Eating Our Way Forward
Pushing the market with our buying habits toward a food secure future
BY LYNNE FESSENDEN
The year 2007 was a year of high visibility on the local food front. With concerns raised about the safety of foods shipped in from other countries, books published on tales of local eating and 100-mile diets, and the Oxford University Press voting locavore as the word of the year, who could help but to take a moment to ponder their pantry?
Here in Lane County, 30,000 copies of our own Locally Grown directory were snatched up in six months. In August we were visited by a singing duo, the Ditty Bops, on a tour of America’s farms (small van), and the Sustainable Table group from New York on a local foods tour (big bus). Both groups ate their way across the country to the September Farm Aid concert in New York, talking and singing up the tenets of responsible eating: food grown without detriment to the environment, delivered with minimum fossil fuels, in a manner that does not exploit farmers.
Hopefully this media frenzy got a few more of us to the Farmers’ Market or convinced us to join a CSA program or to look more closely at the little stickers on the produce in the grocery aisle and ask questions or inspired us to grow edibles in our own back yards. We cannot underestimate the importance of our individual food choices, but what will it take to nudge buying local to the next level, to get our institutions sourcing local foods?
First there is willingness. A year ago, Woodbury County in Iowa mandated that any county purchases of food in the usual course of business would be (subject to availability) locally produced food. Could Lane County be next? Or the green city of Eugene?
Next there is infrastructure. While area schools may have wellness policies stating that they will purchase local or organic foods when possible, it turns out that our small farms can seldom meet the produce needs of a large school district. And the district food service cannot handle deliveries from a dozen different farms, and they often need the vegetables in a washed or peeled or chopped form. So now we’re looking at needing local cold storage, small scale processors and a distribution system that consolidates and delivers. The question remains, are we planning for this in our food future?
Whether you are a chef in a restaurant, a food processor, or a food service employee at a school, hospital, or government agency, don’t miss the upcoming opportunity to explore and deepen your local marketing connections. Local Food Connection: Linking Farmers, Fishers and Food Buyers will be held at Lane Community College on Monday, Feb. 4, 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. This is a free matchmaking event for growers and buyers, a chance to find new sources or new accounts, as well as to discuss strategies, successes and barriers. Hosted by Cascade Pacific RC&D and sponsored by EWEB , OSU and Oregon Tilth, this is the southern valley’s version of the famed Portland based Farmer-Chef Connection Conferences. Register by Jan. 25 at cascadepacific.org/category/food.
And for a chance to take the eat local challenge in winter, the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition and the Helios Resource Network are holding the next in the series of “Eat Here Now” local food potlucks on Saturday, Jan. 19. The focus this time around, in addition to eating and networking, will be farmer appreciation, so bring a dish to pass and come thank the farmers fostering the viability and sustainability of our local food system. Challenge yourself to prepare something with local ingredients and enter the “How Local Can You Go?” contest. A prize will go to the tastiest dish with the most local ingredients.
The “Eat Here Now: Farmer Appreciation and Local Foods Community Potluck” is from 6 to 9 pm Jan. 19 at the First United Methodist Church, on 13th and Olive in Eugene. The suggested donation of $5 gets your name in the door prize drawing.
Co-sponsoring organizations include: EWEB’s Healthy Farms Program, Lane County Food Policy Council, Lost Valley Education Center, Slow Food Eugene, and the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance.
For more information on either event, call 341-1216.
Lynne Fessenden is the executive director of the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, a community non-profit promoting the purchase of locally grown and produced foods to keep our small farms viable and to strengthen our local economy (lanefood.org).