Yesterday I shared my Dark Days lesson about how my perceptions of local food are changing as I learn about what is available outside of my own foodshed. Today I am posting part 2 of my Dark Days Challenge this week, with some follow-up on my â€œbuy localâ€ shopping event and some more photos of my sister making bratwurst pizza in my mom’s kitchen.
Hereâ€™s my biggest question: Where are all the farmers?
I just donâ€™t understand why, in an agricultural community, there werenâ€™t any products from local farmers on the shelf. My hometown is well-known for potato production. We even have an annual 10K called the â€œTater Trot.â€ The kitchen partner and I are able to buy Iglâ€™s organic potatoes (grown in my hometown) at the Mississippi Market in St. Paul. But get thisâ€¦On the day my sister and I shopped, I couldnâ€™t find a local potato at the store. There were two store brands, some from Idaho and some from Canada. Canada people, really?
Itâ€™s frustrating and confusing for me to envision a food system so broken that it is somehow more affordable, more healthy, more economical to bring potatoes from a foreign country to a place with the best potato growing soil in the region. How can this be?
Sure, one could argue that I needed to see the farmer directly to get local produce. In a community where everyone is on a first name basis, this is probably the most logical. Farmers here donâ€™t bother to expand markets to local grocers because a reasonable number of customers just show up on their doorstep anyway. Just like education is key to finding local food in the Twin Cities, knowing whom to ask is half the challenge.
But what if I donâ€™t have access to that knowledge? Why is this food system so broken, I have to do the work of finding the freshest seasonal food on my own? Isnâ€™t that the grocery store’s or the government’s job?
This week, I also learned my hometown and the surrounding area is a registered USDA food desert, “an area of a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store,” (from USDA Economic Research Service, 2010). This means that many residents face not just the income challenges of providing fresh food, but they also have to travel 10 or more miles to find it.
10 miles may not sound far at first, but then I think about those who fall between the cracks. If you arenâ€™t able to drive yourself, have someone take you, or a friend to bring your groceries in. What do you do if you live 12 miles from the nearest food source and you donâ€™t have a car? Or maybe you have a car, but at under $35,000 per year donâ€™t make enough money to feed it and your family both? How do decisions about what you eat change when you take 1 trip to buy all of your food for a month? Or you have to make your limited income stretch across that much time and distance? Residents in food deserts don’t have the luxury of the â€œtrendyâ€ organic, non-GMO, local or grass-fed labels we see all over the city. Accessing fresh and affordable ingredients is challenging enough.
But it canâ€™t be all bad. Amy, youâ€™re always a silver-lining kinda gal
It is true that despite its challenges, the kitchen partner and I do believe our hometown has some major food advantages over our urban hideout. Itâ€™s all about the space for self-sufficiency. Both of our parents have expansive gardens and space to raise livestock. They spend their summers canning and freezing and are able to grow much of the local produce they need all on their own. My in-laws have cheese delivered from the plant that processes their milk. My dad raises enough chickens to sell a few dozen roasters and eggs to neighbors and friends.
I canâ€™t come anywhere close to self-sufficiency in my little corner of a St. Paul townhouse. The grocery shelves in my hometown may not have fancy â€œbuy localâ€ stickers or be brimming with the latest in trendy products, but many of its residents have the tools and capacity to eat local just the same. Would I trade the supportive and growing local food movement in the Twin Cities for the chance to grow all my own? Some days, yes. Other days, no.
In the end, there are so many factors that determine where we each choose to live. What I understand most from this weekâ€™s Dark Days Challenge is that what I eat has become so important to me, it will always be a deciding factor in where the kitchen partner and I call home. I guess itâ€™s why locavore has stuck with me: my home and my diet just seem to fit together.