Supporting our local economy, our local sustainable farmers and our local knowledge holders creates strong local food eco-systems. When you know where your food comes from and how it is grown or raised you can make ethical decisions about your food choices. Governments, corporations and organizations can support the local economy through local food procurement policies for events, cafeterias, school lunch programs, hospitals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all acutely aware of the vulnerabilities associated with long supply chains, the importance of shortening the food chain and why it is so important to turn to our own communities, especially in times of crisis. We can’t use one brush to paint the solution to global food security; each geographic area has its own potential solution be it urban or rural.
When your food comes from closer to home rather than being trucked, shipped or flown from far away, the carbon footprint associated with your food is much reduced.
Eating local means reduced food packaging, especially the huge amount of plastic packaging associated with imported grocery store food. Less packaging, less recycling.
Reduced Food Waste
When you are connected with your food, every morsel becomes precious and almost nothing goes to waste or down the drain.
You learn the nutritional benefits of all parts of the animal (head, organs, bones, blood, guts) not just the steaks & roasts. The harvest of an animal goes much farther when you make use of all edible parts.
Celery leaves can be dried and used for seasoning.
Whey from making cheese can become soup stock, liquid for boiling potatoes or tenderizer for marinating meat.
If there is still some food waste it can often be fed to the pigs or chickens to be recycled into eggs or meat, or composted to fertilize the vegetable garden.
The nutrients in most foods are highest when they are fresh. For example 75% of the vitamin C and 47% of the folate in fresh spinach are lost within five days of picking. Which makes one wonder how much nutrition is left by the time imported fresh greens reach our plates in January! In the winter, it may make more sense to turn to the frozen food section to find broccoli from our own area, flash frozen as soon as it was picked, than buying fresh broccoli that has travelled half way around the world.
Eating locally means no processed foods full of excess salts, sugars and fats. I tested my blood every three months during my year of eating 100% local. Despite a high red meat and animal fat diet, my cholesterol and triglycerides remained normal, suggesting it might be the processed food fats that cause more problems. Also my high blood pressure resolved on a 100% local diet and I was able to stop my medications.
Eating seasonally means your food is always at its tastiest and its most nutritious. Tomatoes always taste like tomatoes. Strawberries always taste like strawberries. And as each food comes into season it becomes a real treat. There is an old saying: “In the summer we eat above the ground, in the winter we eat below the ground.” I found that is exactly what my body craved. By Fall I craved roasted root vegetables. By summer I craved fresh greens.
One of the benefits of local food production is that it is tailored to what your geography and ecosystem can grow and what is culturally appropriate to your community.
Valuing the Planet
Being connected to your food means understanding where it comes from which leads to valuing and wanting to protect the people, the land, the animals and the ecosystems that produce it.
Storing a year’s worth of food is not very practical for most folks. We had 5 freezers, borrowed part of a walk-in freezer and had 12 tubs of food on the verandah (the benefit of having a natural freezer outdoors for 7 months of the year!). Storage is essential for year-round access to locally produced foods.
root cellar – individual, community, farm or co-op. Root crops that are stored properly in root cellars become sweeter over the winter as the starches turn to sugars.
Walk-in Freezer: community or farm or co-op
Flash Freezing Equipment: community or farm or co-op
Canning, Drying, Preserving
Convenience often trumps all! The solution? Making local and sustainable foods more convenient and accessible. For example:
One-stop shopping by bringing locally produced foods into retailers, making them front and centre and celebrating them with “Local” labelling
CSA boxes (a weekly box of produce that you pay for in advance from your local farmer and is delivered to you. You receive whatever is in season!)
Procurement of locally produced foods for cafeterias, school lunch programs and restaurants
Distribution companies who offer on-line ordering and home delivery systems for locally produced foods
Based on my experience, eating 100% local foods for one year costs more than eating from the grocery store — which brings up the question of the true cost of food. How can food that is produced far away be grown, tended, harvested, transported to a distribution centre, packaged, transported to a retailer and sold in a store with overhead and staffing costs be cheaper than locally produced food sold directly from the farmer to the consumer? At whose expense is cheap food made available to us? Where are government subsidies directed when it comes to food? How do we make nutritious locally and sustainably produced food more accessible to all?
In order to expand beyond farm-gate sales to provide local meat to retailers and restaurants, the meat must be inspected at harvest. This requires an abattoir and a certified meat inspector. A mobile abattoir allows this service to be provided to farmers and communities that are not close to a major centre with a fixed abattoir. It also means the animals don’t have to go through the stress of being trucked long distances to be harvested. In Dawson City, the mobile abattoir currently only comes once per year which greatly limits the amount of locally raised meat that can make it to retail markets.
Conservation of land for growing food and for the natural habitat of wild food is essential for food sovereignty. Regenerative farming techniques restore and sustain soil biodiversity and help reverse climate change. Land lease and land share programs help create an affordable option for new farmers keen to start farming. Land conservancy organizations help protect wild ecosystems. Bringing land development policy makers into a panel discussion on food sovereignty and the importance of strong sustainable local food ecosystems can help bridge the gap.
Saving and storing seed allows communities to have seed cultivars that have acclimatized the growing conditions of their location. It also reduces dependency on seed production from outside and dependency on GMO seed companies.
Fertilizer is heavy and therefore transport costs and carbon footprint to import it are high. Also many fertilizers are mined and non-renewable.Possible solutions:
Local composted animal manure. This is one benefit of a mixed farm. The animal manure helps fertilize the vegetables. Any vegetable waste goes to feed the animals.
Community compost programs: transforming kitchen and restaurant food waste into rich and valuable compost. Municipal compost piles are quite large and therefore get to higher temperatures than back-yard composts, meaning municipal composts can deal with almost all table scraps including meat scraps and bones and food-stained paper products such as paper plates, paper napkins and pizza boxes
Back-yard and worm composting — good for a household garden
Feed is heavy and therefore transport costs and carbon footprint to import it are high. Supporting local farmers who are able to grow feed and hay for animals is important!
Breeding Stock / Artificial Insemination
For farmers who raise livestock, breeding stock must be replaced every few years to prevent inbreeding. Importing livestock can be costly and comes with a high carbon footprint. One solution is artificial insemination, as importing sperm can be more cost effective and environmentally friendly than importing breeding stock.