Know where your food comes from

Do you know where your food comes from? When eating at a restaurant, picking up a quick fast food snack, or sitting down to eat at home, do you know where each of the ingredients in your meal comes from? 

In many cases, the answer would be a surprise. Apple juice from China. Lettuce from California. Grapes from Chile. Lamb from Australia.

Transportation of food across such vast distances – by boat, plane, truck and train – has economic as well as environmental costs. Simply put, it costs more to transport a product to Woodstock from China than it does to bring it in from Iowa. With gas prices around $4 a gallon in the US (and much more elsewhere in the world), transportation costs will continue to be a significant share of the cost of food.

On the environmental side of the equation, all those vehicles use fuel that emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to warming the planet, which in turn leads to changes in the climate. Climate change is causing some areas to receive more rain, and others to receive less, and water availability is a critical element of growing food. 

Long distance transportation of food also has a social cost, as it disconnects people even more from the sources of their food. When people start to see farmland as “scenery” and not as the source of food, there is a greater risk that the full value of that “open land” will not be recognized or valued by society. Ask the average person where his food comes from, and he is likely to say “from the grocery store.” 

For those who visit the local farmers’ market, the answer might be “well, my beef comes from a farm in Greenwood, and my vegetables come from a farm near Harvard.” 

People have been embracing the benefits of buying local food for several years now. So much so, that there is a word to describe them: locavore, n. meaning one who eats foods locally grown whenever possible. Locally grown food products are fresher than food that has been shipped in from far away. I also find local produce to taste better than store bought items. And buying directly from a local farmer is good for the local economy.    

Restaurants are now promoting the use of locally raised meats and produce on menus. 1776 and Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake both describe the source of many ingredients right on their menus. Expressly Leslie’s in Woodstock obtains as many of the ingredients for its vegetarian meals from vendors at the Woodstock Farmers’ Market. 

Buying more of one’s food locally at a farmers’ market, farm stand or through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation builds community, strengthens the local economy, and is better for the environment. It is just that simple. 

Here are a few resources to help you find local food:

 - The website www.localharvest.org provides an abundance of information to help the consumer find farmers’ markets, CSA operations, specific products and even restaurants that use local farm products in any area of the country.

 - A group is working to create a McHenry County Food Cooperative which would be member-owned and operated. The food would be organic and sourced locally, and the money spent at a food co-op would stay in the community to boost the local economy. The group has a website: www.mchenrycountyfoodcoop.com and also a Facebook page. Volunteers are needed to help implement the project.

Upcoming events:

 - Join me for “Speaking of Nature” on Harvard Community Radio, August 15th from 6-7pm for a discussion of local food issues. I’ll be talking live with local farmers and people involved in the Coop effort. www.HarvardCommunityRadio.com

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