As an aspiring farmer and local eater, the phrase “grow local” encompasses more of the values I want to see in our society, where the emphasis is less on a culture of buying and more on a culture of growing.
The benefits of growing your own food can be manifold—such as reducing your carbon footprint via the miles food traveled to reach your plate, knowing if any chemicals were used to produce your food, eating fresher, and becoming more in tune with nature. And it’s also easier to do than you might think. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned working on farms over the past two years is that it doesn’t take much time, effort, or space to grow a meaningful amount of food for one person.
I’ve illustrated below an example of growing kale in a container with potting mix—an easy way to get a plant started if you don’t have garden space or soil. Try it yourself or with your favorite vegetable. Maybe one day having vegetables growing at your house will be as common as having house plants.
The top four questions I receive at the farmers’ market are as follows:
Are you certified organic?
Is your farm sustainable?
Are your chickens pastured?
Do you have a boyfriend? (Usually the old, long-haired duck egg customers)
All but the latter are questions the recent food craze has trained us to ask, but do we consider what exactly we are saying? The problem with popular movements is that meaningful terms become buzzwords and lose their significance—they roll off the tongue without much contemplation.
Take for instance the concept of sustainability and what it has come to mean in our modern foodie language. Due to relatively recent concern of greenhouse gas emissions, species extinction, ecosystem destruction and other human-driven environmental terrors, we are obsessed with the vision of a sustainable world, a world that is fed by sustainable farms. The well-intentioned farmers’ market customer considers sustainability to be synonymous with green or environmentally friendly, but that’s just one slice of the pie.
The power of sustainable farming lives in its ability to encompass every aspect of an operation including farmers’ physical and emotional well-being, profitability of the business, and community contribution. The investment in green/environmentally friendly infrastructure has to work alongside and improve upon all other systems on a farm.
Sustainable agriculture is important not only because it promotes health of surrounding ecosystems and limits the carbon emissions inherent in commercial production. It is valuable because it facilitates environmental balance while paying fair wages, while inspiring innovation, and while promoting the health of the surrounding community.
So the next time you see your farmer at market, consider her week: harvesting strawberries, chasing unruly chickens and mixing concrete by hand (not to mention having been up since 4 am to load the market truck). Buying her a beer could be the most sustainable thing to do.