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Food prices soar: locavores, rejoice. March 22, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As usual, we Americans don’t know how lucky we are. While people in some countries spend as much as 70% of their annual income just putting food on the table, we typically just spend 10% of our income on food. But the pundits are proclaiming that this is about to change, and change dramatically.

I’ve been expecting this since gas prices started shooting up. Gas, after all, is what enables us to fly, truck, and otherwise ship food here from abroad and across the country. If it suddenly costs more to ship stuff because of rising gas prices, the costs are bound to be passed along to the consumer, and that means us.

This is bad news for most of us—especially for folks like me and our friend Ben who are on a tight budget—but it’s really bad news for people who insist on eating strawberries and asparagus in November and watermelon and corn on the cob in March. The more out-of-season a food is in your area, the more it’s a luxury, likely to be shipped in from afar. We Americans are so used to having cheap tomatoes in December and grapes in April that we’re not used to thinking of out-of-season produce in the same category as lobster and caviar, but it is. Finally, we may be about to find that out.

But sure enough, this cloud has a silver lining. It may drive home the point that folks who’ve been trying for at least a decade to persuade us to support local agriculture and locally made artisanal foods have been making: Food grown locally and eaten in season requires minimal gasoline to produce and ship. Yes, it’s a major adjustment for most Americans to eat the way their grandparents did back in the day: asparagus, radishes, peas, and strawberries in spring; tomatoes, corn, beans, and melons in summer; potatoes, winter squash and grapes in fall; keeper crops like onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, apples, turnips and rutabagas, pumpkins, and those potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash in winter.

No asparagus, watermelon, green beans, and strawberries in winter?!! Yes, all of the above, if you’re willing to preserve them in season: pickled asparagus, green beans, and watermelon rinds; frozen strawberries, asparagus, and green beans; dried beans and strawberries; strawberry jam; canned green beans. Eating locally need not mean deprivation between growing seasons, but there is a trade-off, and that trade-off is the time spent preserving food when it’s cheap and plentiful versus the cost of buying food out of season. You’ll need to learn how to “put up” food like Great-Grandma did during the Depression, and you probably won’t have generations of relatives lining up to show you how. But books, step-by-step online instructions and videos, community colleges, cooking schools, and your local CSA (community-supported organic growers) can all step in to fill the gap.

Eating locally also involves finding local sources of goods you might otherwise buy from afar. Our friend Ben and I are very lucky in this regard, living as we do in farm country/wine country/Amish country in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. There are five vineyards almost within walking distance of us (one actually is within walking distance), and Yeungling brewery is local. We have four farmers’ markets and numerous farm stands, plus a marvelous organic CSA, within a 20-mile radius.

We can buy homemade cheeses, jams, jellies, and so on from the farmers’ markets or from local farms, along with produce, fruit of all kinds, mushrooms (it’s amazing how many kinds are locally grown), baked goods, herbs, etc.etc. Eggs, raw and pasteurized cows’ and goats’ milk, cream, butter, yogurt, chicken, beef, and every conceivable kind of meat, both fresh and made into sausage and the like are close at hand as well. The farmer just down the road will even deliver!

Admittedly, we don’t take advantage of all of this, because we grow and make so much of our own food. (Let me just note again that raising a few backyard chickens for eggs is easy and fun!) But I do take advantage of local bounty whenever I need to, buying free-range eggs in the off-season when our own hens aren’t laying, and buying the raw materials I need to cook and preserve my own food: raw milk to make yogurt, flour for bread, apples for sauce and butter, paste tomatoes in bulk for sauces and salsas, cukes for my famous sweet/hot pickles, and so on. And I must say, it’s hard to beat Amish butter and cheese, or a Chambourcin from Pinnacle Ridge.

Not that I’m gloating, I’m just lucky. But I’d be willing to bet that, wherever you live, you could find locally grown produce and local artisanal foods. In the past, the cost of these foods versus mass-produced and mass-shipped stuff has meant that people needed to make a real commitment, either to their communities or to the freshest, healthiest organic produce and products or both, to support their own neighbors’ efforts. Our friend Ben and I are hoping that rising gas prices will finally bring about a revolution in our thinking and eating that will enhance our health, restore our connection to nature, and support our communities. God knows, it’s about time.

             ‘Til next time,




1. h.ibrahim - March 23, 2011

when I come in the summer you will have to take me to all these places!

Ha! Will do!

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