Sustainable Table, Part 1: Eating Local

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By Erin Maxson

The most recent data for trade shows the US exported close to $100 billion worth of agricultural products; we imported slightly less $71 billion worth.

In Part One of the Sustainable Table, we ask: is food from other countries or even from other states less healthy than what we grow here?

From the time we are young, food is a focus. But in the past several years, that focus on food has started to shift.

“Taking it from the ground all the way to yourself, you are a little more invested. Plus, if you are the one going into the garden and picking it, and saying, ‘this is what I want in my salad’, I just think there is a little more ownership,” says Susan Muller.

Ownership over what you and your family eat is at the center of the local and slow food movements.

“A lot of people are much more interested in self reliance, in growing their own food and cooking their own food, instead of eating out and doing more food preservation as well,” says Maud Powell.

“There is something just absolutely beautiful about hand made food,” says Amanda Higgins. “So it’s really just a deep value system it’s a whole different value.”

Just about anyone could notice the taste difference between produce that’s unpacked and produce that’s picked just hours before, but supporters also rave about the health benefits. And nutritionist Michael Altman says research supports their claims.

“Food that doesn’t travel as far generally is going to have higher vitamins and minerals and micronutrients,” Altman explains. “And food grown organically, for example, or in a more sustainable environment, without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, tends to have higher amounts of antioxidants and nutrients that are plant based – what they call phyto-chemicals. These polythenals and different compounds that are protective against disease.”

If you grow, cook, and preserve your own food – like Michelle Pryse – you have control of what you’re consuming.

“Cutting out things like preservatives, extra salt, fat and sugar,” Pryse says of her diet. “You get to choose exactly what goes into the foods that you eat and so your family can enjoy improved health, better health, less weight problems, fewer problems with diabetes type 2.”

Some food activists argue the Farm Bill and Big-Ag policies, which provide subsides for the crops like corn and soybeans, are making Americans sick.

“The Federal Government has a very elaborate subsidy program that creates very inexpensive corn syrup, basically through commodity subsidies, and so we see that effect though our food system, where food that may be bad for us, might be less expensive in the store — highly processed food,” Wendy Siporen states.

But some economists who have looked at the subsidies impact disagree. Steve sexton is a PhD candidate of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

“In fact, these researchers have shown that the opposite is true the impact of the policy isn’t that what we eat and the calories in our diet, but if we were to get rid of policy we would be consuming slightly more calories and we would be slightly more overweight,” Sexton explains.

At the farmers market, because of the farms’ small-scale production, and often organic methods, consumers looking to avoid pesticides, antibiotics and preservatives have a lot of options.

“You can talk directly to your producer and know under exactly what conditions that produce was grown,” Wendy Siporen says.

One of those producers is Wild Bee Honey out of Eagle Point; the commercial beekeepers say their honey will make you as pollen friendly as the bees.

“You can actually help hay fever and other allergies by using local natural honey,” Angelika Curtis says. “The honey itself when it’s packaged raw and unfiltered it actually has many pollen and wax particles – most of which are at the top of the honey. And a small dose a tablespoon a day, year round, will help people with hay fever and allergies.”

At Rogue Valley Bramble Farm, the farm-to-school program is teaching kids that even “bad” food can be good, and good for you.

“For lunch we are having nachos – but we are starting with dried beans and we are taking it all the way through the process on our own. And we are making the sour cream from scratch,” explains Susan Muller. “And, I like to teach the kids, the less processed your food the better it is for you, so instead of opening a can or a bag we are starting with a raw ingredient and following all the way through. And I think that is a big lesson is just how good for you food can be.”

Join us for Part Two of the Sustainable Table, when we’ll explore the economic benefits of eating locally produced food.

For more information, here are more links to websites on eating locally, growing your own garden, and federal health standards for food:


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  1. Ronald Solly says:

    i have a small organic farm in up state n.y. ..i’m trying to teach my kid’s how to grow crops, sell them at farmers markets so people will have a chance to eat healthy. why do they have to have insurance that cost’s them $500.00 a season to sell at farmers markets? that is why this is so discouraging for them and me.

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