Farm to Table
Healthy for you, the Environment, & the Local Economy
As the summer harvest on our local foothill farms begins and continues throughout this season, we can't help but anticipate the smells and flavors of these beautiful ripe bounties. While we stroll through the local farmers markets and grocery store produce aisles or order a fresh from the farm meal at one of our many farm to table restaurants; we can and should be grateful for our abundant land and rich local oil that provides us so many healthy food options. We can also be thankful for the hundreds, if not thousands of hands that pour out their labors of love on these small local farms, restaurants, and events so that we might live fuller, healthier, richer lives. There is nothing quite like a fresh, ripe, organic favorite to wake us up and make us feel alive and healthy. There is also something comforting about knowing where our food has come from and the care that has gone into growing or raising it and there are very good reasons for that.
Health Benefits of the Local Food Movement
As unhealthy fast food and microwave dinners lose popularity, the current local food or farm-to-table movement is gaining momentum and is actually healthy for you, the environment, and the local economy.
While we all know that organically grown food free of chemicals and hormones are best for us, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is also important that the produce we eat has the highest nutritional content. In a study led by Rich Pirog, the associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, it was found that many fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1,500 miles before reaching the consumer. In order to prevent spoilage and make the fruit more resilient during the long trip ahead, many common fruits and vegetables are harvested far before they have fully ripened. In contrast, because it doesn't have to travel long distances, local food can be left to ripen on the tree or vine so that it is not only more tasty but more nutritious.
The Local Food Movement & the Local Economy
According to a recent report prepared by the Congressional Research Service; over the last decade there has been a growing U.S. trade deficit in fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. In 2011 the U.S. exported an estimated $7 billion worth of fruits and vegetables while imports exceeded $18 billion. With the U.S. consuming more imported food than it exports and much of its produce being transported from up to 1,500 miles away, local economies miss the opportunity to benefit from the sale of farmed food. By demanding locally grown and raised food, communities can put their money into the local economy to help create jobs and create a need for farming grants.
Local Food Healthy for the Environment
In addition to being healthy for you, getting your food locally is healthy for the environment.
According to the aforementioned Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture study, it was also found that the conventional food distribution system used 4 to 17 times more fuel and emitted 5 to 17 times more CO2 than the local and regional Iowa food distribution systems. Additionally, another Canadian study estimated that replacing imported food with locally grown food in the Waterloo, Ontario region would be equivalent to taking 16,191 cars off the road.
For many local food advocates, getting away from a food system that is largely centralized, industrialized, and complex just seems to make sense. Lowering emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has environmental benefits that are hard to deny.
Trust & Sustainability
Besides the environmental and economic impact for communities, there is the intrinsic value of the interaction between producer and consumer, an important point of the whole local food and farm-to-table movement. Buying locally allows consumers to take an active part in ensuring that their food is grown and raised responsibly. A local food supply allows consumers to be better informed about farming practices; including how farm workers are treated, how the farm ensures ecological balance, and the economic impact on the community which all add up to trust and sustainability.
Farm to School Programs
Restaurants, grocery stores and Co-ops are not the only producers and consumers getting into the farm to table movement.
Since 2012 the Farm to School Grant Program (FS2), administered by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), has provided grants each year to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and to expand educational activities on agriculture and food. The program is designed to give kids access to healthy and locally produced food to help instill healthy eating habits and agricultural literacy in the next generation, while also supporting the local farming economy.
In Nevada County, Sierra Harvest's Farm to School program connects 18 schools and partner farms with farm field trips, school produce stands, classroom visits by chefs and farmers, and monthly tastings of seasonal produce in over 200 classrooms.
Local Food Movements in Nevada & Placer Counties
Sierra Harvest is only one testament to the building momentum of the local food movement in Nevada and Placer Counties. Other indicators include the recent increase in farm-to-table events and options.
This year Nevada City Uncorked will feature a farm-to-table theme between the local farmers and participating restaurants and caterers who will transform fresh ingredients into signature dishes. The wineries, in addition to pouring their favorite wines, will be highlighting their newest release of the season in celebration of the upcoming harvest.
Featured on the cover of this issue is another farm-to-table event featuring fresh from local farms produce and meats is the Nevada City Farm-to-Table Banquet, a benefit for the Nevada City Boardwalk. The event has been a huge hit with locals and very well attended for the past two years. Although not official as of this writing, the event is expected to be held again in fall 2015.
Put on by Placer County Grown and hosted at Twin Peaks Orchard in Newcastle in fall 2014 was the Crop-to-Table Dinner that featured a four-star, gourmet dinner with an array of local, grilled meats, luscious in-season salads and sides, and a fall-flavored dessert, all prepared by local chefs. Also still in planning, the event is expected to be held again in fall 2015.
In addition to these taste-bud tantalizing events, both Nevada and Placer County agricultural industries are well supported by organizations like Placer Grown and Nevada County Grown. These organizations help connect community with information regarding local agriculture throughout the region. Through events, resource guides, websites, and other promotional activities, they help connect community members with the farmers' markets, farms, orchards, ranches, wineries, nurseries, and specialty food stores throughout the region. They also promote farmers by helping local residents understand the importance of supporting local agricultural producers.
Fad or Future
From our plethora of delicious farm-to-table Cafes & Restaurants to our local farms, farm stands, farmers' markets, Co-ops and grocery stores it is undeniable that there is a movement among us. A movement that not only provides healthier, more nutritious food, but one that enriches our local economy and brings us together as a community.
All of this seems to point to a well ingrained local food system with no slow down in sight. However, local farmers and local food advocates urge consumers to continue to demand local food or the movement will end up metaphorically dying on the vine and in reality plucked from the vine before its time and mass produced far away from our tables and forks.
by Stephanie Breeze