The 100-Mile Challenge

I received an e-zine article the other day that got me started thinking. The article was from Seventh Generation’s Non Toxic Times and it was about the 100-Mile Challenge. The idea is that you try to buy food that is produced within a 100 mile radius of your house for a month and is meant to encourage people to shop locally for their food. The article summarized the benefits of eating locally-grown and produced food as follows:

  • It protects the environment. Food that travels is food that uses fossil fuels, which contribute to pollution, climate change, and other woes. Locally-produced food doesn’t have to travel much so it’s a lot cleaner. And local food is more likely to come from smaller family farms that generally use more sustainable practices than factory farms.
  • It protects our health. Locally-produced food is a lot fresher so it contains more nutrients. It also tastes better because local farmers are growing their crops and raising their livestock for flavor, not easy processing and shipping. Instead of tomatoes bred to survive a month in a shipping container, for example, we’re likely to get an heirloom variety bursting with juice and taste.
  • It protects and strengthens our local economies. When we buy locally-produced foods, we support local businesses and nearby farms, and keep our dollars circulating in the local community. We also make those communities stronger. In Vermont, for example, if we could replace just 10% of the foods we eat with local products, we’d create over 3,600 jobs, and add $376 million to the local economy.

We made the switch to primarily organic foods when we lived in England because, frankly, they weren’t that much more expensive than conventionally-grown foods and we had the extra cash-flow to experiment. Now, five years later, shopping organic is ingrained in our way of life and, with the opening of a Vitamin Cottage natural food store less than a mile from our house, it’s even more convenient to do so. The next step, in my opinion, is to use my family’s consumer dollars not only to support organics, but to support local businesses. That’s why last summer we signed up for a Community-Sponsored Agriculture program with Monroe Organic Farm. The Monroes have farmed this same plot of land up near Greeley, Colorado, for generations, and they grow muskmelons that surpass even the Indiana melons I grew up on in both flavor and quantity. And don’t get me started about how good their eggs are–there’s a reason that Gabriel frequently demands scrambled eggs for dinner! Anyhow, a CSA program is one in which families like ours pay upfront for a share of the produce grown on the farm in a given season. This provides the farmers with the cash-flow they so badly need during planting season while at the same time guaranteeing that we’ll get a large onion-bag of freshly picked produce every week during the season. This is definitely a learning process–we got so much produce last summer that some was given away and even *gasp* composted. This summer, I have managed to can, freeze, or cook just about every last bit of food we received (OK, I gave away some of those fantastic melons because three per week was more than Gabriel and I–the melon hounds in this family–could tackle!) and have decided to sign us up for a half winter share. The winter share includes anything that they picked and stored in a root cellar up at the farm and should include everything from popcorn (hence our newly-established Sunday night ritual of popcorn for dinner & a movie) to winter squash to potatoes. It should be an adventure, so watch this space to see if we’re sick of root veggies by February. I love the idea that we’re supporting the local economy and family farms. You don’t have to go too far back in either of our families to find farmers (in fact, I have a couple of dairy-farming cousins and Matt’s Mom’s family still has a farm in Sweden), but it seems like the average American these days is so far removed from the farms and ranches that produce the food they eat. I mean, your Big Mac is so farm removed from the original source of the beef, grain, and vegetables that went into it that it’s easy to see how we’ve gotten where we are. Where are we? You might ask…Well, a full third of this country is obese. We’re making bad foreign policy decisions because of our reliance on the fossil fuels used to power our obsession with transporting food, goods, and people thousands of miles. Most children today have no idea what goes into growing the grain that makes up their sandwich and think that Wonderbread is real bread. Not where I want this country to be and not where I want the country to be when my children are adults. So what to do. Buy local. Support local farmers and local businesses. Read about how to make better food choices at the supermarket, or better yet, shop at the Farmer’s Market! Savor your food instead of wolfing it down in front of the television and actually think about what you’re feeding your family. It will make a difference. I promise.