
posted by Pope Guilty


Sure. And on your way home you could drop into a church and pick up some loot from the collection plate. People are stupid, right?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:30 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why do people worry so much about the transportation costs of food specifically? What about the other consumable stuff in your life? Do you seek out locally-sourced paper towels and trash bags and laundry detergent and toothpaste? Do you never order books from Amazon that get flown across the country individually packaged?
posted by enn at 11:30 AM on September 25, 2010 [13 favorites]


Just because it is from NJ or CT doesn't mean it it bad. If my apartment was just barely taller, I could actually see NJ from my house. CT also borders NYC itself. Why would stuff from there be so bad?

Quality of food? No, of course it's no different. But if you're paying a premium for the assurance that it's grown locally, then a Connecticut farm two hours away is ripping you off.
posted by kafziel at 11:31 AM on September 25, 2010


A couple times a week I go to a farmers' stand a few minutes from my office. The guy who runs it sells what he grows, and also sells the produce of a few other local(ish) farms. (I say "ish" because some of the produce comes from farms in the Central Valley, but in California that *is* local.)

One of the things I love about this place is that, for instance, the farmer he buys peaches and nectarines from picks the fruit for this market when it's ripe. Not before it's ripe, for shipping, but when it's ripe. I can walk in and buy a peach that is perfectly, exquisitely ripe. Avocados, too. The other day for lunch I had an avocado and tomato salad, followed by a peach and nectarine (which I had to stand over the sink at work to eat). Getting fruit like that with any kind of reliability at at supermarket is rare.
posted by rtha at 11:31 AM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is going to take more than that to convince me that shipping apples 6000 miles takes negligible energy.

Setting aside efficiency of transport method, what costs more energy per apple? Shipping a thousand apples 60 miles, or shipping a million apples 6000 miles?
posted by kafziel at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2010


It is going to take more than that to convince me that shipping apples 6000 miles takes negligible energy.

Per apple, it is less fuel to ship one 6000 miles via boat and train than the farmer uses to drive into town to sell a few bushels of apples out of his SUV.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


But if you're paying a premium for the assurance that it's grown locally, then a Connecticut farm two hours away is ripping you off.

CT or NJ (especially CT) stuff is likely closer to NYC than most NY farms.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:34 AM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh - and as far as I've been able to tell, neither his farm nor the farms he buys from are officially certified organic - they're not big enough staff- or money-wise to wrangle the bureaucracy of getting and keeping certification. But each produce set has a thing on it that explains the low- or no- pesciticide/herbicide use policies of that particular farm, and if you're not in a hurry, the guy who runs it is happy to talk in great detail (great, great detail - did I mention not being in a hurry?) about his policies and those of his fellow farmers.
posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on September 25, 2010


...then a Connecticut farm two hours away is ripping you off.

FWIW -- the New York City's famous Union Square/Green Market's "farmers and fishermen come from a broad section of the Northeast, including parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvannia, New York and New England." List of purveyors.
posted by ericb at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2010


(As far as food-miles studies go, this is a pretty classic one.)

Most people take less time researching their food than they would buying a car. When I go to the farmer's market or the local farms, I talk to people. I ask them about their farms and their produce, and I ask them what they use to fertilize crops and control pests. It's not an interrogation session so much as a pleasant conversation. I get a feel for their nature and philosophy. It's not just about food freshness and taste, but about caring for the earth and our children's health. I get to know them. I go back to buy from them again and again. It's virtually impossible to fake this.


I'm not saying that you're lying or that this is bad, but you have to realize that this is a food-consumption practice that doesn't scale. Yes, people who are wealthier can and probably ought to support local farmers and all that jazz. But for the vast majority of the American and world population, that kind of personal relationship is an unaffordable luxury.
posted by nasreddin at 11:39 AM on September 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'd still rather have local apples and so on from CT and NJ at my NYC farmer's market than apples that have been shipped all the way from Mexico and tomatoes all the way from California or whatever. I'd like to think that the local tomatoes are, at the very least, more recently picked, as well as being in season here and therefore tastier than the tomatoes that come from California in the winter.

This is why a lot of people go to farmer's markets, not because they're under some illusion that everything is organic and pesticide-free as well as being grown by the exact dude that's standing behind the cash register. It's a good place to find local, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
posted by wondermouse at 11:40 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


jb:

2N2222: just because it's profitable doesn't mean that their isn't any environmental effect from oil-based transportation. Many profitable things are, nonetheless, environmentally detrimental


Including locally producing food, which may be more environmentally detrimental precisely because economies of scale cannot be exploited.

When shipping food long distances makes economic sense, it does so kind of like mass transit sometimes makes sense for moving people. Sometimes, small quantities traveling short distances have no environmental advantage over much larger quantities traveling larger distances, which is why food transportation is sometimes so economical. Eating local in some cases subsidizes less efficient farming and more environmental costs for the sake of localism.

And this doesn't even address the limitations of particular regions to produce foods. Ontario blueberries might be fantastic. But not when they're out of season, and in season somewhere else on the globe.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:43 AM on September 25, 2010


But if you're paying a premium for the assurance that it's grown locally, then a Connecticut farm two hours away is ripping you off.

As opposed to the NYS farm that is five hours or more away? Being in the same state doesn't automatically make it more local than having it come from a different state. If you live in Northern California - and I mean NORTHERN, like up on the OR border, produce from from Central Oregon is certainly going to be more "local" than produce from Fresno.

This doesn't address economies of scale, but more-local produce that is available at farmers markets is more likely (in my experience) to have been picked when it is ripe. That Georgia peach you buy in your supermarket in Nevada has been bred and picked for shipping, not for eating.
posted by rtha at 11:49 AM on September 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Good locally grown food is good, but the "organic local-grown food movement" is a painful piece of middle-class self-shoulder-patting idiocy. If the world were to follow the prescriptions that the grow-it-local-and-buy-it-local idiots recommend, a billion people would starve to death. There is also the slight problem that "organic" or "biologic" or "local" farming is far more energy intensive than the sort of industrial farming it is supposed to replace.

There is no local way of dramatically improving mass food production that isn't also "non-organic". Fine, enjoy your local or fake-local produce, but the vast majority of the world's people will never have that luxury.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:54 AM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


This doesn't address economies of scale, but more-local produce that is available at farmers markets is more likely (in my experience) to have been picked when it is ripe. That Georgia peach you buy in your supermarket in Nevada has been bred and picked for shipping, not for eating.

Right, I don't think anyone in this thread is denying the utility of locavorism as a food-consumption practice in general. I'm sure the produce is better and the farmers are nicer. Our issue is the way it's marketed as having something to do with environmentalism and sustainability, which is false. (Well, maybe sustainability, but only in the preparing-for-the-apocalypse kind of sense.)
posted by nasreddin at 11:55 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry should have previewed.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:56 AM on September 25, 2010


Another point about local food being "healthier" -- I don't know about "healthier", and I'm not so sure that that claim's even being made by locavores. "Healthier for the planet overall," maybe, but not in the "healthier for the individual" sense.

But by "healthier for the planet overall" -- it's not just the energy being expended, there's also the monoculture thing. If you're a farmer growing things with an eye to them being shipped to supermarkets across the country, you're going to want to specialize in apples that can stand up to being crammed into a crate for two weeks and still look okay when they get unpacked. Not every apple can do that. So, over time, you end up growing only that one kind of apple.

Unfortunately, growing only that one kind of apple ever means that some of the other kinds of apples fall out of favor and end up turning into "endangered species," almost, because no one's growing them. And then -- what happens if that one species of apple that everyone grows is vulnerable to a really bad fungus? And then there's an outbreak of that fungus? Whoops, no more apples anywhere.

That actually HAS happened before -- part of why the Irish Famine was so bad there in particular was because the people were growing only ONE type of potato, one which was hardy and needed little care; but one which also was extremely susceptible to the potato blight fungus. So in other parts of the world, where people were growing different kinds of potatoes, they just went a little hungry because that one strain failed but they still had all the others; in Ireland, where they only grew that one kind, they were screwed. (Okay, yeah, there's a lot more to the famine than that, but in terms of why the potato crops failed, there's why.)

It's also happening today - all the bananas we see are a single type, the Cavendish. And there are signs that the Cavendish is now in danger of being wiped out by a disease -- the same disease that wiped out the cultivar we USED to use, the Gros Michael. Fortunately, banana farmers are trying like crazy to cross-breed the Cavendish with other cultivars that are resistant to this disease -- but it's hard to say whether that will work, whether the resulting bananas will be shippable, or...anything else.

So focusing on one cultivar like that, because it stands up well to shipping, causes a lot of other problems on the environmental scale. Not to mention the culinary scale -- in my opinion, the apple that stands up best to shipping, the Red Delicious, tastes AWFUL. Other supermarket-bought produce also lacks in flavor, because they're cultivars that are bred more for "can be packed in a crate for two weeks" than anything else.

...Say, maybe that's another way that local is healthier -- eating vegetables and fruits is a far more attractive prospect when they TASTE good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:06 PM on September 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


Well, there are tradeoffs in everything. I haven't seen any information about this, but I would be surprised if local growers weren't equally susceptible to monoculture problems. ("Local" won't mean "smaller" if the local-food movement starts getting really popular.) Plus, when you're trying to grow produce on more marginal land than CA or FL, you breed for survivability rather than taste, and so you may well be exchanging one kind of tasteless apple for another.
posted by nasreddin at 12:14 PM on September 25, 2010


delmoi, it's healthier because the produce is fresher and there's less pollution produced to get it from the farm into your belly.

Freshness might make things taste better, but is there any evidence that it's harmful to eat food that's not fresh, as long as it's before the 'spoiled' date? If you buy some local veggies and keep them in your fridge a couple days, wouldn't that negate the freshness anyway? If you drove to the farmers market every day, wouldn't that negate the pollution issues?

As far as pollution goes, that has no baring on the healthiness of the individual item of food.

The other thing to think about is that some exotic foods might have health benefits, but might be impossible to grow locally. If no one shipped food anywhere, there would be no way to get them. Unless they were grown hydroponically which would probably take more energy and resources then shipping them.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Go read up on "economy of scale."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:25 PM on September 25 [+] [!]


I know all about economies of scale -- and economies of scale are exactly how large agribusinesses have come to dominate produce production. But just because something is cheaper doesn't mean it's a good thing.

Including locally producing food, which may be more environmentally detrimental precisely because economies of scale cannot be exploited.

How are economies of scale more environmentally beneficial? I'm no economist, but I am an agricultural historian, and mass-produced agriculture is across the board more environmentally destructive than pre-modern small scale agriculture. Modern industrial agriculture does produce a great deal more both per acre and per human labour-hour, which is why its possible to have a population of over 6 billion and why few people in the first-world are starving and we now have 3% of our population in agriculture, as opposed to the over 80% employed in agriculture in Europe c1500. But the environmental costs -- in the necessity of chemical inputs, the requirements for fossil fuel energy, the degredation of soil health, in some places soil erosion after traditional swidden agriculture or mound planting was replaced by European style row planting, diversity loss within domesticated plants and animals, not to mention loss of wild diversity due to habitat loss -- they have been massive.

And this doesn't even address the limitations of particular regions to produce foods. Ontario blueberries might be fantastic. But not when they're out of season, and in season somewhere else on the globe.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:43 PM on September 25


which again has nothing to do with the environmental impact of eating fruit out of season. That's consumer choice - and we consumers choose to do a hell of a lot of stupid things. Do I need to eat blueberries out of season? I never did when I was a kid (except frozen or in the form of jam). Will I become malnourished if I don't eat blueberries out of season?

There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that do store well. But they are never quite as nice as fresh, and we have become spoiled. That doesn't mean we shouldn't change our behaviour.

As for the math on whether it takes more energy to ship one apple from New Zealand to Canada by ship or one apple from Georgetown to Toronto - I'd like to see the actual figures on that. (And I love the assumption that farmers would drive an SUV - the vast majority drive cube-trucks or tractor trailers to markets - the farmers I worked for were some of the smallest at the market and they were shifting dozens of bushels of apples a week).

Certainly, Walmart has already declared that it's cheaper to buy local fruits and vegetables in Texas and other states than it is for them to ship it from California or Florida, even if the Cal/Florida produce is cheaper due to the economies of scale.

Nasreddin - mono-culture problems are throughout western-style farming. That said, local buying may actually encourage the creation of the necessary infrastruction to support classic mixed farming (where livestock and arable crops are grown together in a symbiotic relationship). Right now, that's not really possible for a lot of farmers: there are no dairy trucks in grain areas, and no grain silos in dairy areas. So if you want to keep cows to graze on your fallow fields (great for rejuvenating the soil as well as a natural pest-control system), you can't really market the produce well.
posted by jb at 12:25 PM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


Well, duh. This doesn't strike me as much of a secret. It's one of the central points of conflict within Farmers' Markets themselves, with the purists consistently having to fight for their existence while the others shirk the rules and prosper.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:29 PM on September 25, 2010


it's kind of an unspoken secret here in NYC that some of the bigger "farmers" at the Union Sq market are actually more like distributors. some of the produce of NY farms doesnt even come from the state but from places like NJ

Many come from NJ or Pennsylvania, because they're local to NYC (much more local than most of NYS). But the Greenmarket has specific requirements for where the food is meant to be grown, and how big the farm is meant to be, that keep things within a certain radius. Of course, there are people who break the rules, but it's not rampant or "an unspoken secret" - it's a few cheaters who technically fit the requirements and then pick up & sell additional stuff from non-market members to fatten up their profits.
posted by mdn at 12:33 PM on September 25, 2010


Some markets allow this and some don't. The market I used to work at didn't allow people who were re-sellers--you either had to make the product you were selling, or have grown it on your own farm. YMMV, but it's legit to ask whoever runs the market what their policy on it is, or if they have one.
posted by Tesseractive at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2010


As for the math on whether it takes more energy to ship one apple from New Zealand to Canada by ship or one apple from Georgetown to Toronto - I'd like to see the actual figures on that. (And I love the assumption that farmers would drive an SUV - the vast majority drive cube-trucks or tractor trailers to markets - the farmers I worked for were some of the smallest at the market and they were shifting dozens of bushels of apples a week).


Did you read the study I linked to?

which again has nothing to do with the environmental impact of eating fruit out of season. That's consumer choice - and we consumers choose to do a hell of a lot of stupid things. Do I need to eat blueberries out of season? I never did when I was a kid (except frozen or in the form of jam). Will I become malnourished if I don't eat blueberries out of season?


This is the same kind of moral argument that vegetarians use, and while they may be right in terms of environmental impact, they've failed completely as far as convincing people to eat less meat is concerned. Like it or not, other consumers don't feel like you have any call to be telling them what to eat. Out-of-season food is one of the great luxury advancements of our civilization, and it's not going away until there are serious economic factors that make it unprofitable.

How are economies of scale more environmentally beneficial?


I don't think anyone is saying that they're better in general. Economies of scale in transportation, however, are unquestionably beneficial, because the less transportation you use, the less the environmental damage from transportation will be. (Economies of scale in labor are a different question, because labor use is not tightly linked to degree of environmental damage.)
posted by nasreddin at 12:37 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


how long does it take to catch on? we have "farmers" around my area who do grow this and that but when they sell fresh corn at a time when those planting and raising corn have yet to see a cob you know it is fake. At least they do not say Native corn or tomatoes but rather Fresh.
Kbnow a guy who goes to yard and flea market sales. Buys crap. Then every so often, has garage and yard sale in front of his house.
posted by Postroad at 12:37 PM on September 25, 2010


As for economies of scale, one of the great discoveries of modern economics is that economies of scale don't apply, or at least not in any straightforward manner, to agriculture. There is something called the law of inverse proportionality between farm size and farm productivity, which was first articulated by Amartya Sen, but which has been pretty firmly backed up since he first found it in India. There are a number of reasons that small farms produce more food per hectare than large farms, and some of them may be labor-related, but that they do so is pretty well-established. A big part of what keeps smaller farms from being competitive is subsidies. Subsidies allow for a great deal more net produce to be grown, and therefore create larger worldwide stocks of food. But in the meantime, they create certain major inequalities and significantly harm the possibilities for alternative agriculture and less destructive forms of feeding people.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:38 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


As for economies of scale, one of the great discoveries of modern economics is that economies of scale don't apply, or at least not in any straightforward manner, to agriculture. There is something called the law of inverse proportionality between farm size and farm productivity, which was first articulated by Amartya Sen, but which has been pretty firmly backed up since he first found it in India. There are a number of reasons that small farms produce more food per hectare than large farms, and some of them may be labor-related, but that they do so is pretty well-established. A big part of what keeps smaller farms from being competitive is subsidies. Subsidies allow for a great deal more net produce to be grown, and therefore create larger worldwide stocks of food. But in the meantime, they create certain major inequalities and significantly harm the possibilities for alternative agriculture and less destructive forms of feeding people.

Again, we're talking about economies of scale in transportation specifically. There's no reason five small farms can't have a single delivery service ship their produce across the country.
posted by nasreddin at 12:39 PM on September 25, 2010


(As far as food-miles studies go, this is a pretty classic one.)

And it does not say that food-miles don't exist as an energy drain. What it says is that eating meat will lead to more greenhouse gas emmissions than eating vegetables, and that this difference is greater than the difference between buying food locally or not.

But that does not mean that, when you are choosing between two apples, the local one has the same carbon footprint as the imported one. The message that we should eat less meat is good one, and something we should take to heart. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you should eat locally or not.

I'm not a local-fundamentalist. I have no problem eating rice imported from the southern US or wheat imported from Saskachewan. I'd like to see subsidies ended so that the developing world can compete more successfully in producing staples and other easily shipped crops for export.

But when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables, especially those which are flown rather than shipped by sea (and now that I think about it, the likelyhood that fruit from South Africa or New Zealand had been gone by sea is pretty low), it's clearly not a sensible choice. It might seem like a nice luxury to have a fresh crisp apple in June, but it's a luxury our planet is paying for -- just like jetting around is a luxury. For the same reason, I try to take the bus or a train whenever possible, even if it takes twice as long. (And I'd happily take a 3-7 day boat across the Atlantic when I have to go, if I could find one that I could afford. And not just because I love the ocean).
posted by jb at 12:40 PM on September 25, 2010


they've failed completely as far as convincing people to eat less meat is concerned

Yeah, well they've got some pretty tough competitors: http://www.beef.org/, http://www.nppc.org/, http://www.nationalchickencouncil.com/
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:43 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that you're lying or that this is bad, but you have to realize that this is a food-consumption practice that doesn't scale.

I'm not saying you're an asshole or what you are saying is ignorant (don't you just love comments like this?), but you have to realize that most people in the world do not shop at supermarkets, and if you are in a position where you no longer have any control over your food supply you are like Wile E. Coyote running off the cliff but not yet realizing that there is nowhere to stand. Look down--look waaaay down.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:43 PM on September 25, 2010


"How could eating local be healthier? "

Fruit and vegetables that don't have to be shipped long distances can be picked closer to optimum ripeness and can be selected for desirable qualities besides transport and storage hardiness. If nothing else the improvement in taste means things are enjoyable without processing.

"It's a beautiful dream but I have a few issues with it. I live in Illinois, and I am surrounded by fields of corn and soy. Corn and soy, as far as the eye can see, and little of it is for the produce section at the grocery store. If all of us Illinoisans wanted to buy locally grown produce, we'd be in trouble, and I doubt there'd be enough to support us all."

The population density of Iowa is 53/sq mile; the land will grow more than beans and corn. Sure if tomorrow everyone in Iowa decide to become locavores you'd have problems. But spread it our over a decade and Iowa could be mostly self sufficient.

"winter. Mass transit of produce allows us access to a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables we either can't grow here, or can't grow here year-round. Don't get me wrong, I love shopping at the farmer's market for 4 months out of the year, but I'm pretty grateful that I have access to stuff like fresh tomatoes, oranges, and broccoli for the other 8 months of the year."

It'll be interesting to see how soon peak oil returns this access to a luxury only available to the upper classes.
posted by Mitheral at 12:44 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm feeling a little sheepish because what bothers me most about this post is the graphic next to the article in the second link, the one with, "locals are...furious: 71%".

Because when I add all those percentages up, I get 102%, which means someone is fucking voting more than once, and that pisses me right off.

Either that, or someone can't count. Which is just as bad.

Ironic, isn't it, that it's the article which is labelled "False Claims" and "Lies"?
posted by misha at 12:44 PM on September 25, 2010



I'm not saying you're an asshole or what you are saying is ignorant (don't you just love comments like this?), but you have to realize that most people in the world do not shop at supermarkets, and if you are in a position where you no longer have any control over your food supply you are like Wile E. Coyote running off the cliff but not yet realizing that there is nowhere to stand. Look down--look waaaay down.


I have no idea what this means. People who don't shop at supermarkets aren't chit-chatting with their personal farmer about recipes. Most people in the world live in urban areas, and the overwhelming majority of urban areas are served exclusively or almost exclusively by grocers who don't grow their own food and whose customers don't care.
posted by nasreddin at 12:51 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]



But that does not mean that, when you are choosing between two apples, the local one has the same carbon footprint as the imported one. .


It means, as I've repeated many times in the thread, that the difference is negligible, and given that there's generally a substantial price difference, it won't be enough to sway any reasonable person in the direction of locally-grown food.

it's clearly not a sensible choice.


It's only "clearly not a sensible choice" if you're some kind of absolutist who believes that every tiny extra bit of carbon footprint constitutes a binding moral obligation.
posted by nasreddin at 12:57 PM on September 25, 2010


jb:
mass-produced agriculture is across the board more environmentally destructive than pre-modern small scale agriculture. Modern industrial agriculture does produce a great deal more both per acre and per human labour-hour, which is why its possible to have a population of over 6 billion and why few people in the first-world are starving and we now have 3% of our population in agriculture, as opposed to the over 80% employed in agriculture in Europe c1500. But the environmental costs -- in the necessity of chemical inputs, the requirements for fossil fuel energy, the degredation of soil health, in some places soil erosion after traditional swidden agriculture or mound planting was replaced by European style row planting, diversity loss within domesticated plants and animals, not to mention loss of wild diversity due to habitat loss -- they have been massive.

Agricultural practices of the 1500s were not particularly productive and would be completely unsustainable considering today's needs.

Certainly, Walmart has already declared that it's cheaper to buy local fruits and vegetables in Texas and other states than it is for them to ship it from California or Florida, even if the Cal/Florida produce is cheaper due to the economies of scale.

Okay... More simply put, CA/FL produce isn't cheaper in this case. Which is fine. Walmart should source its products best it could. That is the point. We all should. Whether it comes from a mile away or a thousand miles away.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You guys do realize that fertilizer is made from fossil fuels, right? And that many foods grown in areas where they might not otherwise require a lot more fertilizer to coax their growth? And that fertilizer can mean the squash grown twenty miles away from you has a larger carbon footprint than the one that came from the other side of the country?

It's not just about locally grown -- it's about sensibly evaluating the carbon footprint of everything we eat and seeking a balance. Transportation is only one of many elements in the food-production chain where fossil fuels are used.
posted by incessant at 1:09 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What any one of us does doesn't reduce the global carbon footprint in any significant way.

Any real reduction of planetary harm has to come from democratically agreed-upon state-enforced measures, not personal feel-good stuff.

(I say this as someone who of hates it when states try to dictate my life, but... realistically...)
posted by Dumsnill at 1:11 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


it's about sensibly evaluating the carbon footprint of everything we eat and seeking a balance.

See, does anyone actually believe that we will make a difference by following this sort of advice?
posted by Dumsnill at 1:14 PM on September 25, 2010


I understand the economics of scale that make transporting apples from halfway around the world "cheaper" than apples that come from 60 miles away, or even 10. My baseline objection to it however is those prices are in part so cheap because of the cheapness of oil and fossil fuels, which is something that is not going to always be the case. The linked NYT editorial has some good points, but like all editorials it makes assertions without cites. Yes, moving mass loads of tomatoes from across the country may be currently more energy efficient then heating a local greenhouse in the New England region in the middle of winter. However, I'd bet you a stack of bills that a greenhouse built properly in NE could well become much more energy efficient that said transportation.
Hell, I live in N. Minnesota and we have local tomatoes that are cheaper/same price at the grocery store, in the middle of winter, sitting right next to the California and Mexican tomatoes. If we can do it cost effectively here you can do it almost anywhere you live.

Frankly we are a bit... stupid... about the food we sink resources into. IceBerg lettuce? Yeah, if I ever went ELF that'd be my #1 priority to take out.

Economics of scare is one of those things that make it cheaper to cut trees in North America, ship them to Asia make them into toothpick and then ship them back to North America.

having said all of that, I actually agree that there is a place for EoS in food production and transportation. At the same time I also think like so many other things we have overdone it and we rely too much upon it.
posted by edgeways at 1:15 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


So not so much a post as a fight-nexus, then?

Although "fertiliser is made from fossil fuels" suggests either that incessant thinks that anything from underground is a fossil, or the cows are really fucking constipated where s/he lives.
posted by howfar at 1:22 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


but I'm pretty grateful that I have access to stuff like fresh tomatoes, oranges, and broccoli for the other 8 months of the year.

the point of buying local isn't about YOUR convenience, there's no denying it's wonderful for YOU, the real concern is if your GRANDCHILDREN will be grateful for your insistence/indulgence on eating out of season fruits the other 8 months of the year.
posted by any major dude at 1:36 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


why few people in the first-world are starving and we now have 3% of our population in agriculture, as opposed to the over 80% employed in agriculture in Europe c1500. But the environmental costs -- in the necessity of chemical inputs, the requirements for fossil fuel energy, the degredation of soil health, in some places soil erosion after traditional swidden agriculture or mound planting was replaced by European style row planting, diversity loss within domesticated plants and animals, not to mention loss of wild diversity due to habitat loss -- they have been massive.

Are they massive per capita though? And think about how much food those farm workers required themselves. Basically the 20% non-farm workers basically ate the excess, people mostly worked to feed themselves. If the U.S. wanted to have 300 million non-farm workers with an 80% farmer to non-farmer ratio then we would need 1.5 billion farm workers. The world as a whole would need 45 billion farm workers to support 7 billion non-farm workers.

Obviously, fewer people, less environmental issues.
it's about sensibly evaluating the carbon footprint of everything we eat and seeking a balance.
It's about advocating for laws that restrict carbon emissions across the board.
Although "fertiliser is made from fossil fuels" suggests either that incessant thinks that anything from underground is a fossil, or the cows are really fucking constipated where s/he lives.
Google the Haber Process. Or just click the link. Yes, fertilizer production is done using fossil fuel energy.
The Haber process now produces 100 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer per year, mostly in the form of anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and urea. 3–5% of world natural gas production is consumed in the Haber process (~1–2% of the world's annual energy supply).[1][13][14][15] That fertilizer is responsible for sustaining one-third of the Earth's population
posted by delmoi at 1:40 PM on September 25, 2010


the point of buying local isn't about YOUR convenience, there's no denying it's wonderful for YOU, the real concern is if your GRANDCHILDREN will be grateful for your insistence/indulgence on eating out of season fruits the other 8 months of the year.

Again, it's doing this or that particular thing, it's about limiting total carbon production overall.
posted by delmoi at 1:42 PM on September 25, 2010


any major dude: the point of buying local isn't about YOUR convenience, there's no denying it's wonderful for YOU, the real concern is if your GRANDCHILDREN will be grateful for your insistence/indulgence on eating out of season fruits the other 8 months of the year.

Gotta eat something in the winter. Does shipping food around take as much energy as preserving all the local food you'd need?
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:42 PM on September 25, 2010


What produce is in season here in the midwest in February when it's below zero for a week at a time? (If the answer is "stuff you canned/froze/stored in your root cellar," my small apartment has none of those things and neither does any apartment I can now or will likely ever be able to afford.)
posted by enn at 1:43 PM on September 25, 2010


Agricultural practices of the 1500s were not particularly productive and would be completely unsustainable considering today's needs.

The dark underside of the vision of idyllic family farm and thoughtful, caring consumers is that it requires a dramatic reduction in the human population. I think the locally-grown, organic food movements aren't so much realistic (or even functional) policy ideas as a way of making population reduction more palatable. The idea is that once people adopt this authentic, harmonious relationship with food, and it becomes their way of life justified by moral considerations. In the same way that wars are justified by appealing to "defending our way of life", what if the environmental movement, or some part of it, wants to engage in a war on humanity on behalf of the planet? This fantasy is rendered in the final scenes of Avatar, where "Mother Nature" mobilizes her armies - in self-defense, of course - against the intruders who don't live according to the correct eco-spiritual principles, where every member knows his or her place in the great hierarchy of being.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:55 PM on September 25, 2010


Fair point delmoi, and teaches me not to reach too hard for my next cowshit gag.
posted by howfar at 1:59 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr: Gotta eat something in the winter. Does shipping food around take as much energy as preserving all the local food you'd need?


That's not the point, but feel free to change the argument if it helps you sleep at night, most do. Barely 3 generations got to enjoy the fruits of all the fossil fuels compacted throughout the earth's existence, now future generations are going to pay dearly from deep water drilling and hydraulic fracturing contamination due to the fact that very few of us did without because we didn't have to, nor did we plan for their future energy needs. Now instead of coming up with a plan we are poisoning their natural resources because we need fresh California oranges in January. No one is talking about starving people, it's about simply buying local and in season when possible. If everyone just did that then maybe one less plane would fly from New zealand every year, all large victories start with small ones.
posted by any major dude at 2:08 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a bit of disingenuously binary thinking being deployed here. I generally shop at farmers markets and buy locally and organic when possible. I am pleased that I can afford to do so. Do I think affordable produce should be taken away from people that can't afford it it? Of course not. I think, as much as possible, people would be better off eating locally grown and non-factory-farmed foods. I am very well aware that this does not scale to everyone on the planet. I'm also aware solutions don't have to apply to everyone. What's the problem?
posted by flaterik at 2:11 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


No, that's cool, howfar, apologize to delmoi but not to me. Got it.
posted by incessant at 2:11 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about this recently (how local is local) after eating a peach from a farm stand in western (rural) New Jersey that was as rock-hard and tasteless as the ones from Safeway.

I'm always reminded of the story in Lenny Bruce's autobiography where he talks about the Long Island farm where he lived as a foster kid back in the early 40s. Those folks unpacked store-bought fruits and vegetables and sold them at their farm stand to passing city people as "farm fresh".
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:13 PM on September 25, 2010


incessant. See what I mean? fight nexus! The only person to whom I should apologise for my ignorance is my biology teacher, but if you wish it I apologise wholeheartedly to you.
posted by howfar at 2:26 PM on September 25, 2010


I feel like it's worth defending NYC's Greenmarket here. They work hard to ensure that the food sold at their dozens of markets is grown and produced within a 250 mile radius of the city. That encompasses PA, NJ, CT and New England. There's even a farm inspector whose job it is to go around and ensure that everyone is playing by the rules and farmers DO GET KICKED OUT OF MARKETS if they don't comply.

(I am a former Greenmarket intern.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 2:31 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of the central tenets of buying local is that you support farmers in your community doing what they are doing. In skimming the thread to this point I didn't see anyone mention that. This is about creating sustainable environments for humans on other levels, and not ones that can be measured in a ratio of how many kilojoules of energy it takes to produce a pound of food.

Another central tenet is that the food is in season. Buying food that is grown in an appropriate environment decreases energy expenditure.

The food tastes better, and that is in general because it is better for you. Nutrients degrade significantly over time, and varieties of produce that have been bred or engineered for shipping have traded hardiness and appearance for these qualities. Google it. Healthier food for the population means less drain on the system in other ways. For example, the medical system will not have so many seniors with diabetes to worry about.
posted by seagull.apollo at 2:41 PM on September 25, 2010


Feed the world
posted by Dumsnill at 2:48 PM on September 25, 2010


it's about simply buying local and in season when possible.

I don't disagree! I'm all about buying local, seasonal food, but, like... there is no local, seasonal food when the ground here is frozen under a foot of snow. Should I not buy oranges, tomatoes and broccoli during the non-growing season? If so, what should I buy? (I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm just trying to figure out what you're trying to say in practical terms.)
posted by hegemone at 3:04 PM on September 25, 2010


I should add that the Underwood Farms mentioned in the nbc article grows an awesome variety of melons (not just the usual honeydew and cantelope) that all taste really fucking good. Is there anyone who wants to argue that produced shipped across the country or around the world tastes as good as the local stuff?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:19 PM on September 25, 2010


Should I not buy oranges, tomatoes and broccoli during the non-growing season?

Well, you certainly shouldn't buy tomatoes during the non-growing season. I mean, unless you like the taste of pinkish, tomato-shaped pieces of styrofoam, in which case by all means go ahead and buy tomatoes in February.
posted by dersins at 3:23 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's very coincidental that this was posted today. On the walk home from school yesterday my girlfriend and I had a discussion about farmer's markets (and organic food in general) vs. that of mass production. One of the questions I asked was "Why is it that the typical person trusts purchasing goods from a produce stand on the side of a road over what you can purchase in stores?" I went on to explain how there's very little chance that you know what/how the good(s) were handled.

I am curious, though. Statistically is it known how common "false advertising" is within the farmer's market?
posted by jolynntech at 3:35 PM on September 25, 2010


I mean, unless you like the taste of pinkish, tomato-shaped pieces of styrofoam, in which case by all means go ahead and buy tomatoes in February.

OK, yes, we get it, we shouldn't buy these things in the winter. Is anyone going to answer our questions as to what we should be buying in the winter, or do the locavores all go breatharian between November and April?
posted by enn at 3:51 PM on September 25, 2010


I never claimed that farming of c1500 could feed the world. It clearly can't -- and couldn't then. I was saying that modern industrialized farming is necessary, but also destructive. Somehow, we need to find a sustainable balance between production capacity and sustainability.

as for whether farming of 1500 was less destructive per capita -- mixed livestock and arable farming is itself more sustainable than monoculture, as it deals with two of the huge problems of monoculture: excess manure from livestock, and necessity of chemical fertilizers (which are made from petroleum, now that we've mined out most of the guano of the South Pacific) for arable, also cuts down on herbicides. Question is: is it scalable? what kind of labour requirements? how to get the infrastructure set up?

(what I'm describing is actually closer to English farming of c1700 than European farming of c1500, but I said 1500 earlier bc I wanted a date before the percentage of the population involved in agriculture started decreasing - don't have the numbers on me but I think it was already down to 60% in England in 1700, because of the growth of manufactures.)
posted by jb at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2010


or do the locavores all go breatharian between November and April?

Who said anything about locavores? And why so bitchy? You just shouldn't buy tomatoes in February because they taste like shit.

For cooking purposes, any decent brand of canned tomatoes will be far superior to the fresh ones you find in the supermarket in February (and frankly, at most supermarkets even in late August). So, yes, I go without tomatoes except when they're in season. Is that so hard to believe? I do eat a lot of winter greens, though-- kale, collards, chard, beet and turnip greens, etc. I could give a fuck about carbon footprints (I do heat my house, after all), but it's amazing how much better food tastes when you eat what's in season.
posted by dersins at 4:21 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Should I not buy oranges, tomatoes and broccoli during the non-growing season?

If you want to be a strict locavore, then no, you shouldn't.

If so, what should I buy?
Is anyone going to answer our questions as to what we should be buying in the winter, or do the locavores all go breatharian between November and April?


Winter squashes and root vegetables can still be harvested up until late in the season, and those keep a good long time. So can some local apples.

You do point out something that some people do struggle with, though -- that there is a point at which there just ain't much there, and it feels very bleak. There's not NOTHING to be had -- if you check out the farmers' markets, you can still find some stands selling apples and squashes and potatoes; these were all harvested in the fall, but just were kept in root cellars and such on the farms themselves and then they get brought out in January and February when nothing is actually growing.

But that's the point -- these are vegetables that CAN be stored that long, the squashes especially. That's how we DID survive the winters in times past, with root cellars filled with butternut squash and potatoes and onions and maybe if we were lucky some kale that we harvested really late. It does get a little monotonous for some, I'll admit, and that's a big challenge some people have for eating this way. At some point in late February you're thinking, "I would seriously and honestly blow someone just to get a strawberry right now."

But -- speaking as someone who's been drifting to the locavore way of things over time -- I kind of like that. I like seasons, and I like this reminder that I belong to a world with natural rhythms. I can get all the strawberries I want when it's their season in June, but in February, no such luck. Just like I can do all the kayaking I want in summer, but not in February. That makes strawberry season all the more special, though, and in the meantime, I have other things in their own season.

And also, you've forgotten one big thing -- it's possible to buy food when it's IN season, and store it for LATER. Another thing some locavores do is look into ways to preserve what you've got in season for later -- that's one reason canning is getting to be an "in" thing now, because tomato season only lasts a couple months but you want to eat tomatoes longer than that. That's why one weekend a year, I buy the "canners' special" bushel baskets from my local farmers' markets, lock myself in the kitchen, and spend a whole day canning tomatoes. It's messy and time-consuming as FUCK-all, but when I'm done, I have 20 pint jars of tomatoes lined up in my closet, and that is enough locally-grown tomatoes to last me through the rest of the year. I think I've bought maybe one can of tomatoes from my supermarket in the past 3 years, and I make a LOT of chili and jambalaya and pasta sauce; I just use my own canned tomatoes instead.

And I'm someone without a garden and without any real storage space to speak of. I live in a 4th floor walkup and have a tiny freezer and no basement. If I lived in a bigger place or a place with a basement, or -- hell, if I even had a pressure canner, I'd be doing even more: canning even more vegetables, smoking chicken breasts, canning my own tuna.

In short, no, you can't buy fresh local peaches in winter. But if you planned ahead back in August, and canned a lot of them -- or even froze some -- you can go to your pantry or your freezer in winter and eat some of the peaches you DID buy back in August when they WERE in season. So THAT is what a lot of locavores do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:30 PM on September 25, 2010 [15 favorites]


WOOHOO! RICKETS AND SCURVY FOR EVERYONE ABOVE THE MASON-DIXON LINE!
posted by thesmophoron at 4:33 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


And to head off an argument at the pass here -- yes, I know that it's possible to also buy canned peaches from my supermarket. Locavoreism isn't strictly about only EATING things when they're in season, it's about BUYING things ONLY from your growing area. What you do with it after you've bought it is another story, and many have found that 'what you do with it after you've bought it" translates into "eat some now, save some for later." So it's still possible to eat a local peach in winter if you took an extra step in July.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 PM on September 25, 2010


I could not agree with dershins more. The easiest and most logical reason for eating what is in season and grows where you live is that it tastes so much fucking better and is usually cheaper. Sure by March you never want to see kale again, but that just makes that first pea or ramp or fava oh so much better. This applies doubly to fruit.

It isn't an explicit political statement, its about loving what you eat.
posted by JPD at 4:34 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos - any particular resources/books you found helpful when you were getting started canning? I love the idea of it but am terrified of poisoning myself (or others).
posted by hegemone at 4:37 PM on September 25, 2010


The easiest and most logical reason for eating what is in season and grows where you live is that it tastes so much fucking better and is usually cheaper. Sure by March you never want to see kale again, but that just makes that first pea or ramp or fava oh so much better. This applies doubly to fruit.

This, right here, is why I got into the locavore inclincation in the first place. Look, the supermarket is way easier to get to, I can run out and get crap right when I need it -- but honestly, I was finding myself not wanting to, because the produce tasted like CRAP. I'd get carrots and celery, maybe iceberg lettuce or frozen peas, and some onions, and that was it, because that was what recipes called for.

But moving to a place with a good farmers' market and suddenly having access to really GOOD apples, rather than the crap Red Delicious in the supermakets, and then also having all fresh local okra and squashes and potatoes and kale and greens and -- damn. They were good. And I was scarfing it all down like beer nuts and -- what do you know, that got me into eating better!

So I don't turn up my nose at supermarket apples because of any kind of "oh it is affecting the carbon footprint" or whatever. I just think they taste nasty, and I'm waking past the supermarket apples because, "dude, those Winesaps and Cortlands are KICK-ass way better and I'm gonna have me some of that instead."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:40 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to be all "hipstery" but I was into the local eating thing before it was popular. My grandpa farms corn and pigs as well as a large garden of pretty much everything else. We also had a large garden at home and raised pigs for food. It had never occurred to me until college that there were people who DIDN'T can tomatoes and it didn't really occur to me until high school that most people don't make most meals out of things that were harvested and slaughtered in the back yard. Now, we often bought beef - grandpa used to have cows but he got too old for that before I was born - but we ate a lot of pork and venison growing up.

I totally agree about the taste and economic benefits of local food, and hey, some number of Christmas presents growing up were bought from farmers market proceeds. But by the same token, I think there's a subculture that's adopted it as gospel, and it frankly creeps me out a little bit. There's absolutely no reason why I shouldn't have oranges sometimes despite being from the frozen northland. It certainly didn't harm the environment any more than Greenpeace's leaky old boats or the shipping for your yuppie bed from Ikea.

But I also don't know about healthier - is there solid evidence that all pesticides in modern use are bad for you? I think the "health" argument is so far unsupported. delmoi tried bringing this up, but everyone was like "delicious! scrumptious! ripeness! freshness!" and I kind of want to smack the ever-loving illiteracy out of a number of people in this thread. Anyway, that's the end of my substantive contribution to the thread.
posted by thesmophoron at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


any particular resources/books you found helpful when you were getting started canning? I love the idea of it but am terrified of poisoning myself (or others).

The USDA is a tremendous resource for this - especially for beginning canners because if they tell you something is safe it is safe.
posted by JPD at 4:44 PM on September 25, 2010


sunshinesky wrote: "I do support local agriculture"

I do also. Not so much because it's somehow healthier or creates less pollution, but because buying locally grown food is good for the local economy and it's better for farmers than buying from some agribusiness conglomerate. Sometimes it even tastes better. There are some fantastic peaches grown not 30 miles from here. The excellent flavor is completely worth the godawful nasty fuzz.

dersins wrote: "Well, you certainly shouldn't buy tomatoes during the non-growing season. I mean, unless you like the taste of pinkish, tomato-shaped pieces of styrofoam, in which case by all means go ahead and buy tomatoes in February."

Eh, my grocery store carries tomatoes flown in from god knows where that taste 90% as good as in-season tomatoes I grow in my own garden. And they have them all winter. It's a fabulous luxury. They're twice the price of the crappy tomatoes, but well worth it for most uses. I'm surprised yours doesn't.
posted by wierdo at 4:47 PM on September 25, 2010


But I also don't know about healthier - is there solid evidence that all pesticides in modern use are bad for you? I think the "health" argument is so far unsupported.

The health argument is mostly predicated on "localvore-ism" precluding nearly all processed foods.

To be clear, I'll eat anything from anywhere if it tastes good - I'm not some hipster localvore. The only even marginally political thing I do surrounding food is buying pastured meat - cause I'm not totally convinced it is intrinsically better tasting then conventional meat I can buy at a really good butcher. But if you wanted to chopper me in a brace of grouse from Scotland (I live in NY) I'd ask you where to meet.
posted by JPD at 4:48 PM on September 25, 2010


EmpressCallipygos - any particular resources/books you found helpful when you were getting started canning? I love the idea of it but am terrified of poisoning myself (or others).

You're in luck! There is a huge wave of canning books out now.

But to start out, I'd just look at the USDA guides for canning -- you can find them online. They're pretty good about spelling out what you need to do and how you need to do it, for each and every fruit or vegetable in however category you like. If you're still a little intimidated by canning, she does have a good number of things that you can preserve just by freezing, too.

The site maintained by Ball products, the company that makes 99.9% of all canning supplies in the country, is also a good resource -- they have recipes for specific canning things, some of which are quite fancy (I tried some of their cranberry mustard this year, using some cranberries I had in the freezer from my family's farm -- that stuff? Is good.)

For books, I especially like the book Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone. This would also be a good place to start because she not only clearly spells out how to do about 4 or 5 different preserving methods (water-bath canning, pressure canning, freezing, smoking/curing, and preserving in oil), she has tailored her recipes for smaller batches, so you're not trying to deal with ten bushels of peaches all at once or anything. She's also really reassuring about "how safe is this, really".

And the best bit -- for each thing she tells you how to can or preserve, she then includes three or four recipes USING some of your canned whatever -- "so, now that you've finished and you have your four jars of canned cherries, now take a look: here's a roast tenderloin recipe that uses one of them, and here's a pie recipe that uses another can, or if you'd rather a trifle here's a good recipe that uses half a can, or..."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:51 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


It means, as I've repeated many times in the thread, that the difference is negligible[.]
posted by nasreddin at 3:57 PM on September 25 [+] [!]


I'm sorry, nasreddin, but citing a NYTimes op-ed piece as some kind of checkmate vis à vis this subject and then affirming that you have "repeated yourself" in response to other users' criticism is not only lazy argumentation but it proves absolutely nothing. Clearly you have a strong opinion on the subject, but taking some sort of intellectual high-ground on something you either know little about or, at best, are incapable of substantiating is ridiculous. Furthermore, comparing vegetarians who complain about the harms of meat-eating versus someone saying that it's unnecessary to eat blueberries out of season is a false analogy and you know it. I thought you were a bit more thorough than this in terms of debate--is eating local really this offensive and/or threatening to you? Do me a favor and don't follow up by quoting yourself; it's not as cute as you think it is.
posted by nonmerci at 5:01 PM on September 25, 2010


I just think people have some pretty crazy ideas about how the produce they eat gets to the supermarket. I work in the transportation industry - don't think that stuff has been sitting in a warehouse for two weeks before they bother to ship it. A tomato takes just as long to go bad no matter where it's grown. Bottom line, most produce is grown locally WHEN ITS IN SEASON cause it just makes more sense (more time to sell it before it goes bad). The rest of the time, as people have mentioned above, vegetables grow better (and probably require less pesticides) in Bakersfield, CA than in NYC. If you're eating local, you're doing it because it tastes better and you want to support local industry, not because it's better for the environment.
posted by QUHZK at 5:05 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


War Vegetable Gardening and the Home Storage of Vegetables, courtesy, National War Garden Commission, 1918.
posted by timsteil at 5:12 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure where that particular strawberry has been, but one way to find out where the produce at the farmers' market come from is to ask those people who are selling it. One of the particular advantages of a farmers' market is being able to ask the seller questions like, "Where does your produce come from?" and, "Do you grow it yourself?". One can even watch the faces and hand-gestures of the seller and assess, in an up-close and personal way, whether they appear to be, on one hand, lying or nervous or excited and enthusiastic on the other. I can't ask the corporate entity which provides produce at my local grocery store these same questions. Well, actually I can, but I must ask in writing and two to three weeks after my query, I get a form letter from which is devoid of interpersonal clues as to verity of the answers it provides.
posted by Wash Jones at 5:56 PM on September 25, 2010


It means, as I've repeated many times in the thread, that the difference is negligible[.]
posted by nasreddin at 3:57 PM on September 25 [+] [!]

I'm sorry, nasreddin, but citing a NYTimes op-ed piece as some kind of checkmate vis à vis this subject and then affirming that you have "repeated yourself" in response to other users' criticism is not only lazy argumentation but it proves absolutely nothing. Clearly you have a strong opinion on the subject, but taking some sort of intellectual high-ground on something you either know little about or, at best, are incapable of substantiating is ridiculous. Furthermore, comparing vegetarians who complain about the harms of meat-eating versus someone saying that it's unnecessary to eat blueberries out of season is a false analogy and you know it. I thought you were a bit more thorough than this in terms of debate--is eating local really this offensive and/or threatening to you? Do me a favor and don't follow up by quoting yourself; it's not as cute as you think it is.


The piece of evidence nasreddin offered for this particular debating point was the research paper linked, not the op-ed.
As far as I can determine, he is right that the question of food distribution is less resource taxing than the question of food composition.
posted by Catfry at 6:23 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


If the world were to follow the prescriptions that the grow-it-local-and-buy-it-local idiots recommend, a billion people would starve to death.

Bullshit. Most of the recent famines we've seen were caused by the ship-it-somewhere-else agribusiness model. Plantation monoculture doesn't feed locals, it makes them dependent on food being shipped in, much the way the Iowa farmers have to buy their fruit from a grocery store, because there's only corn and soybeans in the fields around them.

The Irish Potato Famine was the model of modern famines: wheat was being grown in Ireland and shipped to England for sale, even as millions were starving in Ireland because the only crop they could grow on the land they were allowed was blighted.

When you buy non-local, you participate in a system that is devoted to maldistribution, that creates famine and profits from it by making people unable to grow the food they need to eat. We're roped into that system by the society we live in, but grow-local-eat-local is a step on the way to escaping it.

That's not to say that a return to subsistence farming is needed or desirable, but rather that farming should first be focused on producing food for local needs, then expand out as surplus is produced, rather than producing huge surpluses for sale to distant markets, then relying on other distant markets to produce the locally eaten food.

We aren't going to overthrow monoculture agribusiness, but by buying local we can participate in the creation of a parallel system that may someday cause monoculture to wither away.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:27 PM on September 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


(Just to clarify, the "negligible difference" was referring to the 4% figure derived in the Weber and Matthews study.)
posted by nasreddin at 6:30 PM on September 25, 2010


It may be a small difference - but it doesn't hurt me to forgo blueberries from Chile or apples from New Zealand, so I do. Not eating meat would probably mean that I would get most of my protein from fatty cheese (since that's my culture), which would be bad for me, but I try to keep my meat consumption low. These are little things, but they add up. I also don't litter, not even little things.

Nor are CO2 gases and energy the only issue at stake. There is water to consider - if you export fresh fruits and vegetables from a dry region, you are also exporting water out of the local area. This has been raised as a concern regarding the export of produce out of places like Kenya to Europe.
posted by jb at 6:40 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Havok makes an excellent point re famines.

Modern agricultural science has had some wonderful miracles -- like dwarf wheat. Modern agricultural trade has been less useful for feeding people. See the post on the front page regarding speculating in food staples for one example.
posted by jb at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2010


The reason most famines affect people who are dependent on imported food is that almost everyone is dependent on imported food. But regions where people have limited access to imported food have had their share of famines. When North Korea and Cuba lost the financial support and food aid from the Soviet Union, both underwent serious famines — I don't know enough to comment on Cuba, but in North Korea, while distribution problems owing to the crazy political system didn't help, that political system had managed to keep people mostly fed for decades when there was plenty of imported food — but North Korea simply didn't have enough arable land to support its population without those imports. I doubt, say, New England would fare much better without food from at least the southeast and California until the population had been massively reduced by millions of people starving to death, as happened in North Korea.
posted by enn at 7:03 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Funny you should mention Cuba, enn — it's held up as a model of how to recover from the kind of problems being talked about here.
posted by hades at 7:49 PM on September 25, 2010


All right at a certain point, I admit that I began to skim. The argument about what vegetables people can eat in Winter, when it is snowy and you can't get local fresh vegetables. Certain fruits and vegetables store nicely in pits dug in the ground and filled with straw. Cabbages, in varieties with tight leaves store well in such pits. Potatoes store well in a straw filled pit. Certain types of apples store well in straw filled pits. Same goes for rutabegas, parsnips, beets, onions, garlic. You can also pickle many vegetables, like cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus and onions to name just a few. This is how people managed before refrigeration. People still living in a rural setting can still do most of these things. The trouble is that you can't store winter root crops at all easily if you live in a city. There is no place to dig the neccesary pit. A cold pantry closet is one work-around. Such closets are common in Eastern European city
flats. Root foods don't. Always need refrigeration. They need a stable cool temperature. Cold climates usually are good climates for root crops and greens like cabbage.One can also grow many vegetables in window boxes. People in war-time Sarajevo did this. Mustard greens,tomatoes, peppers, carrots, green beans, all grow well indoors.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:07 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not just about locally grown -- it's about sensibly evaluating the carbon footprint of everything we eat and seeking a balance.

Gotta weigh on in this, regarding carbon, it's just not necessarily true, e.g Lamb grown in New Zealand and shipped to Britain has a lower footprint than British lamb.

Rice grown in Australia is draining our precious Riverina area, at huge environmental cost compared that imported rice from tropical areas.

Rules about food are self-defeating and to broad. It's tremendously complicated. Locavore may indeed by the way to go for some foodstuffs but it is not in and of itself a good, no more so than importing everything.
posted by smoke at 9:59 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Out here in suburbia, I would kill for fruit and vegetables as fresh as what I can get at a corner cart or farmers' market in New York City. You wouldn't think that the extra day spent shipping (I'm guessing this is the problem) would cause the fruit and veggies to so often to be of poor quality in many major supermarkets but they are really often awful here.
Last week, I bought some unnaturally large (shoulda been a clue) peaches that looked fantastic. Got them home, cut them up and they were really overripe inside and had zero taste. Things like this happen a lot, and I shop at many different supermarkets, some only slightly better than the others.

When I go into the city, I always try to pick up something from the carts on the corner, whatever their source.

And to the person who thinks Connecticut borders New York City. Westchester and Putnam counties would disagree, as would such cities as New Rochelle and Pelham Manor.
posted by etaoin at 11:04 PM on September 25, 2010


That study finding that New Zealand lamb is better was from a New Zealand university - I'd be interested to know how biased they were towards a local industry. From the article it looks like NZ lamb works compared to UK lamb, because in the UK they use feed rather than pasture. So does that same result hold for pasture-fed UK lamb rather than agribusiness feedlot lamb, which for people in the UK would negate any transport impact at all? How about in-season lamb vs out-of-season lamb - if lambing season only lasts a month, and lamb is available all year round, what's the impact of shipping vs storage? The article says it also applies to dairy products (I'm assuming this is a pasture vs feedlot thing again) and fruit. Is it that the results don't hold for vegetables or poultry, or that they didn't cover those in the study?

I just think that this one study is cited so often against locavorism, without there being any replication of it's results or other proper comparisons made. I think more information is needed on the GHG emissions side before we use it to throw out the other benefits of buying in-season from a local producer.
posted by harriet vane at 1:53 AM on September 26, 2010


I've read a good portion of the thread, and I'm going to go back and read the rest. But, I have a question. How do people feel about hydroponically grown vegetables, when that's an option? Is that how some things are done automatically? Does that count as local? If done properly, does that count as organic?

I mean, I tend to buy what's in season because of cost constraints as a rule. I am a member of my local co-op and we visit the farmer's market when we can. I could get by on relatively little every day, but my kids are of an age where they need to EAT, and I want to give them as healthy of a variety as I can.

When I was about 10 (a little over 3 decades ago), my parents helped a good family friend, let's call him Jack, transport and construct a hydroponic greenhouse specifically for tomatoes. He bought some cheap land with a decent well, lived bare to the bone, and raised tomatoes all year long. He'd had the area for the greenhouse cleared, but the rest was raw central Arkansas woods and thick with trees and underbrush. He lived in an RV out there, but a small house would have served.

As I child, I found it fascinating that he could do this year round, and I got to eat vine-ripened, tasty tomatoes all year long. It was a small and amazing setup, using a fiberglass half-round shell, some fans, beds of gravel, well water, strings of some sort for the vines to climb, and some kind of nutrient mix. I'm not sure what he used for heat in the winter, probably electricity, because I remember power lines. It was a relatively small greenhouse, really, but the output of fruit was amazing and very good. I loved it when we visited him, regardless of the time of year. It smelled really good in there.

I think he'd forged some reasonable relationship with the groceries in the area before he ever started the project, but I was a kid, so I'm not positive.

Jack had been an electrician in the navy and was retired. He'd traveled around the planet. He had a super green thumb, and we'd helped with and enjoyed the products of his gardens for a few years at this point. Jack was very, very smart. He was excited about the idea of growing produce vertically, rather than horizontally. (As additional anecdote, my Dad, who made beautiful circuit boards, said Jack did some of the most gorgeous soldering he'd ever seen.)

The university where I work has maybe 10 greenhouses of the same size for the extended campus in this area. This confuses me, when they also take up acres of land to do testing. I understand some things just have to be out on a flat area, but not everything, right?.

So, why do we rely on the dirt and horizontal space and use it up, rather than save it, when we have the opportunity to do so?

I apologize for the length and if I seem dense, but I live in an apartment and have no option for gardening at this point. Heck, I'm doing well to keep most of my house plants alive. I just found it all so fascinating when I was a child and have hope for all people to have good food for the future.
posted by lilywing13 at 2:26 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And like I didn't just type enough, my mom is visiting my home this weekend, and she was amazed at the food choices I have where I live in NW Arkansas compared to where she lives, which is an hour by interstate from Little Rock. Being on the right shipping route or in the right part of the state or city can seriously affect what foods you have available.

My mom lives only 3 hours drive from me via interstate and can't find even decent frozen foods in her town. The choices of fresh fruits and vegetables that I have readily available is amazing to her. Where she lives, the frozen food section at all stores has been reduced to mostly ice cream and with fewer vegetables.

I feel very lucky every time I buy groceries anywhere here.
posted by lilywing13 at 2:45 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


> So, why do we rely on the dirt and horizontal space and use it up, rather than save it, when we have the opportunity to do so?

I know you were not referring to this kind of scale, but Monbiot wrote about problems with the vertical farms approach here. And here's a piece about meat consumption being not so bad when done rationally.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:27 AM on September 26, 2010


(and now that I think about it, the likelyhood that fruit from South Africa or New Zealand had been gone by sea is pretty low)

That is so wrong... only flowers and some seafood get that sort of treatment. Apples, kiwifruit, and other fruit goes on diesel boats in chilled shipping containers. Here's an example.

if lambing season only lasts a month, and lamb is available all year round, what's the impact of shipping vs storage? The article says it also applies to dairy products (I'm assuming this is a pasture vs feedlot thing again) and fruit. Is it that the results don't hold for vegetables or poultry, or that they didn't cover those in the study?

Actually, Lamb meat can be from a sheep that is up to a year old (technically it has to have no incisor teeth in wear). The full report (available on the Lincoln Uni website) covers Dairy, Apples, Onions and Lamb, and includes the impact of storage. Vegetables and poultry are not big export earners for New Zealand, so it looks like the report did not cover them.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 5:30 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


  • Everything is locally grown, somewhere.
  • If we all ate exclusively local, some of us would could not eat fruit or vegetables.
  • Most people don't understand shipping, economies of scale, food storage, blah, blah, blah
posted by blue_beetle at 6:21 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


People still living in a rural setting can still do most of these things. The trouble is that you can't store winter root crops at all easily if you live in a city. There is no place to dig the neccesary pit.

What happens in New York is, the farmers who sell at the Greenmarkets DO do most of those things, but instead of putting up things in root cellars to eat for themselves, they do them to have things to sell to cityfolk during the winter. Everyone wins!

...I do wish I had some way of doing a root cellar, though; I love butternut squash, pumpkin, and apples, and they all do well in root cellars. But I do okay with the extra shelves in the hall closet that I use for all my canned things.

Oh, that's another thing for the hopeful canners out there -- technically you'll read you need a special pot and a rack and all that foobaz, but I do just fine with a big stock pot and pretending I don't need a rack. In fact, the only problem I've had with canning is that sometimes the things have sealed TOO well, and when I tried to open a jar of tomatoes the strength of the seal actually CHIPPED THE GLASS.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:36 AM on September 26, 2010


In my neck of the woods, "eating local" would generally mean field corn, soybeans and tomatoes.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:40 AM on September 26, 2010


In my neck of the woods, "eating local" would generally mean field corn, soybeans and tomatoes.

You are substituting what is with what could be.
posted by polymodus at 5:33 PM on September 26, 2010


• Everything is locally grown, somewhere.

Disingenuous. Local food is about where the food is grown, where it is traded, and where it is consumed. Nitpicking the terminology only misses the point.

• If we all ate exclusively local, some of us would could not eat fruit or vegetables.

It's just an idea. A rule of thumb that potentially benefits environment, economy, and health. No one is saying everyone should follow it. But you have to realize that most people can/could be/should; meanwhile, they aren't.

• Most people don't understand shipping, economies of scale, food storage

We do. We understand they are designed to benefit global corporations, rather than consumers.
posted by polymodus at 6:05 PM on September 26, 2010


polymodus wrote: "We do. We understand they are designed to benefit global corporations, rather than consumers."

That's a false dichotomy.
posted by wierdo at 10:57 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the info, WhackyparseThis, much appreciated.
posted by harriet vane at 11:19 PM on September 26, 2010


That's a false dichotomy.

Saying it doesn't make it true. In some cases, consumers and corporations may both benefit, but there are plenty of cases where the benefit goes only one way. Tasteless fruits and vegetables designed for shipping rather than eating are one example. Agribusinesses subsidized by the federal budget deficit are another.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:09 AM on September 27, 2010


Agribusiness subsidies are great for Americans. They give us cheap food. There is a downside, to be sure, but if I want to go buy a can of corn or a loaf of bread, it's a hell of a lot less directly out of my pocket than it would otherwise be. For the rest of the world, not so much. As a consumer, I like being able to get tasty fruit and vegetables all year round. Both I and the conglomerates benefit.

If you don't like tasteless fruit and vegetables, don't buy them. At least in the part of the country I live in, you have options, or your grocery store does if you bother to ask them about better options. Most all supermarkets here are supplied by the same outfit, who sell both tasteless and cheap fruits and vegetables and tastier and more expensive fruits and vegetables. A lot of stores don't stock the more expensive stuff because they think their customers shop solely on price.

Maybe I'm just lucky.
posted by wierdo at 7:10 AM on September 27, 2010


Agribusiness subsidies are great for Americans.

In exactly the same way that subprime mortgages and mortgage-backed securities are great. In exactly the same way that tax breaks for oil companies are great. In exactly the same way that cutting taxes until they don't cover the costs of government is great.

If you don't like tasteless fruit and vegetables, don't buy them.

I don't. And I buy local when I can, because that helps to keep the tasteless, mass market, monopoly-supplied, shipped-in stuff from completely overwhelming the good stuff.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2010


Who said anything about locavores? And why so bitchy? You just shouldn't buy tomatoes in February because they taste like shit.

As long as they have the same nutrient content (which they generally do), I don't really care that much. Food is fuel, not entertainment. But I realize many people differ, thats cool, but understand that not everyone cares about this as much as you (and others on the thread) do, which is where some of the "I don't understand how anyone could eat this" comes from.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:59 PM on September 27, 2010


Food is for fuel, and sex is for reproduction. READING IS FOR INFORMING!
posted by everichon at 2:20 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


As long as they have the same nutrient content (which they generally do), I don't really care that much. Food is fuel, not entertainment. But I realize many people differ, thats cool, but understand that not everyone cares about this as much as you (and others on the thread) do, which is where some of the "I don't understand how anyone could eat this" comes from.

Okay, well, then, the counterargument to "food is fuel" would then be, "then buying locally would be kind of like buying gas from the mom-and-pop retailer rather than from BP."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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