By Shana Weddington
“Eating is an agricultural act. We all farm by proxy.” -Wendell Berry
The local food movement, which began in the 1970s as backlash to the shift in federal farm policy, has seen an increase in popularity in the last decade. All across the U.S., farm-to-table restaurants and year-round farmer’s markets are cropping up and gaining popularity. In Michigan, we have seen a revived interest in supporting the local food economy through the increase of locally grown/produced goods available in big box stores, a boom in new local breweries and wineries, and a new trend in 100% locally sourced grocery stores, like The Local Grocer in Flint, Mich.
The term “locavore” has been coined to describe people who focus on eating locally whether it’s from their own garden, a local CSA farm, or being conscientious while shopping at the big box store. Becoming a locavore begins by inquiry and critical thinking of what our food is, where it comes from, and why it matters. So no matter where you are in relationship to your local food economy, here are two of the biggest reasons to become a locavore.
Future Food Security
It’s no secret that the industrial farm complex contributes massively to pollution and farm animal cruelty, and despite the propaganda of “industrial farms ending hunger,” an estimated 40 million Americans experience food insecurity. Only 7 percent of money spent on food goes back into your local food economy, which with the majority of farmers edging towards retirement age, is an issue that requires our attention and consideration. How are we to encourage a new generation of farmers to take up the arduous task of growing food for us when both federal money and local consumer money goes primarily to supporting commodity crops, like corn and soy?
The phrase “vote with your money” rings in my ears as I peruse the aisles of the grocery store or talk with the farmers at the local farmer’s market. It is estimated that Americans spend 11 percent of their income on food, which is a little more than what most people save for retirement each month. By being conscientious consumers and spending a portion of that 11 percent on locally grown or produced foods, we actively contribute to ensuring that fresh, affordable and healthy food will be consistently available to us and future generations.
Locally produced foods, whether from 10 miles away or 100 miles away, tends to come to us in its unadulterated, unprocessed form; and chances are there are less middlemen. This means that we are less likely to consume stabilizers, toxins, additives, food colorings, or other extras; and if there’s a question or concern about something, we have a clear avenue in which to gain insight into production practices. The practice of eating as a locavore lends itself towards eating more relationally, more balanced, and more mindfully. The tenets of maintaining health are grounded in connection, balance, and mindfulness, so it’s no wonder why people who take up the torch for eating locally often report increased energy, better sleep, a clearer sense of purpose/belonging in the world, a reduction in chronic disease/ailments, and a marked improvement in stress levels.
There are many other reasons for eating locally and deeper benefits to be gained besides the aforementioned. But don’t take it from me; try it for yourself! Take an assessment of your current food sources and then start with some of the following resources to find local food producers in your area:
- Taste the Local Difference: A local food marketing agency that offers a searchable directory of local food producers, restaurants and retailers in Michigan. localdifference.org
- The Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA): This website has a searchable directory for farmers markets throughout the state. mifma.org
- The USDA Local Food Directory: A directory service provided by the Agricultural Marketing Service. ams.usda.gov/services/local-regional/food-directories-listings
While acquainting yourself with your local food economy, dive even deeper with one of these great reads (or listens for you audio book lovers):
- “Blessing the Hands that Feed Us,” 2014, by Vicki Robin
- “Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat,” 2011, by Tanya Denckla Cobb
- “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” 2006, by Michael Pollan
- “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It,” 2010, by Anna Lappe
Shana Weddington is a Michigan-based herbalist, writer and local food systems champion. Recognizing the impact that herbs and diet had on her own health, Shana dove deep into study and practice over a decade ago and has primarily worked with the youth and elder communities. Now a graduate of The Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine’s Clinical Intensive Program, Shana is growing a community-based herbal practice in Chelsea, Mich. You can find Shana teaching classes, offering consults, and hosting community events at Agricole Farm Stop in Chelsea.