I like to eat! That confession explains a great deal about who I am and what I look like. In this Horizons column I will explain my dreams for a future where there will be plenty of healthy locally
grown food in our region.
I grew up on a small four generation dairy farm south of Bemidji in the 60s. We had two things on that farm that I still treasure today, good fresh ingredients for our food and the ability to cook. My grandparents and parents were part of a long tradition that cared for their land and animals and the resulting food that was created. My grandmothers scratch cooked wonderful meals. Sitting down to the dinner table as a kid, I had an appetite and the firm rule that I will eat what was put on my plate. Fortunately that was not all that hard a rule to live with. My appreciation for good food and cooking has remained with me from those early years.
Our food supply has changed from those days fifty years ago. Most of our food today comes from thousands of miles away. By the time it gets to our grocery shelves it is many days and weeks old. Almost all of the food has been processed to the point that an industrial chemist has more to do with the final product than a farmer. To read the additives on the ingredient label you need a periodic table of elements to translate the chemical concoctions. In the name of convenience, most people have forgotten how to scratch cook. We are left to the mercy of a microwave oven to heat the pathetic food choices that are often bad for our health. That bleak description of food does not have to be our only choice.
We live in an area that is blessed with good land, skilled farmers and the possibility of fresh whole local food. Your local neighbors farm for reasons of family, faith, stewardship, independence, legacy, creativity and innovation. Many of them raise whole fresh local chemical free food for direct sale. They care about the health of their soil and with healthy soil the vegetables taste better and the animals raised on that soil are healthier. The poet philosopher farmer, Wendell Berry, says that "the good work of a farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist. It is the good work of good farmers, nothing else, that ensures a sufficiency of food over the long term."
There is another reason to support your local farmer neighbors. Buying local means your dollars stay here. Farmers spend their money at main street businesses and that helps our economy and creates more jobs. Because eating is ultimately an agricultural act, here are some things you can do to ensure you are getting a better food supply.
• Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it.
• Prepare your own food. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you some quality control, you will have more reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat.
• Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is closest to home. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.
• Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener or orchardist.
• Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to food that is not food and what are the consequences to your health?
At the end of the day, if you want to know for sure that you are standing by your body's best interests, avoid all ingredients that aren't whole foods. In a perfect world we would be growing our own fruits and vegetables and raising our own fowl and livestock for meat, dairy and eggs. Since we don't live in that world we must make educated choices about the food around us and make our best attempts to limit artificial ingredients and chemicals. Fortunately, we have more options in our region to be able to do this throughout the year.
Del Moen lives in Wadena and is a parish pastor. He is a member of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota. Del has helped to build a local foods bistro and the passive solar greenhouse at WDC. For ideas on buying fresh local food email Del at firstname.lastname@example.org.