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LOCAL Digest, March, 2012

LOCAL Digest, March, 2012

Redefining your 'LOCAL' boundaries

We talked last month about some definitions of what local can mean with regards to food. Here are some more.

LOCALDIGESTauthorBox9PTSome define local in terms of a region that produces everything that we currently eat and buy; this region is also sometimes referred to as a “foodshed”. In this case, Americans’ foodshed is the world. When used by people speaking about local food, the term “foodshed” usually means the region surrounding the place you live that can supply a complete, healthy diet; sometimes it starts with your own property. Some would argue that your foodshed should only be your own property or neighborhood, and include indigenous forage. I think of our foodshed as a ten-county area of North Central Florida: Alachua, Marion, Levy, Gilchrist, Columbia, Suwannee, Union, Clay, Bradford, and Putnam. Sure, we can’t grow wheat, but we can grow a complete diet – even if some of us are skeptical about unusual ingredients or dishes, such as amaranth flour, millet cakes, smilax in stir-fries, and porchulaca salads!

 Most agree a foodshed should not include mass-produced, processed foods as a necessary part of our diet, but will be lenient towards more popular versions of staples that come from outside the foodshed, such as olive oil for fat; refined, white sugar for sweetener; and wheat flour for carbohydrate. The same leniency can also be applied to "wants" and not "needs" such as coffee, chocolate, tea, and spices.

032912ValSWAMPHEADThe place of processing of a far-away product may also be taken into consideration for what makes it local, such as “locally-roasted coffee”, “locally-made chocolates”, or “locally-brewed beer”. And there are other definitions using other criteria – or combining them – that highlight the social, economic, and environmental values which are most important to the definer.

Some will argue that local – however they choose to define it – is the most important factor in their food, regardless of other social, 032912ValCOFFEEeconomic, or environmental factors. And sometimes – as with the term “organic” – people see local on a label as connoting a kind of benevolence, environmental stewardship, a sense of community and of place, etc. As is often the case with claims label make and their marketing strategies, some terminology may be skin-deep.

Here is a very concrete example of why it is important to know your food (and read your labels): There is currently an argument surrounding a potential cattle operation in Marion County and its various environmental and local food impacts. The water permit for daily consumption of “more water than the entire city of Ocala uses in a day” that it has requested from St. John’s Water Management District is under special scrutiny from community members and local organizations. The District has to make a decision about the permit within 90 days, but the review of the impact on Silver Springs will not be complete until 2013. Those of us who live in North Central Florida live in the foodshed where this operation is planned. It is uncertain how much meat 032912ValCOWSproduced at this facility will stay within our region, though it may stay in Florida. We should ask ourselves, “What does this operation mean to us and our relationship with local beef?”, “What does local even mean when we talk about beef?”, “What about local is important to us?”, “What kind of local is best for our community?”, and “How can we make the best use of our resources?”. Before the products from this facility ever make it to market, we should ask ourselves, “Does local on this label mean the same to me as local on the label of a small farmer?”.

 Here are some ways I practice informed, local eating:

> I grow and produce as much of my own food as I can (My boyfriend, his mom, and I are already scheming about all the tomato sauce and jam-making sessions we will have this summer with our tomatoes, mulberries, and friends' muscadines and blueberries).

> I barter with well-known sources for food whenever possible (I help a farm harvest chickens about once a month in return for meat; and last month I bartered with a good friend who raises his own cattle, 4 frozen bags of fish I had caught and cleaned for ground beef, a chuck roast, and some stew meat).

> I take time to know my farmers and their farms as much as possible.

> I get to know my processed food by getting to know who processes and makes it, such as my favorite local restaurants and local product manufacturers.

> I read labels (and yes, you should know what all those weird ingredients “mean” because you may be surprised what they really are).

> I conduct a continual re-examination of what I eat, where I get it from, and how it impacts my community, environment, and local economy.

> I buy my food at local outlets, such as the farmers’ markets, Ward’s, and Citizens’ Co-op.

So what should “local” mean to you? You decide. As you can see, not all “local” is created equal. It is up to you to become as educated as you can about what “local” means, think about what social, economic, and environmental factors are most important to you, your purchasing decisions, and your family, and then decide where your boundaries of “local” lie. Do not let someone’s marketing campaign determine for you what “local” means.

Why is it important to take the time to do all this? Because local matters to the environment that is impacted less through reduced food transportation; because local matters to the farmers you forge relationships with who grow your food; because local matters when you know – and can tell the story of - the food you eat; and because local matters to us all via the one thing we all think about at least once a day: Money.

> Want to know more about what’s local and what local means in our community? The Local Digest is a monthly piece on all things local in North Central Florida, from food to economics to environment to community. Local, you see, isn’t just a way of buying or a way of eating: it’s a whole system of the social, economic, and environmental values that mark the character of where we live, and how we seek to improve the health of those values. Thisis a column about sustaining our region and what we love most about it.

Last modified onTuesday, 03 April 2012 05:31
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