We hear about “eating local” and “local food” a lot. But what does that actually mean? And what are the historical origins? Today’s post is co-written with local food blogger of And the Bee, Emilie Bradford.
Prior to the twentieth century, food production was either the dominant occupation of most Canadians or was a way to supplement their income. As historian Bettina Bradbury has argued in “Pigs, Cows, and Boarders: Non-Wage Forms of Survival among Montreal Families, 1861-91,” even in urban areas working class families relied on local gardens and livestock for survival. Rising public health concerns and urban planning led to the banning of pigs and other livestock within Montreal and other cities across North America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although some forms of animal husbandry and agriculture were banned from the urban centers, most Canadians continued to eat from their communities while delicacies such as imported chocolate were available ("A Cargo of Cocoa: Chocolates Early History in Canada" by Catherine MacPherson).
The actually history of all of the shifts in Canadian agriculture is a complicated story and the Canadian Encyclopedia provides a handy overview to see some large scale changes in each province over the centuries. However, one of the most radical changes to Canadian agriculture and thus eating habits has come as a result of the Green Revolution. Beginning in the mid-20th century, The Green Revolution encouraged large-scale monoculture that included using high yielding plant varieties (HYVs) in combination with large amounts of chemical fertilizers and water, pesticides and a huge increase in mechanical farm equipment such as tractors. These changes favoured an economy with fewer farmers and larger farms. In 1921, agriculture was the most common occupation in Canada, employing 1,041,618 Canadians. This accounted for 33% of all jobs. In a more recent 2008 statistic from StatCan that number dropped to about 327,000 people employed in agriculture, accounting for only 1.8% of the labour force. The move away from smaller farms and towards more monoculture was also accompanied by the rise of supermarkets in the post-WW2 period. Sources of food became more and more anonymous. This new globalized food network meant not only that people did not know their farmers, but most people had no idea where a majority of their food came from.
At the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the 21st centuries there have been various campaigns to encourage smaller scale, organic agriculture and eating more locally.
What is "local" food?
The book "The 100-Mile Diet" by authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, proclaims that "local" means that it comes from within a 100 mile radius of the store. Ideas of localism were popularized by many authors including; Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Novella Carpenter. The current "local food movement" and "locavores" (a term to describe people who support locally) are inspired by economic structures of the past, including a to know ones’ farmers and have more variety of flavours, produce, and products.
Why is eating local important?
For Your Health
Is eating local actually healthier? Well, the honest answer is; it depends. It depends on the variety of the species,the material it was grown in, how it was harvested, how it was treated, etc. However we can safely assume that locally grown food is on average much more nutritious. Why? Well, the farmer will choose a variety of a species according to the future of the product. For example, if the intention of the harvest is long-distance transportation, and high yields, the farmer will choose a variety that is durable and productive. Many times, this disregards whether or not it is nutrient-dense or flavourful. On the contrary, a local farmer, planning his harvest to move short distances and sell relatively quickly after picking, will focus more on flavourful and nutrient-dense varieties. Besides the varieties of species chosen, the production methods in growing these varieties also plays a fundamental part in nutritional value. Many local farmers choose not to use chemically based herbicides, pesticides, and/or fungicides on their plants (however, it is best to check with your farmer.) These farmers may use organic or plant-based pesticides which have a minimal decrease on the nutritional value in comparison to chemically based ones.
For The Health of the Environment
Conventional industrial farming can have very negative effects on the environment. Tilling the soil disrupts the natural process of carbon sequestration (the process of long-term storage of carbon from the atmosphere). Along with that comes soil erosion from highly compacted soil with poor drainage. And lastly, compaction through tilling leads to the destruction of the soil structure, resulting in destruction of the soil biology (including mycelium), and therefore breaks the soil food web. Without this soil biology, there are no fungi nor bacteria working to make nutrients available to plants. No till farming is becoming a more popular choice among small farmers. This comes with a potential consequence of a larger amount of weeds. However, many farmers have already discovered a natural way to fight back against this issue; mulch. Weed seeds need the sun to germinate, by mulching you create a barrier between the two. Mulching also reduces potential soil erosion by keeping the soil protected from the elements such as wind and rain.
For the Economy
The money spent on the commodities presented by local farmers, will be cycled through the economy and rest within the region. You spend money on the farmers food, the farmer spends money on services in the community, the community you work for pays you, and the cycle is complete. Evidence has also been shown, that small and mid-sized farms are employing more workers than they would have been if they were not selling to the local market.
Approaches to Eating Locally
One of the easiest ways to include more local foods in your diet is by shopping at local farmers markets! Here is a great resource to help you find a farmers market near you - http://www.localfarmmarkets.org/CNfarmmarkets.php. Some farmers markets may have become a little commercialized, so if you aren't sure whether or not something has really been grown locally you can start by...
Knowing what's in season!
Here is an awesome PDF file that you can save, download and print off to have readily available. (This list is specifically for Canada) - http://www.mrsjanuary.com/downloads/in-season-produce-guide.pdf
Another option is joining a nearby CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture). CSAs enable you to buy a "share" of a farmers harvest ahead of time (investing in their farm) and then you will receive a portion of the crops once they are harvested. CSAs ensure that the products already have a market, they support farmers through the non-harvesting months, they prevent food from being thrown out or wasted, and CSAs take out the middle-man! CSAs are a process that link the farmer to the consumer with no grocery store needed. Learn more about CSA and find a CSA near you by clicking here - https://www.localharvest.org/csa/
You could also get really local... by planting your own food! Having your own garden, even on a small-scale, used to be the norm. It's a healthy way to spend your spare time, get some extra hours outdoors, and eat delicious and nutritious food. Don't have a yard? Balcony gardening has an increasing popularity; learn more about it here - https://www.permaculturereflections.com/creating-the-permaculture-balcony-garden/
When trying to eat local, always get your produce from the nearest source possible. Sometimes this could mean getting your veggies from your neighbourhood farmer, but your pasta from within 100 miles. If you want to keep your well-earned money in a circular economy, then support your neighbours first, then look to your city, then your province, and then your country.
This guest post was cowritten by Andthebee's Emilie Bradford and Alex Ketchum.
andthebee.com, Emilie Bradford is working hard to encourage people to support local businesses and artists. Once a week she interviews a local business that she discovers on her travels. Emilie writes individual blog posts telling their stories, their ambitions, and their beliefs. This is done in an effort to show people the hidden talent that lies in their communities and to bring support to those trying to follow their passions. Because andthebee has readers from all over this beautiful planet, Bradford also works hand-in-hand with Etsy, to help amazing artists and handmakers get discovered by their communities. She chooses artists who show an effort in supplying environmentally friendly products, produced in environmentally friendly ways. Additionally Emilie Bradford writes about permaculture, eco-practices, and more.