The Present & Future of Eating Local
Surrounded by the fast food mottos of convenience and instant gratification, you are generally not inclined to ask the question of where your food is coming from. With so many convenient and diverse food options available, you generally do not wonder whether those tomatoes at the salad bar are in season, or where they were grown and what it took to get them to our plates.
In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of eating locally, the Colby Waterville Alliance organized the panel discussion "Local-vores: the Importance and Sustainability of Buying Local Foods," a postponed Burst the Bubble event held last Monday, March 8.
The panelists included: David Gulak, the Market Manager of Barrels Community Market; Marilyn Meyerhans, owner of The Apple Farm in Fairfield, Maine; Michele Roy & Dennis Thoet, owners of Long Meadows Farm in West Gardiner, Maine; and Michelle Russell '11, member of the Colby Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (COFGA).
"Organic" has become the posh watchword of healthy "green" eating, but the specifics of organic versus inorganic is not the central concern of local farmers, whose main interest is to sell directly to people in their communities. "We are so eager to share what we know about food," says Roy.
The panelists covered some of the different aspects of local growing, from the backyard garden to local farming to the community market. Representing the domains of local production and distribution, they were able to speak about their different practices.
After buying the Apple Farm in 1973, which is approximately 100 acres, Meyerhans and her husband decided that they wanted to sell directly to people. The size of the farm, however, necessitated a wider view of local growing, as well as a hybridization of organic and inorganic methods. Approaching local growing from this larger perspective, Meyerhans said that to eat local, local farms need to broaden their production to become larger farms.
Roy countered that a collection of small farms can serve a community just as well as larger, more far-reaching farms. Communication and coordination of efforts in a community is key to the success of small local farms, like Long Meadows. "We'd like to see those networks grow," Roy said.
Long Meadows participates in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which offers consumers the opportunity to buy seasonal produce directly from local farmers. Local markets and CSA, while they reach the consumer in slightly different ways, both work toward the same goal of increasing the distribution of local food.
The increase of local farming in Maine seems to hinge on the open recognition of mutual interest in eating local by the farmers and the consumers. "Almost all of the farms I've talked to...have the land to produce more, but are afraid of the market," Gulak said.
The panel addressed the question: "Are there enough people that want to do the hard work of farming?" Organizations like World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), which set up volunteers and apprentices with work on organic farms, suggest that the workforce is there. "We're seeing a lot of people who want to do it and it gives us hope," Roy said.
"It's all going in the right direction," Gulak said. But the transition to eating local is not one that will happen overnight. "Even if people are interested and want to eat this way, getting into people's routines is tough." For some, eating local is a complete gearshift from their regular eating habits. As one audience member pointed out, "People have to be taught" and retaught what to eat, where to get it and what to do with it."
The simplest approach to eating local is, not surprisingly, the closest to home. "The most local you can get is to grow in your own backyard," Roy said, which is precisely what a few Colby students started to do two years ago.
The COFGA, founded by Andy Smith '11, Ben Hummel '11 and Ben Wienberger '11, began with a small patch of land on Washington Street near the College in 2008. "Last summer was the first summer it was on Runnals Hill," Russell said. With the support of Joseph Klaus, associate director of dining services, COFGA has been able to provide the dining halls at the College with its fresh produce.
The College's own backyard garden lends hope to the future of eating local. "It's nice for students to be able to realize that we have the opportunity and the possibility to grow our own food," Russell said.
The Colby Gardeners are having a planting day on Wednesday, March 10 at 8 p.m. in the Olin Greenhouse. It is open to anyone interested in getting his or her hands a little dirty.