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Local vs. Organic


Heather
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Pondering last night at Whole Foods...is locally grown, but not organic better or worse than corporate organic, but trucked for thousands of miles? I opted for locally grown. Lately, unless I get it at a farmers market I don't really care.

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Pondering last night at Whole Foods...is locally grown, but not organic better or worse than corporate organic, but trucked for thousands of miles? I opted for locally grown. Lately, unless I get it at a farmers market I don't really care.
That certainly seems to be the trend, lately. I'm with you in that it doesn't matter much to me. I avoid paying the extra for organic and given the legal definitions of "local", most stuff at WF isn't really that local (at least IMO). So I usually go with what is most cost effective until the farmers markets start selling, in which case I'm willing to pay a premium.
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That certainly seems to be the trend, lately. I'm with you in that it doesn't matter much to me. I avoid paying the extra for organic and given the legal definitions of "local", most stuff at WF isn't really that local (at least IMO). So I usually go with what is most cost effective until the farmers markets start selling, in which case I'm willing to pay a premium.

What is your definition of "local"?

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Quality of food that is sold as an ingredient matters most.

What is your definition of "local"?
Mine is Pennsylvania, Virginia & Maryland.

A report may have been posted on the Pollan/Mackey thread at eGullet--I'm not sure--but at one point during the height of the growing season I went down to the Glover/G'town WFM and counted just how many local foods there were in the produce section around the time the company announced a campaign to supply more locally grown foods to the consumer.

This was a period when the so-called "Supermarket Pastorale" was joined by a "Carte du Jour" look: small hand-chalked smudgy blackboards w the words "Locally Grown in Maryland Swiss Chard" replacing the mechanically reproduced signs with names and prices in uniform font. A very, very small portion of the items sold were local. A major portion of local items were mushrooms from PA, the state that, from what I understand, is the California of funghi farming.

The situation is complicated and I am curious to see what developments take place in the next few years. Greater autonomy given not just to the huge regions of WFM, but to individual stores would help, but you also have to have local, knowledgeable and committed employees to restore a flexible Backdoor Policy.

I prefer my oranges to come from Sicily, Israel, South Africa, Florida or California. The fava beans that come from afar tend to be in better shape than the local organic ones, though I just don't remember any quite as gorgeous and healthy (vs. healthful) as those offered in other countries where they're not a novelty. I'd buy cardoons at the supermarket flown in from California for sure.

In general, I find that the quality of many vegetables does not suffer from long transport, though for the life of me I can't understand why the strangely bulbous bell peppers from Holland are in the store, selling anywhere between $5 to $7 a pound when there are bright red peppers at the farmers market. I just prefer to support small farms in the area. I also find a tender head of lettuce picked less than 24 hours superior to shipped ones that get water-logged under regularly timed streams of "mist".

Green beans and eggplant are two plants we treat as vegetables that are really far superior at the market. Okra, too.

However, it's really fruit that suffers from being picked unripe, treated, shipped long distances, etc. In this case, it's not just a matter of local vs. shipped. It's a matter of eating seasonal fruit. I don't understand why a place like WFM encourages its customers to buy huge, expensive organic tomatoes in February and March along with plums, peaches and the one kind of strawberry that large farms produce with swollen, hollow, white cottony centers.

If the company continues to maintain that principles govern the food it offers to shoppers, then seasonality ought to be stressed.

I also prefer my food whole: unpeeled carrots in the size that they were when they came out of the earth. Unbagged heads of escarole. Whole chickens less expensive than cut-up pieces as they used to be back in the day. Fish cut into fillets or steaks, but unmarinated and unstuffed. Don't let trend towards satisfying the non-cook compromise the options provided to shoppers who like to prep what they subject to heat.

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What is your definition of "local"?
I knew someone was going to call me on this!! :o

My definition of local (and it's purely a subjective one, YMMV) is someplace that I can drive to easily within a few hours. Let's call it within a 150 mile radius.

I'm wracking my brains to remember which episode of Good Eats where they discussed this but I do remember Alton Brown saying something to the effect that the USDA has a definition of what "local" means. For some reason, 500 miles rings a bell. I've also read articles which define local food as coming from within a distance that can be (but not actually) driven in a single day. And that would also fit in with the 500 mile definition.

I like the farmer's markets because I get to know the seller and trust them when they tell me they picked the corn just last night. I like supporting the local small-medium independent guy. I like the freshness I get from them. I like when they know I buy tomatoes from them every Saturday morning and they save me some when I'm late. That's why I like farmers markets.

At the supermarket, food can be labelled as "local" and yet come from honking huge agribusiness. "Local" is now a marketing phrase. I don't trust it when I see it at Safeway or even Whole Foods.

This is probably the worst written rant I've ever posted. Sorry.

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Pennsylvania, specifically.

I don't know, I think I trust something grown in Pennsylvania more than "Dole organics."

I suppose I would too, at least as an initial reaction when faced with the choice. But for all we know, that magical old-timey farm in PA is slinging loaded Amish organic cotton baby diapers at the crops as fertilizer. And Dole may have the $$$ and the inclination to have state of the art hygienic processing centers.

I don't know really. I do know that it isn't as simple as some would have us believe.

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Here's what local ISN'T: blueberries from Chile, asparagus from Peru, raspberries from Guatemala--state of the art hygiene there?

I understand what you're saying. But often this local vs not-so-local debate concerns the difference between buying spinach from a small farm nearby and a huge farm out in California. Small doesn't necessarily mean it's a better or somehow more virtuous product.

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Here's what local ISN'T: blueberries from Chile, asparagus from Peru, raspberries from Guatemala--state of the art hygiene there?
Is it just the hygiene that worries you? Because the things you mention actually seem fresher flown in than the same trucked in from California over the Rockies and across the Great Plains in a refrigerated truck.

I figure if I am willing (nay, eager) to consume bananas, pineapples, coconuts, dates, coffee, tea, chocolate, and other comestibles from the tropics, as well as European cheeses and olives, where do I draw the line?

Tomatoes from Florida?

Potatoes from Idaho?

Arborio rice from Italy?

Truffles from France?

Salmon from Iceland?

Caviar from Iran?

In short, I don't actually have a "line" -- whatever is freshest is best to me. It's a long way to fly a tomato here from Israel but the local ones won't be ripe until July, and they're gone in September.

It's hard for a local grower, with our relatively short growing season, to compete with places that are warm when our area is cold. I recognize that, but try to make up for it by buying locally when it is feasible. Demand creates supply, as well as vice versa. Since the locals know we want tomatoes, they will grow them.

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Here's what local ISN'T: blueberries from Chile, asparagus from Peru, raspberries from Guatemala--state of the art hygiene there?

IMO, this comment is out of line. Hygiene standards at export packing operations in Chile, Peru, Guatemala, etc. are typically at the same level as those in developed countries, e.g. the U.S. These exporters are sophisticated growers, not little farmers, and for that matter they have to go through more intensive inspections at the US border than are applied to US-sourced produce (some vs. almost none, basically). And frankly, as far as I'm concerned anyone who trusts a little guy in Pennsylvania to be achieving the standards of hygiene routinely reached by the large producers, in the U.S. or elsewhere, is living in a dream world. If you like the taste of his stuff better, fine; you'll seldom get sick no matter who produces what you eat, but the little guy's stuff can't be assumed to be cleaner when it gets into your hands.

And while on the subject of local, the trip down from Pennsylvania or wherever in an unrefrigerated pickup can and will do more damage to freshness than a trip up from Florida (about 16 hours from, say, Orlando to Jessup) in a properly refrigerated semi; there's a lot more to food quality than the closeness of the growing location.

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I think taste is more important that all of the above. I do shop at farmers markets during the summer and sometimes the quality is just not there, as it is sometimes at Whole Foods and other stores. I do buy organic sometimes; although I am not sure it is worth the extra cost because. I really can't taste the difference between produce that's organic and those that are not. Sure it makes you feel good to say you buy local and organic. However, unless you are going to the farm and inspecting the produce yourself, we really don't know what we are getting.

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However, it's really fruit that suffers from being picked unripe, treated, shipped long distances, etc. In this case, it's not just a matter of local vs. shipped. It's a matter of eating seasonal fruit. I don't understand why a place like WFM encourages its customers to buy huge, expensive organic tomatoes in February and March along with plums, peaches and the one kind of strawberry that large farms produce with swollen, hollow, white cottony centers.

If the company continues to maintain that principles govern the food it offers to shoppers, then seasonality ought to be stressed.

I know you and I tend not to buy tomatoes in February, but the vast majority of consumers don't give it a second thought. They demand every vegetable and fruit under the sun all year long. Perhaps one day all food shoppers will enthusiastically purchase nothing but local root vegetables all winter, but I suspect that day will coincide with the day we all give up deoderant and toothpaste and take to wearing animal skins.

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I know you and I tend not to buy tomatoes in February, but the vast majority of consumers don't give it a second thought. They demand every vegetable and fruit under the sun all year long. Perhaps one day all food shoppers will enthusiastically purchase nothing but local root vegetables all winter, but I suspect that day will coincide with the day we all give up deoderant and toothpaste and take to wearing animal skins.
I ain't doing it. While local summer tomatoes are wonderful things, it's nice to be able to offer the kids grape tomatoes in addition to carrots during the winter.
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COnsumer Reports has studied the level of contaminants on domestically produced vs imported fruits and veggies. While US produced organic produce was found to be the overall cleanest, it was only slightly cleaner than foreign organic or foreign conventional. Bring up the rear, far behind, was domestic conventional produce. They were testing for pesticide residues IIRC. The upshot of this is that the story is always more complicated than it seems.

There are crops that are very inefficient to grow in a particular place given the climate, soils, water situation etc. So getting a locally grown product that requires a lot of inputs on the part of the farmer may be no better than a product trucked across the country in terms of total cost of resources involved in the product.

Here is an example from a different field: paper vs plastic bags at groceries. The plastic bag is "bad" from the point of view that it is a petrolium product with little recycling of it being done. It is recyclable but not often recycled. But its distribtion is so efficient that the total use of resources is far less than the paper bag. A truckload of plastic bags holds 10-100 times as much groceries as does a truckload of paper. Plus the paper takes up far more space in landfills (where most end up) and does not break down in practice. So except for paper bags used to bundle your newspaper for recycling, you should us plastic to reduce your footprint.

Right now, if you wnat local greens, they need to be grown in hot houses. Is this environmentally more sensitive than the environmental costs of trucking in greens from Florida, California or California (US or Baja)? I don't know. But the point is it cannot be reasoned by a priori reasoning.

A major organic farming concern set up fields in the Arizona dessert and grew cool weather crops using irigation rights supplied by local Native American tribes. The result was salizination of the fields, water depletion problens from the Colorado water system (85% or so of whose water goes to farming and industrial uses and not homes) and generally was a disaster to the environment and our resources. But it said Organic!

I prefer sustainable. I prefer traditional means of production. I prefer local. I prefer small family owned producers. I prefer Organic.

Probably in that order.

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I know you and I tend not to buy tomatoes in February, but the vast majority of consumers don't give it a second thought. They demand every vegetable and fruit under the sun all year long. Perhaps one day all food shoppers will enthusiastically purchase nothing but local root vegetables all winter, but I suspect that day will coincide with the day we all give up deoderant and toothpaste and take to wearing animal skins.
I do get a bit huffy standing on my organic hand-milled soapbox, so I understand why you felt the need to defend the practice. I recognized the logic behind the policy, too.

If you reread my wordy first post, you'll see I am fine with all of the shipped-in green vegetables, especially when the pickings are slim on a Sunday morning at Dupont Circle. I am grateful to California, Texas, etc. I am also grateful for the frozen food section and for Marion Nestle reminding the country that frozen spinach is not a bad option in the middle of the winter. You don't have to stand there holding tight to the ends of your mountain-lion hide, gnawing on a turnip. The produce section at WFM is the reason I switched from Tenleytown to Georgetown locations and the main reason I don't do all my shopping at a supermarket closer to me.

However, I find the choices the company makes in terms of what it will and will not supply its shoppers very interesting when they're based on nutrition or other health-related factors, ethics and quality.

I am simply trying to say that seasonality of food ought to be a factor, too, when it comes to quality.

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I prefer sustainable. I prefer traditional means of production. I prefer local. I prefer small family owned producers. I prefer Organic.

Probably in that order.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dean, here. I'm no saint--like Heather, I have been known to overlook the place of origin, in the winter, of greenhouse-grown tomatoes and the occasional box of blueberries for a cobbler. But the reason that I brought up the question of hygiene in South and Central American-grown produce is because Al Dente was suggesting that hygiene standards in big, commercial/organic food production and processing operations are more trustworthy than a local Amish farmer, who might be applying used baby diapers to the crops, for all we know. JohnB, who has spent a lot of time in Chile, took offense at my post.

Have we already forgotten how vulnerable everyone in the country felt, when the processor of 80% of the US's bagged salad greens served up a major e-coli outbreak?

A friend of mine and her husband got very sick a few years ago from Guatemala-grown raspberries, which made a whole bunch of people in the DC area sick--and in lots of other places where they were shipped, presumably. And the Mexican green onions, and...and...

Friends and relatives who have lived in Central and South America have told me about soaking all salad greens in chlorine bleach solution or only eating salad greens they grew themselves. Of never eating vegetables unpeeled or uncooked. Why should we trust that large industrial producers in those countries will be able to be scrupulous about hygiene, when large US-based operations are vulnerable?

The more traditional-practicing farmer only applies composted or well-aged animal manure to his fields--fresh manure is too hot and will burn germinating seeds or more mature plants. The heat produced as manure composts or decomposes kills bacteria. But in places in the world where irrigation is employed and water is contaminated...

However, in the mid-Atlantic, where farmers depend on rain to water their crops for the most part, irrigation water contamination is not an issue. Even if the Amish farmer is including a little bit of baby-poop in his compost pile, along with the cow, chicken, goat and pig poop, I'd trust the integrity of his produce far more than produce from an agro-factory in Guatemala.

And the argument that produce flown in from long distances is often in better condition than that which arrives in a truck from Pennsylvania is akin to maintaining that compressed sawdust logs from a faraway factory make better firewood than oak from Central Virginia, because it stacks in a neater pile and won't give you splinters. Commercial produce varieties are all about uniformity, looks and surviving the inevitable bruising of the shipping ordeal, and not at all about flavor. There's precious little heat in those sawdust logs, just lots of chemicals to make pretty-looking flames. And don't forget about the fossil fuels burned in the production and shipping long distance of all those far-flung consumables.

Lots of good reasons that local is better on so many levels.

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But the reason that I brought up the question of hygiene in South and Central American-grown produce is because Al Dente was suggesting that hygiene standards in big, commercial/organic food production and processing operations are more trustworthy than a local Amish farmer, who might be applying used baby diapers to the crops, for all we know.

I'm not suggesting that either one of them is more trustworthy than the other. I am suggesting it's very difficult to know.

I'd like to also suggest that there are a lot of consumers out there who are going to automatically associate the words "locally grown" with wholesome, eco-sensitive, labor force compassionate, back to nature oriented products, while foreign produced kumquats must be from Soul-Crushing Amalgamated Corporation International and grown in Northern Stanistan on slash and burn farms, and harvested by slave labor in fields that double as sewage treatment facilities. That simply ain't the case.

Besides, there isn't enough locally grown product out there to sustain our consumption.

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I'm not suggesting that either one of them is more trustworthy than the other. I am suggesting it's very difficult to know.

I'd like to also suggest that there are a lot of consumers out there who are going to automatically associate the words "locally grown" with wholesome, eco-sensitive, labor force compassionate, back to nature oriented products, while foreign produced kumquats must be from Soul-Crushing Amalgamated Corporation International and grown in Northern Stanistan on slash and burn farms, and harvested by slave labor in fields that double as sewage treatment facilities. That simply ain't the case.

Besides, there isn't enough locally grown product out there to sustain our consumption.

Not to mention that I have eaten a bunch of overpriced and mediocre tasting fruits and veggies at the local farms from the area markets.

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Not to mention that I have eaten a bunch of overpriced and mediocre tasting fruits and veggies at the local farms from the area markets.

You can go back to the farmer the next week, and tell him/her that the veg you were sold last week was mediocre, disappointing or just plain lousy, and my bet is that they will try to make it up to you somehow. At the very least, they will know that something was wrong with what they sold. That has been my experience at the Dupont Market. That's one of the many good things about buying directly from a farmer--you have a personal relationship with the person growing your food. Try telling Dole that their raspberries had no flavor.

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You can go back to the farmer the next week, and tell him/her that the veg you were sold last week was mediocre, disappointing or just plain lousy, and my bet is that they will try to make it up to you somehow. At the very least, they will know that something was wrong with what they sold. That has been my experience at the Dupont Market. That's one of the many good things about buying directly from a farmer--you have a personal relationship with the person growing your food. Try telling Dole that their raspberries had no flavor.

Yes, you can tell him his stuff is no good, and have a personal relationship, but really, in the end what good does it do you or him? His tree is what it is and anything that comes off it is going to be "no good" if it's no good. His choice of what varieties he will grow are made for many reasons. His possibilities to change are limited, for lots of reasons.

It's fine to shop local. In fact, for me it's one of the best things about being where I now am in North Carolina, since there is so much locally grown stuff here and it's so easy to get---there are produce stands all along the roads here, and they are selling out of fields right behind them. You can often do U pick. I even have to drive right through a tomato farm to get home (yes I've been tempted, but have not engaged in praedial larceny, at least so far :o ).

My problem with these discussions is that so often they get preachy, i.e. local stuff is the best and the cleanest (questionable) and everybody should only buy local stuff. But that is useless advice applied broadly, because it's simply not possible for local farmers to supply more than a tiny, sporadic, niche, proportion of what's needed to keep an urban area going. And that's the way it is going to be unless we all abandon cities and go back to the country. History does not support the view that that would give us a better, or tastier, diet. Urbanization, like everything, involves trade-offs, and getting (most of) one's food from a long way away is, ineluctably, one of them.

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My problem with these discussions is that so often they get preachy, i.e. local stuff is the best and the cleanest (questionable) and everybody should only buy local stuff. But that is useless advice applied broadly, because it's simply not possible for local farmers to supply more than a tiny, sporadic, niche, proportion of what's needed to keep an urban area going. And that's the way it is going to be unless we all abandon cities and go back to the country. History does not support the view that that would give us a better, or tastier, diet. Urbanization, like everything, involves trade-offs, and getting (most of) one's food from a long way away is, ineluctably, one of them.

It isn't useless, and we don't have to abandon cities, because if more people are interested in supporting local farms, farming within three hundred miles of a city may once again be economically feasible. All those small farms in the mid-Atlantic and Piedmont that supposedly could only grow tobacco, because they aren't big enough for cattle or wheat or soybeans might be able to continue as farms with marketable crops instead of turning into housing tracts and strip malls. The more that people learn about the many benefits of locally grown food, and the many problems associated with industrial food production, the more demand there will be, despite the fact that mass-produced food might be found that is cheaper. It will not all suddenly change overnight, but there are many movements for social change that begin small and then become accepted by a large percentage of people. This is definitely an idea that is growing and is not just an indulgence of an effete few.

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It isn't useless, and we don't have to abandon cities, because if more people are interested in supporting local farms, farming within three hundred miles of a city may once again be economically feasible. All those small farms in the mid-Atlantic and Piedmont that supposedly could only grow tobacco, because they aren't big enough for cattle or wheat or soybeans might be able to continue as farms with marketable crops instead of turning into housing tracts and strip malls. The more that people learn about the many benefits of locally grown food, and the many problems associated with industrial food production, the more demand there will be, despite the fact that mass-produced food might be found that is cheaper. It will not all suddenly change overnight, but there are many movements for social change that begin small and then become accepted by a large percentage of people. This is definitely an idea that is growing and is not just an indulgence of an effete few.

You may be right, and perhaps it would be a better world if you were, but I continue to be a doubter. If those "small farms" are to become "economic," they will sow the seeds of their own failure; they will have to be bigger, and take on the characteristics of the ones you don't like. In any case, climatic factors in the middle Atlantic will always work against their economics compared with the Floridas and Californias of the world (growing season), who can ship north and east very cheaply and cheaper all the time. In short, I don't believe we'll see a large-scale "small farm" sector producing fresh vegetables and fruits in the mid-Atlantic in our lifetimes. In fact, I would predict the complete opposite--we'll see less and less produced in the US and more and more coming in from elsewhere, as transportation continues to become cheaper and as the relative price of farm labor increases in the US, particularly if our Guatemalan lettuce loading Prez has his way with the sanctity of our borders, and as those back-to-the-soil types who are setting up those local farms get tired of the drudgery of rural life (I grew up on a chicken farm--trust me I know about drudgery). Sorry, call me a pessimist but I don't believe local production will ever become more than a very tiny niche, and simply will never be a material contributor to our food supply.

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call me a pessimist but I don't believe local production will ever become more than a very tiny niche, and simply will never be a material contributor to our food supply.
Not pessimism. Expect the worst, hope for the best realism. As noble as the propagation of little farms for lots of people may be, its exclusivity and limited scale maintains demand and upholds their personable appeal. More farms would be terrific but nature is unpredictable while selling potato farms to developers is gauranteed money. Though their trades are in jeapordy, farmers' markets are crowded and their highly sought products encourage competitive small/local sensitivities in restauration. The average American knows as much about the origins and production problems of their industrial food as they do about hockey and politics. More big, new, cheap & fast is the M.O. for the many, leaving farm-stand sundries and antique FIAT 500 “sport” cars for the rest. While the nutritional values of industrial food may have limited health benefits, ethics remain physically harmless and most consumers can rely on the convenience, cost, comfort, consistency and familiarity of commercial products without indignation in lieu of limited time, cash and care.
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If those "small farms" are to become "economic," they will sow the seeds of their own failure; they will have to be bigger, and take on the characteristics of the ones you don't like. In any case, climatic factors in the middle Atlantic will always work against their economics compared with the Floridas and Californias of the world (growing season), who can ship north and east very cheaply and cheaper all the time.

<snip>

In short, I don't believe we'll see a large-scale "small farm" sector producing fresh vegetables and fruits in the mid-Atlantic in our lifetimes. I Sorry, call me a pessimist but I don't believe local production will ever become more than a very tiny niche, and simply will never be a material contributor to our food supply.

John, if you have not already, I would encourage you to read _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ by Michael Pollan, in particular the section about Joel Saletan, a local "grass farmer" who reclaimed a spent, worn-out farm in the Shenandoah Valley and who is making a comfortable living running a sustainable farm. He has become something of a guru to others who would like to live a similar life. I'm afraid that you are limited by your traditional capitalist ideology that insists that in order to be profitable, a business must always seek to grow larger. Saletan resists that pressure, even though what his own farm can supply and still maintain its functional homeostasis cannot meet all the demand that exists for his products. He is not seeking to get rich--what a < :o gasp> un-American idea! Instead, he has joined together with other sustainable farmers to meet the demand that is growing in the area for meat, eggs and produce that are raised in ecologically conscious, sustainable, organic and humane ways.

The "all-or-nothing" thinking-- which says that if this type of farming cannot provide all the food that our society needs, then it has no point--is regressive and terribly defeatist. And a disservice to future generations that will inherit the earth we currently inhabit. I can think of a bunch of cliches right now--the journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step and all that-- but even if we cannot or choose not to become farmers, the collective power of many people making small changes in the choices they make (like devoting a percentage of their food budget to purchases at farmers' markets or buying hybrid vehicles) and pressuring the government to support and incentivize the development and use of alternative forms of energy can make a difference. No one is saying it will be easy, but don't give up yet!

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This is a great discussion. I admire the passion evidenced here.

Personally, I buy a combination of grocery store, farmers market and Coscto, depending on convenience and the time of year. I frequent the farmers markets weekly in the warmer months, and I believe strongly in supporting them. I enjoy knowing where my food was grown and who brings it to the market. It doesn't necessarily taste better in some instances, but I feel good about spending my money there. Also I feel more connected to my community.

Safeway has been carrying thier "O" organics line. I recently purchased "O" mixed greens, which has a fantastic variety in one container, only rivaled by blending your own mix at the markets. Everything was fresh and crisp.

Are these organic products carried by Safeway as good (in taste and for the environment) and virtuous as the smaller, local grower/producer?

Has anyone else tried these "O" products?

btw...Costco also has been an increasing number of "organic" products. They also mass produce tomatoes and peppers, both of which I find good, especially the "campari" tomatoes. It's the only way to go in the winter and can actuall be enjoyed on a salad.

Costcos' monthly magazine recently had an article on these hothouse producers. I'll try to find a link and post it.

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John, if you have not already, I would encourage you to read _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ by Michael Pollan, in particular the section about Joel Saletan, a local "grass farmer" who reclaimed a spent, worn-out farm in the Shenandoah Valley and who is making a comfortable living running a sustainable farm. He has become something of a guru to others who would like to live a similar life. I'm afraid that you are limited by your traditional capitalist ideology that insists that in order to be profitable, a business must always seek to grow larger. Saletan resists that pressure, even though what his own farm can supply and still maintain its functional homeostasis cannot meet all the demand that exists for his products. He is not seeking to get rich--what a < :o gasp> un-American idea! Instead, he has joined together with other sustainable farmers to meet the demand that is growing in the area for meat, eggs and produce that are raised in ecologically conscious, sustainable, organic and humane ways.

The "all-or-nothing" thinking-- which says that if this type of farming cannot provide all the food that our society needs, then it has no point--is regressive and terribly defeatist. And a disservice to future generations that will inherit the earth we currently inhabit. I can think of a bunch of cliches right now--the journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step and all that-- but even if we cannot or choose not to become farmers, the collective power of many people making small changes in the choices they make (like devoting a percentage of their food budget to purchases at farmers' markets or buying hybrid vehicles) and pressuring the government to support and incentivize the development and use of alternative forms of energy can make a difference. No one is saying it will be easy, but don't give up yet!

I'm not "giving up" Zora, nor am I limited by "traditional capitalist ideology." Ideology isn't the point. The difference between us is you are focused on the demand side, while I'm talking about the supply side (does that make me a "supply-sider"??). Sure there's a market for the things you're talking about. And there will always be a few like Saletan supplying those like you who are seeking that out, and I say God bless you both. The problem is, anecdotes aside, I don't believe there can or will ever be sufficient production like his to make a material difference. It's not a question of big companies, big growth, and big profits. It's the reality of small farming in a tough climate. Very few people are going to continue to do it for love. It's extremely hard work and very risky, not romantic as it's often portrayed by those who haven't ever done it. It works sort of OK for a while, then one summer some new pest, or a disease, or a herd of deer, or a drought, attacks your crop and you wind up the year barely able to make ends meet. After one or two years like that is when you decide to move to the city and sell insurance instead, and the truth is something like that is where most such operations wind up. It that sense, it's not sustainable after all.

My perspective on what I buy is that I look for good quality and freshness. But I'm an economist, and an economic animal--I really don't care much where it was grown or whether it's "organic." I can get what I want from big growers, or little ones, close ones or far ones, and to me it really doesn't matter much as long as it's good. This is not to say I don't care at all about how it's grown. My thing is humane treatment of farm animals, a non-economic consideration. I stopped eating veal maybe 30 years ago for that reason, and I'm getting less and less happy with pork given current inhumane production systems. I've also recently switched to much more costly non-cage eggs for that reason; we didn't have cages when I was growing up, but in those days, the late 50's, life was simpler--our little operation (16,000 birds) couldn't begin to be competitive today.

But let's face it. You and I are proceeding from different philosophical foundations. You bought one of the first Toyota Prius's produced. I bought one of the first Ford Excursions produced. That says something. But we can keep talking.

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But let's face it. You and I are proceeding from different philosophical foundations. You bought one of the first Toyota Prius's produced. I bought one of the first Ford Excursions produced. That says something. But we can keep talking.

Interesting parallel. I can totally identify with the negative gut reaction people are having when they think about full blown agro-business. But one needs to dig a little deeper to arrive at some semblance of truth. Similarly, my blood begins to boil when I see someone driving a gas guzzling monstrosity. But then I realize that perhaps they have a good reason to drive such a thing. Maybe they have 12 kids and frequently hall trailers full of cattle or construction equipment. It isn't necessarily the case that they're self-centered, status-conscious... uh... people.

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Safeway has been carrying thier "O" organics line. I recently purchased "O" mixed greens, which has a fantastic variety in one container, only rivaled by blending your own mix at the markets. Everything was fresh and crisp.

Are these organic products carried by Safeway as good (in taste and for the environment) and virtuous as the smaller, local grower/producer?

Actually, the O salad greens are the grown and packaged by the same outfit that packages 80% of the salad greens in the U.S. They are no different than the Earthbound Organics line sold in Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, just with a different label. The O Organics spinach was recalled in the recent e coli situation, which involved the company.

Michael Pollan also writes about them in _Omnivore's Dilemma_, and the company is a case study in the potential for problems represented by industrial organic food.

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Zoramarg's & JB:

Assuming there were to be an influx of small/local farms, where, to whom and when would they distribute?

How would increased competition effect the productivity, humility, quantity, quality and price?

At what point does the increased concentration of product negatively affect the producer?

There is a natural balance between supply and demand. The closure of a neighborhood video rental store makes me wonder if the Netflixish human convenience evolution will do to primordial food staples as it has done to the telegraph and analogue telephone. Consumption of hamburgers and pedestrian comestibles at houses that offer farmer direct produce might be an indication of consumers' selfishness over principle.

If there is money to be made, surely someone will pursue it. I like the system the way it is.

While I don't have the daylight hours to pursue smallocal markets for my pantry, I choose to shop local MTP grocers and sustain myself with their impersonal veg/protein medleys and hot-sauce-in -every-aisle calypso raga so long as my monies support the community.

In Denmark there is an organic farmer to consumer system of sorts in which the consumer is delivered to doorstep organic products weekly (vegetable, grain, legume, protein) in function of the selection and monthly fee paid. Does that exist here?

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In Denmark there is an organic farmer to consumer system of sorts in which the consumer is delivered to doorstep organic products weekly (vegetable, grain, legume, protein) in function of the selection and monthly fee paid. Does that exist here?
There are CSAs but they can't provide everything. Grocery stores are still needed.
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There are CSAs but they can't provide everything. Grocery stores are still needed.

I actually tried a CSA once many years ago (BAM!---Take that Zora :o ). It was not a completely satisfactory experience. I did it thinking mainly of getting lots of fresh corn. Unfortunately, no corn arrived, and the fellow explained the deer had gotten to the shoots and thus, regrettably, no corn that year. We got endless quantities of swiss chard tho--apparently he was good at growing that. I never did come up with a good way to use it all and most ended up getting thrown.

There is an organic grower down here that has a CSA program. We got in on the tail end after arriving last August; it was OK, and we'll probably continue it this year, but it's expensive, and I remain unconvinced it's the way to go as long as we can use all those roadside stands anyway.

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A timely set of radio programs on CBC Radio recently about this.

The program "Ideas" has recently run detailed segments on organic farming and the different sides of that coin. I'm personally still not convinced that organic is necessarily healthier or, if it is, worth the price. And while local doesn't mean quality, it stands a better chance of meaning fresh, which goes a long way in my books.

And as far as Whole Foods produce is concerned, it doesn't matter because whether it's local, organic, or grown in the blood of babies. Whole Foods has taken a dramatic tumble in terms of quality. I'd rather buy the conventional stuff at Super H.

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And the argument that produce flown in from long distances is often in better condition than that which arrives in a truck from Pennsylvania is akin to maintaining that compressed sawdust logs from a faraway factory make better firewood than oak from Central Virginia, because it stacks in a neater pile and won't give you splinters. Commercial produce varieties are all about uniformity, looks and surviving the inevitable bruising of the shipping ordeal, and not at all about flavor. There's precious little heat in those sawdust logs, just lots of chemicals to make pretty-looking flames. And don't forget about the fossil fuels burned in the production and shipping long distance of all those far-flung consumables.

Lots of good reasons that local is better on so many levels.

But that doesn't imply that non local is bad. Del Cabo farms is from Baja California. They plant heirloom varieties of tomatoes and herbs. They use a sustainable madel of production including paying living wages to their workers. They use fairly low impact packaging and their product tastes great. I would wholeheartedly use their product at Dino if I could get it from my current suppliers. I loved seeing it a Whole Foods and bought it myself.

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Once again I reveal myself as a cynical paranoid. I don't believe the Whole Foods fantasy. The theatre asks me to

believe that perfect lettuce (organic) is over here, and perfect lettuce (conventional) is over there. The shopper

is asked to create her or his own vision of what those labels mean. Buy some things and feel good about it.

Sometimes I do shop at WF, but I think most of their public relations image is bull.

Gradually, "food awareness" has increased, but we still have a long way to go. When the e.coli concerns in

California spinach happened, a farmer in Virginia could not sell his crop.

In a strange twist. I know someone who will not buy corn on the cob unless it has corn worms. She uses that

as a test of quality. Not going to ever find corn with worms in the WF.

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But that doesn't imply that non local is bad. Del Cabo farms is from Baja California. They plant heirloom varieties of tomatoes and herbs. They use a sustainable madel of production including paying living wages to their workers. They use fairly low impact packaging and their product tastes great. I would wholeheartedly use their product at Dino if I could get it from my current suppliers. I loved seeing it a Whole Foods and bought it myself.

I specifically reject "all or nothing" points of view. I maintain that there are personal and societal benefits of encouraging the proliferation of local, humane and sustainable food production in proximity to population centers despite the likelihood it will never provide all of the food we want/need in this country. That doesn't mean that all non-local food is bad, or that it is realistic to believe that a lot of people in northern climes will return to eating only home-canned food and root-cellared carrots, potatoes and turnips in the winter. But we now know that there are environmental and potential public health consequences to the concentration, location and mass production of food, both conventional and organic. Not to mention the ethical issues involved in the mass production of beef, veal, pork, chicken and eggs. We are possessors of great ingenuity. As long as maximum profit is the sole measure of business decisions made by large food producers, we will see environmental degradation, quality control problems, and inhumane conditions for animals and workers. But we have seen that pressure from consumers has resulted in changes in practices, in many different realms of food production. And Whole Foods, which trumpets its support of humane, fair trade and organic food is the fastest growing grocery chain the in the country. With encouragement (or pressure), Whole Foods may return to their earlier practice of retailing local produce rather than relying primarily on centrally distributed produce shipped from long distances, even during the summer. Best of all worlds?

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In a strange twist. I know someone who will not buy corn on the cob unless it has corn worms. She uses that

as a test of quality. Not going to ever find corn with worms in the WF.

:o

I hate to say it, but yes you will. Bugs get in the produce at WFM just like they do everywhere else.

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The average American knows as much about the origins and production problems of their industrial food as they do about hockey and politics.
Broke my heart not to be able to find actual Creole garlic in New Orleans or Baton Rouge anymore. They hype "Creole garlic" this and "Creole garlic" that, but the garlic in the grocery stores is the same silverskin stuff we get from China, mostly.

And when you ask about it, nobody knows what you're talking about.

Not that Creole garlic has vanished from the face of the earth or anything. It's being grown by niche growers.

I wouldn't label these types of growers "organic", although some are, or "local", some are, some aren't, except maybe by the definition of 500 miles. They're preserving our agricultural diversity and heritage from extinction by growing things that big agribusinesses can't make a good enough profit selling, but are well worth growing, buying, and eating.

This is a trend for which the trend line is trending upwards, maybe mostly in urban areas but not just there. We have the money and the population concentration to support them here, but the Virginia Slow Food Convivium, with a membership centered around Charlottesville, is more active than DC.

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Broke my heart not to be able to find actual Creole garlic in New Orleans or Baton Rouge anymore. They hype "Creole garlic" this and "Creole garlic" that, but the garlic in the grocery stores is the same silverskin stuff we get from China, mostly.

And when you ask about it, nobody knows what you're talking about.

Not that Creole garlic has vanished from the face of the earth or anything. It's being grown by niche growers.

I wouldn't label these types of growers "organic", although some are, or "local", some are, some aren't, except maybe by the definition of 500 miles. They're preserving our agricultural diversity and heritage from extinction by growing things that big agribusinesses can't make a good enough profit selling, but are well worth growing, buying, and eating.

This is a trend for which the trend line is trending upwards, maybe mostly in urban areas but not just there. We have the money and the population concentration to support them here, but the Virginia Slow Food Convivium, with a membership centered around Charlottesville, is more active than DC.

Here's an interesting piece on Creole garlic (as well as every other kind it seems).

http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/creoles.htm

He says, however, that it's almost unknown in Louisiana, but the local chef's there ought to get with it (the Creole name refers is to its Spanish-Caribbean origin, not Louisiana). If you click around his site you'll also find a link to a YouTube piece done on him by that Texas Country Reporter guy who did the piece on chicken fried bacon that was linked here on DR some time back. Great stuff.

I think he qualifies as "local," at least in a spiritual sort of way.

Edited to fix the earlier reference to "country" fried bacon to the correct "chicken" fried bacon.

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Here's an interesting piece on Creole garlic (as well as every other kind it seems).

http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/creoles.htm

He says, however, that it's almost unknown in Louisiana, but the local chef's there ought to get with it (the Creole name refers is to its Spanish-Caribbean origin, not Louisiana). If you click around his site you'll also find a link to a YouTube piece done on him by that Texas Country Reporter guy who did the piece on country fried bacon that was linked here on DR some time back. Great stuff.

I think he qualifies as "local," at least in a spiritual sort of way.

Local in a spiritual sort of way is a good way of putting it. Not the mot juste I was reaching for, but good.

When we were still living in Louisiana, I would come across Creole garlic from time to time, and never gave it a moment's thought. The skin was red, or burgundy, or purple, and the flavor spicier. No idea where it came from. It was just there.

I assumed that when I went back to Louisiana, it would be available everywhere, just like tasso and andouille and crawfish and all the other wonderful local foods. Louisiana yams and pecans and satsumas. LSU ag center and places like that put a lot of money and effort into preserving local foods.

I even assumed that, when I couldn't find it, the growers were wiped out by Katrina.

But nobody had an answer. Somebody must, I just couldn't find them.

Like the heirloom apples at the Whole Food in Baton Rouge. They were selling a couple dozen heirloom varieties in October -- like Famuese and Arkansas Black and Cox's Orange Pippin and Esophus Spitzenberg. Nobody in the store knew where they came from. The decision was made at corporate headquarters. Nobody in Northern VA had any idea what I was talking about when I asked why the local stores didn't have them. All I "know" is that apples like that don't grow well south of Virginia.

Most people punch their timeclock, do their time, and go home to what really interests them.

It's up to us to keep them engaged in this endeavor, to try to teach them to love what they do, to take an interest.

The food is out there, we have to keep asking for it.

(BTW -- in the beginning in Louisiana, before there were Cajuns, there were Creoles, many of whom were Spanish/Caribbean in origin. Very complex culture. The French settled various trading outposts on the banks of the Mississippi decades before New Orleans was founded in 1718, and the Acadian diaspora from Nova Scotia was 1763, after the French and Indian War aka Seven Years War. Also 1763, the French Bourbon king gave Louisiana to his Spanish Bourbon cousin, so it's accurate to say that the Spanish were ruling Louisiana about the same time as the Cajuns showed up. And of course the Spanish started settlement in the Caribbean in 1493 or so, more than a century before Jamestown. And Louisiana was always a place of refuge for Latinos from Central and South America and the Caribbean, fleeing various and sundry revolutions. And they all brought their favorite dishes and cuisine.)

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