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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 1.21.10




One Pound at a Time

How to buy and support locally grown food

By Lynne Fessenden

Forty-three thousand pounds of produce would fill a tractor trailer truck to the brim. That volume of fruits and vegetables was purchased by Lane County institutions from Lane County farms in 2009. Considering that the UO might consume that much produce in a week puts this quantity into perspective. But as the start of an upward trend, it is encouraging.

In March of 2009, food service directors from the UO, LCC, and Bethel and Eugene 4J School Districts committed to buying locally grown products when they were able. That means when the triumvirate of price, availability, and convenience of delivery aligned.

Price remains the major barrier to purchasing locally grown food. Let’s face it, a carrot grown on a small organic farm will never be as cheap as one from an industrial farm (organic or not) in California or Mexico. Although there will come a time in the future when increased fuel costs bring the price of those carrots closer, it is hard to shop now based on a future reality.

While some of us have committed to paying more for our food out of principle and health and in solidarity with our farmers, it is not an option for all, our institutions included. However, the institutional food buyers taking the lead in the past year forged new connections with farmers and distributors and found ways to include more Lane County grown produce in their offerings. 

Can we step up to the challenge? Can we pick one item, beloved to our households, and buy it from a local source? Can we commit to sourcing local a day or two a month, on all family birthdays or as a percentage of our grocery budget? Can we commit to dining out at restaurants that showcase local foods?

We encourage the city and county to also consider making this kind of commitment. They could mandate that any purchases of food in the usual course of business (subject to availability) be locally produced food. Or, they could start small and commit to sourcing local for one event a year. 

It is important to note that if all of our institutions wanted to source their food locally tomorrow, Lane County farms could not provide it. The supply and demand of our local food system need to be grown gradually and deliberately, one pound at a time, toward a food secure future.

If you are a restaurant chef or a food buyer for a business or institution, interested in purchasing from local growers and processors, don’t miss the networking opportunity of the fourth annual Local Food Connection on Monday, Feb. 1. The event, which links farmers, fishers and food buyers will be held at LCC’s Center for Meeting and Learning from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Read more and register on-line at cascadepacific.org or call Kelly at (541) 341-4663, ext. 217. The Local Food Connection is hosted by Cascade Pacific RC &D and is sponsored by EWEB, Oregon Tilth and LCC.

Lynne Fessenden is the executive director of the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, a community nonprofit promoting the purchase of locally grown and produced foods to keep our small farms viable and to strengthen our local economy. See www.lanefood.org