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September 25, 2011

Adventures in Local Food #10


The Global in the Local

Our value systems shape our consumption patterns as our consumption patterns shape our value systems. This holds true whether you are someone who buys locally-grown food, “ethical” coffee, and Michigan-made products or if you are someone who shops at global chains where almost all the products are made at “low-cost” industrial factories in China. In last month’s installment, we investigated this connection between values and purchases, concluding that we have the power to effect positive change in our food system (as in our local economies) by taking more ownership over our daily food choices and by challenging ourselves to patronize more local businesses.

So make no mistake about it. Our actions do have an impact. It’s often not the one we would like because of how our society valorizes material gain in ways that allow Heinz to have an “organic” ketchup made with lab-derived high fructose corn syrup or that encourages the de-regulation of a GMO strain of corn destined to be Ethanol. But, that positive impact is very much possible once we are aware of what systemic constraints we are up against and where our own motivations lie.

Too often we think our individual purchases happen in a vacuum or that our actions have no impact on the local, national or global economy. We are even actively encouraged by the media, advertising, politicians and our peers to consume in the very ways that are most detrimental to our communities and to our personal health—and all because we are told that consuming in those ways is “cheaper.” So remember—the only time when those mass-produced, ubiquitously-available items are cheaper is at the moment of purchase, since those “low” prices are achieved by downgrading environmental standards while simultaneously cutting wages, worker protections and product quality on the factory floor. In other words, the long-term environmental, economic, social and political costs of producing those items are hidden from view by their misleading price tags.

I know that’s a lot to digest all at once (both literally and figuratively), so instead of getting overwhelmed by all the negativity out there in our economic and political systems, I encourage you all to instead see the positive in all of this. For example, ever since 2007 (when I started my work with urban farming and the local food movement in both California and the Rustbelt), I have observed people’s interest in locally-sourced food and locally-made products grow by leaps and bounds. I have watched as more and more community gardens and farmer’s markets popped up, supported by the ever-popular “Buy Michigan” movement, as I have noted how many grocery stores have begun to carry more local and/or “green” products. Here in Washtenaw County, I have seen the acutely positive impact that installing backyard raised bed vegetable gardens can have on people’s health, happiness, cooking skills and even on community cohesion. I have also observed the same types of things happening in Boston, California, the Caribbean, Kansas City, New Mexico, Oregon, Ontario, the Caribbean, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and many countless other places across the U.S., Europe and the Globe. And it’s not just me. I’ve spoken with countless people that have noticed the same things.

This global reach of the local food movement is incredibly inspirational—especially given how two short years ago I worked with youth who didn’t even know that potatoes grew in the ground (I wish I was joking). So take pride in your local purchases! And keep in mind that, although we share these exciting developments with many places across the globe, the local food movement in Michigan is unique in part because of the role played by season extension technologies. Next time we’ll explore some of these to ascertain specifically how we can grow food 49 weeks out of the year here in Michigan without having to grow hydroponically, in a heated greenhouse, or under grow lights in the basement. We’ll also find out how (and why) folks from Michigan State University, the Michigan Farmer’s Market Association (MIFMA), St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Growing Hope and even Ann Arbor’s SELMA Cafe are taking a cue from farmer Eliot Coleman and building the passive solar hoop-houses needed to make year-round local food in Michigan a reality.

About the Author

Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie Stauffer
Highly active in the local food movement and resident urban farmer, Stefanie is our local food fighter. She writes our ever popular "Adventures in Local Food" and various Foodie columns. You can find her at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer's Market or just about any other community event. Like hot sauce? Reach out to Stefanie and order some of her very own from Nightshade Army Industries.

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