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Support your community by buying local: Charlie Jackson's how-to guide for finding the freshest down-home fruits and veggies.

Why buy local? Many New Life Journal readers understand that buying the healthiest and most sustainable food is the best thing they can do for their families. When you think of produce, the best choice is organically grown, right? Well, the answer may not be so black and white.

North Carolina's organic foods industry's in-state sales of organic products have grown in recent years to over five million dollars. Unfortunately, 85 percent of organic products sold in North Carolina come from out-of-state, mostly from 3,000 miles away in California. This means that the largest part of your organic food dollar goes to supporting the transportation and energy industries and only a very small percent to the farmer. And food loses nutritional value very quickly. Most food sits an average of six days before reaching the consumer but it only takes five days for green leafy vegetables to lose as much as 50% of their nutrients. So, although organic food from further away might seem cheaper than local, the consumer pays the price in less nutritious food, loss of local agriculture, environmental costs that come from shipping (50% of the trucks on our interstate system are carrying food!), and the disconnect from food and farming.

Some questions you might want to ask about that produce on your grocer's shelf are: where were those organic potatoes grown? were they shipped for miles and miles to get here? If so, how sustainable and healthy is that, considering the toll taken on air quality, resource consumption, and nutrition of those thousands of miles of transport across country? By purchasing local and organic we increase demand and by increasing demand for local and local organic we can be sure that our farmers will respond by growing more organic, thus saving farmland and contributing to a healthier and more sustainable landscape.

So, perhaps organic produce is the most sustainable and healthy only when it's grown near where you live. Fortunately, for those of us in western Carolina and north Georgia, options for finding locally grown food are all over, if you know where to look. If organically grown is your preference, buy local and organic to get the best of both worlds. The greatest concentration of organic growers in North Carolina are in our area, so we have more opportunities to support local and organic than in many other areas.

There are several things you can do to ensure you are getting locally grown food. First is to eat seasonally as much as possible. Many whole foods nutritional systems (like macrobiotics) stress the importance of eating seasonally because of the belief that seasonal and local food is designed by nature to best support our bodies. If someone is selling sweet corn in May, you can be sure it is not local. Make an effort to know the seasonal availability of local food to make sure you are getting locally grown. Another important step is to ask the vendor where the food comes from. If you are at a tailgate market or farm stand, you will likely be talking to the farmer. Beware of resellers who sell produce they have bought themselves. They can be spotted because they are selling out of season produce. Be sure to ask them if they are farmers and if they are local. Another way to ensure you are eating locally grown food is to get to know the farmers. Actually knowing the person who grows your food is a powerful way to take control of the quality and character of the food you consume. There are many opportunities to support local communities and eat fresh healthy food across the region by buying local.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a direct connection between the farmers and the consumers. To join a CSA is to buy a share of the season's harvest. The farmer gains the security of knowing he or she has been paid for a portion of the harvest and the farmer's "community" participates in how and where their food is grown. This direct connection puts the face and place of food in full view.

Before the start of the season, when the farmer is planning the upcoming year, shares are sold to members of the community at a fixed price. The farmer plans the plantings to meet the shares that have been sold. Every week throughout the season, the CSA community receives a box of that week's harvest. Most of the local CSAs will deliver to several convenient area locations, but they always encourage the community to come to the farm, and even to participate in the growing of their food. (See page 6 for a list of CSAs in western NC.)

Tailgate markets

Throughout western North Carolina are over 30 tailgate markets, and north Georgia has a growing list, as well. Each market is different in that it reflects the desires of the local community and the farming conditions of the area. They all provide a direct connection between the farmer and the consumer and have the freshest, healthiest food available. Many have baked goods, live music, and fine handicrafts. For a real taste of community, visit your nearest tailgate market. (See pages 9 and 19 for lists of markets.)

Pick-your-own farms

Our region is blessed with many pick your own farms. Apple orchards thrive in the mountains and are great fall fun for the whole family. There are also many berry farms growing strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and more. There are also pick-your-own pumpkin farms offering children and parents the experience of selecting their very own jack-o-lantern to be. Most of these farms also have baked goods and jams and jellies. The best part is, you know exactly where it came from because you picked it yourself.

Restaurants, grocers, and caterers

Our area has some of the finest restaurants anywhere. Great cooks know that the best food is made with the freshest ingredients. The freshest ingredients, of course, are local. Ask for locally grown wherever you buy food. If a restaurant or store says they sell local, ask them where it came from and ask that they carry even more locally grown. Pressure from the consumer is often the most important factor for change.

In western North Carolina, you can seek out "Get Fresh Partners." These restaurants have partnered with local farmers and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), a Western North Carolina community-based collaborative focused on sustaining farms and rural communities. Participating restaurants, stores, and caterers that have agreed to increase purchases of local sustainably grown food and to feature locally grown food will display the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's "Get Fresh--Buy Appalachian" logo. These restaurants, stores, and caterers have made the special effort to connect with local farms and to serve the freshest and healthiest food available. Look for the Get Fresh logo at your favorite restaurant or store and be sure to ask for local Appalachian grown food wherever you buy food.

Buying Clubs

Carolina Organic Growers is a farmers' marketing cooperative made up of small family farms located mostly in North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast. The member farms are Certified Organic or Transitional Organic by an independent certifying agency. They take pride in personally tending, harvesting, grading, packing, and shipping every crop. The majority of their produce is picked to order.

While COG serves restaurants and groceries as part of its normal business, they also serve Buying Clubs. Any group of people who wish to purchase produce together for the purpose of buying at wholesale prices can form a buying club. Often, the members of groups have a common affiliation, such as a religious community, or they might have a common geographic affiliation that allows for them to receive produce in one place that is convenient to all. The broad selection of products offered by the co-op can usually satisfy the needs of a diverse group. By buying as a group, each participant is able to buy very fresh produce at less than retail cost, and to buy directly from a farmer-owned growers cooperative.

Buy Appalachian Guide to Local and Local Organic Food

If you live in or visit western North Carolina, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project publishes a free guide to local food for that area. The guide is available at local restaurants and stores and on-line at www.BuyAppalachian.org. The guide lists all the tailgate markets, CSAs, Get Fresh Partner restaurants, grocers, caterers, and farms in western NC that sell locally grown food. If you value fresh, healthy, and locally grown food, the Buy Appalachian Guide is your best source of information. When you visit the restaurants, stores, markets, and farms listed in the guide, make sure to ask for local and let them know that you value locally grown food.

For more information on how to buy local in Georgia, contact Georgia Organics at www.georgiaorganics.org or call 770-621-4642.

Charlie Jackson is the Projects Coordinator for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Visit asapconnections.org for more information about the group and its work, or email him at Charlie@asapconnections.org.
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Author:Jackson, Charlie
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:1519
Previous Article:Biotech in our backyard: from committees to cover-ups, Cindy Burda explores the biotech industry's recent history and big plans for WNC.
Next Article:WNC CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture).
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