Buying Local Part II

For part II of my blog on buying local, I am focusing more on the monetary aspect.  While I think most people would agree that the feeling you get from belonging to a well-balanced community is great, the monetary benefits or the bottom line is what more people are going to be concerned with.  When I started out buying as much as I could locally, I was under the misconception that it would be costly.  Moreover, while I admit it took a bit more looking around and time to find local items, like meat, once I did the cost was really no different, and it tastes far better.  In addition, buying local has great environmental benefits.
1.      When businesses are locally owned they have a tendency to also buy items that are local.  This will continue to put more monies back into everyone in the community’s pockets.  It is a win-win situation for everyone.
2.      Also, when buying local there will be less transportation which causes less pollution and travel time.  It likewise will cut down on congestion and keep mega-stores from demolishing land to put in giant parking lots in the suburbs.  That land could be better used for local farming.
3.       Another huge benefit is job creation.  Local farmers can be very large employers for local communities.  More jobs within the community keep people and their monies locally vested.  Everyone can benefit from this.  It is a prime example of quid pro quo.  
4.      A huge selling point is taxes!  Everyone is required to pay them, and since this unavoidable (for the most part), who would not want their taxes to stay local in their communities?  

With a little bit of work and planning, it is possible to keep big name corporations at bay while enjoying the benefits of local community.  

How to Bring Bring Local and Organic Food into Your Home

One Step at a Time...

There are two things that stop people from reaching for organic and local items when grocery shopping.
1.     It is too expensive. 
2.   It takes too long to prepare healthy meals.
First, you have to lose the ideal image of what a person who eats whole foods is like, you may be imagining snacking on local mid-wife birthed salmon and organic goji berries. Everyday clean eating looks a lot like...well... regular eating.Here are a few tips for making whole foods a new part of your life:
·      Learn to cook; it is actually a fun activity that can be done with your children’s help. Cooking with the kids makes them want to sample more things and makes great memories. I spend 2-3 hours prepping and cooking on Sunday afternoon, then freeze for the week. Soups, meat in marinade, rice and veggies can be popped in the freezer for a quick weeknight meal. You can even turn the television in the direction of the kitchen and watch movies, I do!
·      Meat eaters look for less expensive protein sources, like eggs, tofu, cheaper cuts of meat (softened by marinating) my kid loves chicken drumsticks, about $3 for 6 organic ones at Trader Joe’s.
·      Visit a local Farmer’s Market; some have even begun taking Food Stamps in payment. There is more family fun, right there!
·      Start hunting for cost effective organic brands like Kroger’s Simple Truth or 365 Everyday Value brand.
·      Plant some produce in your backyard or balcony.
·      Shop the bulk bins for grains, rice, and oats.
·      Check out coupons at your local store, check online.
·      Replace a few ingredients in simple meals, peanut butter and jelly, pasta and sauce, or hamburgers.  There is no need for a giant investment.
·      Eating fruits and vegetables is better than not eating them at all. Shop the Clean 15 and shop organic for (or avoid) the Dirty dozen.

Clean 15:
Sweet corn
Sweet peas (frozen)
Sweet potatoes

Dirty Dozen:
Cherry tomatoes
Hot peppers
Imported nectarines
Sweet bell peppers
Kale/collard greens
Summer squash

Environmental Working group:

I challenge anyone who is reading this and thinks that making whole food/local meals is too expensive and time consuming to make just one change every shopping trip. I think you will be surprised.  Eating healthy has been viewed at a privilege of the elite. Poor people eat junk food, because it is cheap, that does not have to be the reality.
A few years back, I was laid off with all the others hit by the recession. I returned to college, as a single Mother. It was not long that I found myself using food stamps. I have managed to feed my daughter healthy meals, with little time and expense.

Buying Local Part I

While attempting to buy local, I have become more acutely aware of the impact that buying local has on community as a whole; from the way it shapes how communities exist to the environmental impact, and the monetary benefits.  The first part of this blog I will be focusing on the direct benefits that buying local has on the welfare of community. 
1.      Community starts with you, and when you purchase things locally, you are not only supporting the community as a whole you are supporting yourself.  Keeping things local allows you give back to yourself not only in measure of monetary benefits but in an overall sense of belonging to something.
2.      Staying local invests and reinvests in your community and allows you to keep likeminded and conscientious people in your circle, which builds community.  You often receive better service and respect in close communities.
3.       It also encourages local prosperity.  Once people are invested in a community where they feel appreciated and can continue to supply and or contribute to the community it makes for a stronger bond.
4.      By contributing locally, it allocates for a unique community.  It instills pride and gives the community a home.  It brings distinctive characteristics that make the communities an atmospheric feel, as if you are someplace, and not just any place.  

This sense of belonging to somewhere has great positive benefits for the community as a whole and for each individual.  

Hungary among many other Countries has taken a stand against GMO crops by burning down the fields. What’s GMO like in Oregon? Growing organic foods is a very expensive and labor intensive job! Now Organic farmers not only have to worry about insects and natural weather ruining their crops but the seeds of  bio-engineered crops contaminating their fields and threatening the purity of organic farms. Cross contamination is a huge issue for organic farm owners. Intermingling is becoming an increase worry beyond the usual idea of pollen and traffic traveling the plant-pollen.  In Oregon we have things like GMO crop free Facebook groups and community groups pushing to end the GMO crop industry. Oregon is slowly developing plans for genetically modified crops and how to deal with them. Blank Organizations have been known to be behind the vandalism and destruction of many GMO crops. Although I do not encourage vandalism, ruining the hard earned money and years of work by farmers, crops I do support getting rid of GMO crops all together.

How Fertilizers have Shaped Trade

In our blog posts we have discussed different technologies which have shaped the way food travels around the world.  Many of these advances have resulted directly from the industrial revolution and our understanding of fossil fuels.  Fertilizers are no different.  For this post I want to focus on fertilizer’s part in food production and how it relates to traveling food.
Fertilizer has always been an important aspect of farming.  For any plant to grow, they need sunshine, air, water and nutrients.  In farming, one thing which can be lacking are nutrients in the soil.  For crops, the essential nutrients needed are mainly Nitrogen, phosphate, and potash.  In more naturally occurring vegetation, soil is rejuvenated with these nutrients mainly by the death of plants and other wildlife.  The organic material decomposes and returns the nutrients back to the earth. Unfortunately, the soil on farms does not go though this same cycle (farmers rarely let their crops die).  This means the soil must be rejuvenated through other means.  This is where fertilizer comes in. 
Fertilizer is added to soil, providing crops with more nutrients to grow.  Traditionally, farmers have worked natural fertilizers and mined minerals (minerals with Nitrogen, phosphate, and potash) into their soil to provide their crops with more nutrients.  However, these methods have always been limiting.  Organic material takes time to decompose to a point which is useful, natural fertilizers have limited amounts of the needed nutrients, and before the industrial revolution mining had always been a hard and slow process compared to current standards.
When the industrial revolution hit, scientists discovered they could create nutrients used by plants in a lab.  This changed farming completely.  Now using synthetic fertilizers, farmers only need to sprinkle it on the ground, add water, and the soil is rejuvenated.  Not only did this make farming much easier, but it also increased a farms productivity.  Since these breakthroughs in fertilizers, people have enjoyed an amazing surplus of food.  Around 30 to 50%, of the food now grown can be attributed to these new types of fertilizers.
Fertilizers and Trade:
On the surface, this sounds great.  More food means less people go hungry around the world.  However, history has shown once certain problems are remedied, other's are created.  After World War II synthetic fertilizers started to become widely used.  This increase in synthetic fertilizer usage has also grown in parallel with world population. With more people on the planet, there is more demand for food.  
In my opinion, the increase in demand and supply of food has helped create the environment of trade we are looking at today.  With more people on the planet in combination with globalization, the amount of items changing hands (including food) is greater than it has ever been.  Any system of trade through history has never been perfect.  But, when trade happens at such a large scale, the problems which come with it are larger as well.

The Outsourcing Companies

The other day I came across an article from Food Safety Magazine. The article was all about tips for companies that are trying to outsource food production to cut costs. It addressed many concerns companies might have about their finances and what the risks and benefits to outsourcing are. It seemed to me that if I were one of these companies this information would be extremely helpful. One thing did bother me though, what about the consumers? The focus was completely based around the risks and benefits in terms of costs for the company, but it didn't touch on what happens with the costs for consumers, do they get lower, higher, do they fluctuate at all? What about now, the quality of the food? The article touched on the costs of having to keep up laboratory standards and safety and how it can be a risk because often times it will cost more to do this over seas than it would at home. This made me wonder, there are so many companies that have lab production overseas, not just human services, so do they all keep up with the standards that they are supposed to keep up with? Is there tight regulation of this? How many companies cheat the system? Does this make the food that we eat from these companies less safe? Are the workers in those factories and labs safe? There are so many of these questions that I'm left with that I feel are completely unanswered. This article may have been intended to make both company owners and consumers feel better about the outsourcing of food production but I'm not so sure that's the case for me. Read it and see for yourselves:

Food Desert

A food desert is a geographic area where affordable and healthy food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those without access to an automobile.  Food deserts also exist in rural areas and low-income communities.  Food deserts are sometimes associated with supermarket shortages coupled with an overabundance of fast food chains.  

People often do not think about these areas in their own city unless of course they live in one.  Multnomah County has nine such areas according to a 2013 census; citing that 40% of people east of 82nd ave are children in food deserts.  People affected by this often do not have transportation of their own leading to lengthy bus rides to even get to a chain grocery store, let alone access to natural and locally grown food.   

People in these areas, especially children are adversely affected by not having healthy food options.  With their lengthy transit rides to get to a store, grocery shopping at Plaid Pantries has become the norm.  Cans of processed Spaghetti O’s is a cooked dinner.  Low-income households seem to be punished for being so.  Instead of local or chain grocery stores being available within reasonable distances we have families resorting to processed or fast food as sustenance.  With all of these factors working against them it is no surprise that the rate of obesity and diabetes is on the rise.  

Food needs to change in these areas.  Education and local options is paramount for these communities to turn around.  Why can’t there be local farmers markets, with healthy and affordable options?  Portland’s Farmers Markets, namely the one located in the park blocks on PSU campus accepts food stamps and has reasonable prices for eating healthy.  Having more local farmer’s markets would be significantly beneficial to these communities and the farmers that grow the food.  This seems like a win-win situation for everyone.

I found on the United States Department of Agriculture page an interactive map that shows an atlas of food access.  

Problems Arise (Local Food Challenge pt. 2)

     Not long into my personal challenge to eat only local foods, I had already run into a challenge: The biggest snowstorm to hit Oregon since I moved here three years ago. Public transit was unreliable, cabs refused to send drivers for me, and stores closed down. On top of all of this, it happened on the weekend that I was going to get groceries, so I was very low on food.
     It just so happens that I live literally next door to a chain grocery store that remained open through most of the bad weather. Unfortunately, their selection of local foods is very slim. I ended up getting what local produce that I could and eating light until I could get to some of the more out of the way natural grocery stores that carry all sorts of local goodies.
      This certainly shows a problem with eating only local foods, however. The availability of local food is already far behind that of imported food, and when something happens that causes that availability to drop even more it almost eliminates all of a local eater's options.
     Another problem--totally unrelated to weather--that I ran into was the issue of finding out what is local and what isn't. In my last post on the local food challenge, I said that I would find out what kinds of meats you can get locally. This actually proved to be challenging because many of the people that work in the grocery stores that I visited really had no idea and many times didn't seem very concerned with finding out for me. Added to this the fact that some of my favorite foods just aren't produced locally or even really within the country (I'm looking at you, cashews), and someone who is switching to a local diet is going to have some big hurdles to jump to get comfortable with this way of life.

Is that steak from the grocery store safe?

If you want a good reason to stop buying grocery store beef and switch to locally raised, grass fed beef, then just read this recent article in the Oregonian. It will literally turn your stomach. You have been warned. It is seriously very gross.

Even though the USDA has inspectors at the plants, there is simply not enough inspection actually happening, and the companies are allowed to police themselves when it comes to safety and cleanliness. The industrial food industry only cares about their bottom line, and to hell with your health, and the health of the animals in their CAFOs. Expecting them to make sure their product is safe just seems silly to me. Unfortunately, one of the only ways many people can avoid contributing to the industrial meat nightmare is to simply stop eating meat.

This sort of disgusting contamination is the reason I avoid beef from grocery stores, and fast food restaurants.  It all comes from the same few places, and you can trace all that meat back to a poor cow standing in its own excrement, and being fed grains that it was never meant to eat, thus making it sick.  The answer to this problem for the industrial meat industry is simply to add antibiotics to the feed. Oh yeah, and can't forget growth hormones. Sounds tasty huh?

When a cow is fed all grains instead of grass, what it was meant to eat thanks to years of evolution, it alters the chemistry inside their gastrointestinal system. When this happens their stomachs become breeding grounds for Ecoli O157:H7. You know, that nasty bug that strikes down people who eat contaminated foods like undercooked hamburgers. This bacteria can't survive inside the guts of healthy, grass eating cows well enough to become a major problem. Scientists know this, but the food industry wants fat cows fast. Cheap government subsidized grains like corn and soy are their way to obtain the biggest bang for their buck.

There is another way to go about producing meat for humans to eat. It doesn't involve vast, excrement laden patches of desolate land. It only involves some pasture, and a farmer. Turning back the clock isn't always the best way to go about doing things, but in this case it most certainly is. I buy a half steer from a very small rancher in Sandy, Oregon. He's been raising cows on grass, hay during the winter, clean water, and sunshine for many, many years. In fact he's at least in his 80's and is still out there proudly taking care of his herd every single day. Instead of selling his steers at auction where they are then taken to a CAFO who knows where, he sells to his neighbors, and friends. Not only is this better for him financially, but it's better for the environment, and the people eating the end product: healthy grass fed beef full of lots of healthy things like Omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA or conjugated linoleic acid. This website explains the breakdowns between grass fed and grain fed animal products nicely.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather a local farmer get my hard earned money than some giant corporation. The money stays in the community rather than lining some rich CEO's pockets. Plus the animals raised by those farmers are treated well and live in an environment they like: pastures with lots of fresh, green grass. Their waste isn't polluting the ground and being stored in stinking manure ponds. The grasses and other plants actually thrive if there is enough space for the cows to move around from pasture to pasture. When most anti-meat people talk about cows being big polluters, they lump all cows together, when in fact it is the CAFOs that are polluting, not Betsy the cow happily munching grass and making compost that she spreads around herself.

So how does one go about getting grass fed beef? Well there are stores that sell it, but it can be very costly to buy it by the cut. The best way to do it is to get yourself a freezer if you can (check out freecycle and craigslist for low cost and even free units) and buy in bulk. I buy half a steer each year, and that feeds me and my husband, plus a ravenous teenager who lives with us part time, for an entire year. Bigger families might want to buy a whole steer. If you can't handle buying that much, you can always split the costs and the bounty with friends and family. Though you'll have to fight over all the steaks. ;)

Eatwild is a great resource to find locally raised grass fed meats and other foods. Just choose your state and then you can peruse the farms and ranches alphabetically. The other way is to check Craigslist under Farm and Garden for small farmers who are selling their stock. When you buy an animal from the farmer directly, you'll have to pay for the "hanging weight" of the animal. This means everything on the animal including the bones. Depending on who you are buying from, a mobile slaughter service will come out to the farm, slaughter and weigh the animal, and then the farmer can tell you how much you will have to pay him. The butcher then takes the animal back to their facility to be butchered, then cuts and wraps it into the portions you prefer. Prices will vary by rancher or farmer. They should be up front on what is included in the per pound price. For example: my rancher includes the fee that the mobile slaughter guy charges to come out and do his job with the total I pay to him. Then I have to pay the butcher the cut and wrap fee. This is also done per the pound.

To give you an idea of how much it does cost to buy beef this way, here is the breakdown of what I paid in December, 2013. Keep in mind that the weight will vary. This year the steer I was given was not as large as the year before due to being born later in the calving season than usual.You can ask the farmer/rancher for an idea of how much a steer will weigh, but until they actually get it hung on the scale, it is only an estimate.

Weight of 1/2 steer: 248lbs
Total cost to rancher including the slaughter fee: $714 
That breaks down to about $2.88 per pound.
The cut and wrap fee was $121.52 (248lbs x 0.49 per pound)
That made my total cost $835.52. 
That averages out to $3.37 per pound. 
That breaks down to about $69 per month for beef if you're family is eating 20lbs of it per month. 

If you like steak and have gone to a meat market recently, you know you can pay upwards of $12 a pound for a t-bone steak and about $8 per pound for top sirloin, and that's probably NOT even a grass fed steak. Those are even pricier. Grass fed ground beef is usually $5 per pound or more. A pot roast is usually around $3 or $4 per pound at the grocery store depending, and it is not nearly as good as a locally raised, grass fed piece of beef. When buying direct from the farmer this way, you end up saving yourself a lot of money in the long run. I know it sounds like a lot of money, but my family budgeted this in to make sure we could afford it when it was time for the next steer to become dinner in the fall.

What some families do to get around the sticker shock of buying in bulk, is to save a portion of their tax return to set aside just for that purpose. Or you can save a portion each month to set aside, so that way at the end of the year you have the funds to buy in bulk again. A half steer can last 2 people, who eat moderate amounts of beef, up to 2 years.

Another good thing about buying in bulk this way is that you can choose to use all of the animal. Where as in the industrial meat system, all the "leavings," or all the parts that most consumers don't buy at the grocery store, get turned into mystery meat substances. Gross!

Many people shy away from organ meats like liver and the heart, but those cuts to our ancestors were prized for their nutritional value. You may say "ewww liver!" but trust me... grass fed beef liver tastes NOTHING like the bitter, gross stuff  from sickly CAFO cows you get at a super market. Not to mention you can ask your butcher for all the bones and even the fat. Beef bone broth from a grass fed steer is very nutrient dense, and not to mention delicious and easy to make. Beef fat can be rendered into tallow for cooking and even making candles.

Avoiding eating meat created by the industrial food industry doesn't mean you have to avoid meat entirely. It can be a very healthy food from the right sources. It is great for the local economy because it keeps the farmers who raise the animals in business, and it helps us consumers by giving us healthy, humane options. Grass fed beef isn't just for the mega rich either. With planning, and a little bit of budget managing for healthier foods, many people can afford to eat better sources of meat.

Cargo Ships, Refrigeration, and Fuel

Globalization has been in full swing for several decades now.  Every conceivable item is being shipped from one area of the globe to the other.  Our quarter's topic wants us to specifically focus on the subject of traveling food.  From a global perspective, foods are some of the most traded commodities.  For this entry, I thought it would be good to look at the technologies which allow foods to be traded across the world.

When discussing how the modern day globalization machine is possible, we can not get around talking about fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels drive everything.  Right now, they are the most powerful, cheapest, accessible, and energy packed sources of fuel we have.  From this fundamental truth, we can see how it is possible to move food from one part of the world to another.   

When it comes to traveling of food, international trade is possible because of two major innovations: the modern cargo ship and refrigeration.  The modern cargo ship is a beast of a machine.  These ships come in different classes, they can be over 400 meters long, and weigh over 320,000 dead weight tons (DWT).  Some cargo ships can carry a variety of cargo (including types of food), but others are specialized.

In the case of perishable foods, Reefer Vessels are used.  A Reefer ship is a type of cargo ship designed to control the temperature and environment of the cargo it carries.  When commodities such as fruit are moved across the ocean, they must be kept cold in order to prevent over ripening.  To do this, the cargo is not only refrigerated, but it is also placed in an almost all nitrogen atmosphere.  In order to monitor the ship's cargo during travel, remote monitoring systems are put into place.  This helps ensure the food arrives as fresh as possible and allows the shipping companies historical data so they can improve their shipping capabilities.

With this technology and cheap energy (fossil fuels) at companies' disposal, trading food and every other shippable item over seas has become common place.  However, moving into the future, relying so heavily on a finite resource is not going to be the best strategy.  Most all of these trading vessels are engineered specifically to run on fossil fuels.  Some day, it will be too costly to rely on this sources of energy and people will need to use other sources.  When Fossil fuels become more scarce, buying food locally will become more cost effective and shipping goods will become a trickier task.  


Food Miles

Early farmers would use solar energy to grow food, however, now-a-days we are primarily using fossil fuels that are harming our environment. There are about ten times more calories (fossil fuel energy) being used to grow food than the amount of calories we actually ingest into our bodies (food energy). This means that the way corporate farmers are growing food now, to create those plump chickens we eat, is greatly impacting the health of the environment and altering our natural diets as well. On top of the way the food is grown, much of the food grown by these farms travels a great distance to get to us, but sometimes it is unnecessary, like when we constantly import goods that we have in our own backyard! In researching the economics of traveling food I found this excellent video on PBS about food miles. This video dives into the topic of local farming and why buying local should always be our first choice when purchasing food to ensure that we have a sustainable food system for our environment, the economy, and our health.

I highly recommend watching the whole 25 minute video at:

Transport: Food Miles [Excerpt]