Choosing Local and Organic for your Family


There are many values I hope to instill in my child. Kindness, generosity, respect... lots of values that focus on relationships between people. Just as important to me though is a set of values when dealing with the environment, and more specifically their food choices.

Thankfully more attention than ever is being turned back to one of our most fundamental needs. I think it's a shame that we can no longer just trust that the manufacturers have our best nutritional interests in mind, but really folks who are we kidding? For them it's about shelf life, "mouth feel",  colors, a hopped up sugar or salt appeal, all branded with your children's favorite characters. Oh, and lets not forget cheap.

Before getting started let's just come to an agreement, eating better can cost more, but there are definitely some options when keeping the grocery bill in check while putting healthier food on our plates. With so many families struggling currently the cost of food is more of a determining factor than what it will impart to our bodies. As parents it's our M.O. to put our needs last, but when we realize what we are bringing home from the store each week is mainly for our children, start researching what those ingredients are, look at food making practices (as in Food, Inc. Super-size Me, Food Fight, The Future of Food) the distance our food is traveling,  how can we not make this our most urgent priority? We are keepers of our child's bodies only for so long. There are no do-overs for a good, healthy start.

Let's start with the supermarket first. Begin with shifting your dairy, meat and produce to organic. These commodities contain the highest levels of additives, hormones, non-vegetarian diets (meaning they are feeding animals other animal bi-products), antibiotics and carry the highest impact on the environment in the form of water consumption, pesticide and herbicide use, water contamination.

Next, on everything else that boxed or packaged, the shorter the ingredient list the better. For me it's never been about calorie count or even fat content as some very healthy foods are high in both. Real, true honest to goodness ingredients in the food I buy is more important. Basically the point of convience foods is you would make it if only you had the time. Yet, if there are ingredients in it you wouldn't, or couldn't because you have no idea what they are, use IF you had the time to make it, well, in my opinion that's not something that needs to make it into your child's stomach.

One of the best resources here in Asheville I can name for getting cost-friendly organic food in you home is Amazing Savings. They get bungled boxes, flavors that didn't sell as well, and products that were over-ordered and not selling as quickly as needed. Especially for your children's cereals and snackables. Also, becoming familiar with places like French Broad Food CoOp will teach you about buying some of your staples in bulk and getting a great price there rather than pre-boxed amounts of such things as flours, sugars, nuts, pastas, beans. 

Moving on to choices that really move your food dollars to the right channels is buying locally. The Farmer's Market, local farms that ethically raise a variety of meat, such as Hickory Nut Gap Farm, or joining one of the many CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) will not only directly benefit the health of your family but your local environment, sparing that many more products being shipped from far distances. I really enjoyed the 10 reasons to buy local shared by Appalachian Sustainable Project:

1. Locally grown food tastes better - Food grown in your own community was probably picked within the past day or two. It's crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor. Several studies have shown that the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. In a week-long (or more) delay from harvest to dinner table, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality.

2. Local produce is better for you - A recent study showed that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Food that is frozen or canned soon after harvest is actually more nutritious than some "fresh" produce that has been on the truck or supermarket shelf for a week

3. Local food preserves genetic diversity - In the modern industrial agricultural system, varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment; for a tough skin that can survive packing and shipping; and for an ability to have a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid varieties of each fruit and vegetable meet those rigorous demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown. Local farms, in contrast, grow a huge number of varieties to provide a long season of harvest, an array of eye-catching colors, and the best flavors. Many varieties are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, because they taste good. These old varieties contain genetic material from hundreds or even thousands of years of human selection; they may someday provide the genes needed to create varieties that will thrive in a changing climate.

4. Local food tends to be GMO-free - Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to large factory-style farms. Local farmers don't typically have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn't use it even if they could. A June 2001 survey by ABC News showed that 93% of Americans want labels on genetically modified food - most so that they can avoid it. If you are opposed to eating bioengineered food, you can rest assured that locally grown produce was bred as nature intended.

5. Local food supports local farm families - With fewer than 1 million Americans now claiming farming as their primary occupation, farmers are a vanishing breed. And no wonder - commodity prices are at historic lows, often below the cost of production. The farmer now gets less than 10 cents of the retail food dollar. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food - which means farm families can afford to stay on the farm, doing the work they love.

6. Local food builds community - When you buy direct from the farmer, you are re-establishing a time-honored connection. Knowing the farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the weather, and the miracle of raising food. In many cases, it gives you access to a farm where your children and grandchildren can go to learn about nature and agriculture. Relationships built on understanding and trust can thrive.

7. Local food preserves open space - As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. You have probably enjoyed driving out into the country and appreciated the lush fields of crops, the meadows full of wildflowers, the picturesque red barns. That landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable. When you buy locally grown food, you are doing something proactive about preserving the agricultural landscape.

8. Local food keeps your taxes in check - Farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas suburban development costs more than it generates in taxes, according to several studies. On average, for every $1 in revenue raised by residential development, governments must spend $1.17 on services, thus requiring higher taxes of all taxpayers. For each dollar of revenue raised by farm, forest, or open space, governments spend 34 cents on services.

9. Local food supports a clean environment and benefits wildlife - A well-managed family farm is a place where the resources of fertile soil and clean water are valued. Good stewards of the land grow cover crops to prevent erosion and replace nutrients used by their crops. Cover crops also capture carbon emissions and help combat global warming. According to some estimates, farmers who practice conservation tillage could sequester 12-14% of the carbon emitted by vehicles and industry. In addition, the patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings - is the perfect environment for many beloved species of wildlife.

10. Local food is about the future - By supporting local farmers today, you can help ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing, flavorful, and abundant food.  Adapted from ©2001 Growing for Market

It's very important to have your children connect to where there food is coming from early on. This means real hands on time from you as a parent. Getting out and about and exploring the tailgate markets, growing a few items in an herb garden or potting several vegetables at the beginning of the season, possibly volunteering some time at one of the CSAs listed, going to pick your own apples, corn, get your eggs and milk are all ways to directly connect to local food. I firmly believe, above all, having your kids help in the kitchen with the food you bring home, learning how simple ingredients come together into familiar meals. Cooking something from scratch several times a week with local ingredients will give them a direct appreciation of what is filling their belly. 

Raising children who are emotionally invested in the choices that effect the food chain and the environment, will ensure they and their families have healthy food in the future. What a blessing as a parent, when we are no longer setting the table for them directly, they will have already made mindful eating a way of life for themselves and the families they raise. 


A Natural Dawn said...

fabulous article! I recently moved from Asheville, and boy am I missing it!


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