Thanks to Matthew Lee, MSPH, RDN who is the SNAP-Ed Project Director for Lake County for putting together a presentation for January’s Harvest of the Month, Greens. Be sure to encourage your kids to look for greens at school and shop at local retailers and farmers’ markets.
Buying food is a tricky business – even if you just consider price. Businesses know that most people do not have the time to compare prices for lots of common items. Raise your hand if you know the average market price for celery today. I didn’t see any hands..
Large business establishments can pick a relative few items that customers are more likely to know the price of and advertise that they have wonderful priced for few items. Such advertisements create the impression that the corresponding big box merchant offers low prices – much better, you might think, than you could get at a small grocer, neighborhood market or your local farmers market.
However, big businesses also know that, once you are in the door you will probably fill your cart with other items they have strategically positioned to tempt you. Likely you will leave without really knowing if you ended up paying more for some of those items than you could have or if you even “saved” anything on your overall bill.
We have done surveys comparing our local farmers market prices with those at box store groceries and found that locally-produced food often costs the same, or less, than mass produced food available in box stores – – particularly when you are shopping for produce that is locally in peak season.
However, there are times when the price tag for local food is more than for its mass-produced, box store namesakes. In those situations it is important to remember that food purchasing decision involve many factors other than price.
For starters, the quality of the food you are purchasing from different sources may vary substantially. Apples are not always apples. E.g., a fresh local apple is not the same as an apple that was selected for transport and storage durability and was picked not quite ripe months ago and cold stored. So it is worth considering if the quality of the local food options at your farmers market are substantially different from the lower priced option that the box store might offer. Local food will be fresher, likely more nutritious, almost certainly tastier. So it may be that the local option offers a higher value in terms of your enjoyment of the food you purchase. If you have never done it before it is worth a taste test comparison.
There are also a number of health, social and environmental costs associated with mass produced food that do not show up in its price tag. If you consider the many other costs of mass produced, seemingly “cheap” food, you may also decide that local food is a much better deal.
- The labor conditions that produce cheap food are often bad – not the type of jobs you would want for your children and not the kind of jobs that raise people out of poverty. When you choose bargain-priced, mass-produced foods you are also supporting a business model that maintains those poor working conditions, grueling working hours and a poverty-level existence for the people who get your food to you.
Much of the cost and price of mass produced food goes into things you do not want in your body or your community. Typically, far more of the final price tag for mass produced foods is related to the costs of preservatives, which pollute your body, and packaging, which piles up in local land fills, than goes to the actual farmer for producing the food.
- Because it is picked early and breed to withstand long transport and storage, mass produced food is typically less tasty and less nutritious than local food. Since it is not satisfying for your taste buds or body you may end up eating more and thus spending more and also getting more empty calories that can negatively affect your health.
- The additional transport and storage needed for mass produced food is wasteful and degrades the environment. It generates more greenhouse gas leading to increasing climate change and environmental distress. All outcomes that none of us can afford.
- Large scale food production is controlled by large corporate entities that take their profit out of your community and further concentrate wealth in the hands of a few. In contrast, local food supports small family businesses and rural jobs – the kind of jobs that make it possible for small rural towns to survive and thrive.
- Large scale corporate farms receive direct government subsidies for producing vast quantities of crops like corn and soy that end up providing caloric filler in nutritionally poor, but cheap, foods. Those subsidies are not available to small farms that grow healthy produce. You really are paying more for mass produced foods, some of it is just hidden in your taxes.
- Mass produced food is grown in a manner that depends on chemically derived fertilizers for plants to generate the desired yield, and is harvested with massive petroleum-fueled machinery. It typically uses substantially more of our limited, nonrenewable resources per calorie of food value delivered.
- Mass production of food is typically done in an extremely environmentally damaging manner – often causing loss of natural soil fertility, uses substantial quantities of pesticides (which pollutes your body and the land, and then runs off into waterways causing significant destruction there as well) and causes substantial soil erosion, leaving a planet that will be harder and harder to support ourselves on.
When you consider these added costs that are outside of the price tag you may end up determining that the local tomato is the better overall deal, even if it does have a higher price per pound (which, as noted above, is often not the case). The local tomato may provide a higher value to you and your community in terms of keeping a job local, preserving local open space, providing better taste, doing less harm to the environment, having superior freshness and nutrition, having a personal connection with the grower, improving local food security and/or a host of other good things probably care about as much or more than price.
If we want diverse local agriculture and local food sources, farmers need to be able to make a living growing and delivering food. They need to be able to pay for land (including covering local property tax), water, infrastructure and inputs, and be compensated for the incredibly hard labor it takes to plant, tend, pick and deliver food. Not only in good years, but every year.
Tempting as it might seem based on price alone in some cases, choosing industrially farmed and shipped produce from parts unknown fuels the downward cycle of our own local economy. Without your support local farmers will, in turn, have less money to spend supporting the business that provides your job. Supporting each other is an alternative to the race for the cheapest.
Given such factors, a higher price for a local tomato may a be realistic and fair price – one that enables small family farms to survive in your county – and also the best value. Americans are spending only about 10% of their income on food. That figure has declined steadily from about 25% in the 1930s. Our per capita portion of income spent on food is less, by far, than other countries.
Perhaps it is time to re-prioritize the value of eating well.
What do you think? Please share your comments below in addition to sharing the article via your social networks.
Scott Cratty is a local food advocate. He manages the Ukiah Certified Farmers Market and owns the Westside Renaissance Market, Ukiah’s favorite inconvenience store. Invite him to speak at your social club or meeting and he will be happy to tell you about how choosing local food can help transform your community.
This article originally appeared on HealthyMendocino.org and has been re-printed with permission.
“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.” This quote, from Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, knows a thing or two about maturity, and harvest, and how we humans are a part of nature despite all efforts to scrub away that connection. When I walk into the driveway of Ukiah’s Pear Tree shopping center, stepping over rotten fruit run over by cars, even then I stop, look up into the canopy, and think of those lines. Pears are not just in season, they’re a part of our local life and history, the continuity that got us to now.
Pear trees were once the symbol for Ukiah, though that gave way to the oak tree at the level of city government and certain C. sativa variants more colloquially. But you can still find local pears, and they’re worth the effort. Picked hard and allowed to ripen, they’re a succinct class in paying attention to what you eat. Bite it too soon and you might as well be eating drywall; let it sit too long and you’ve got ferment and fruit flies to contend with. In the sweet spot? Tender flesh with just a hint of crunch left, and that tremendously sweet, richly perfumed juice. Pears are great for canning–a nice way to set aside a bit of summer for the off-season–but as with tomatoes, a fresh one is just incomparable.
Nutritionally speaking, pears are high in dietary fiber, and vitamins B-6 and C. Their sweetness makes them ideal for topping cereal or cooking into pear butter to spread on toast, but they can add a perfect counterpoint to some savory foods as well. There are brie lovers and those of us who run at the thought of it, but I nevertheless find any pungent soft cheese to be great when paired with pears. The saltiness of prosciutto would most likely also shine when wrapped around a sliver of fruit. If that’s all too classy for you (it is for me), swap out peaches and apples and make a humble pear crumble, or simply chop one into your favorite coffee cake recipe, adjusting for the added moisture.
A pear-shaped physique, where the hips are wider and the belly somewhat smaller, is thought to be more heart-protective than a rounder, apple-like figure. In parts of the world, the expression “pear-shaped” means things have gone dreadfully awry, though the discussion of how that expression evolved has itself gone somewhat pear-shaped, leaving us all to wonder. What’s even stranger is that there are pears that are themselves not pear shaped at all; Ukiah’s farmers market has had some outstanding Nashi, Asian, or apple pears, so named for their apple shape and pear taste. I’ve been chopping them onto my muesli and munching them out of hand, and they’re the perfect fruit to nosh as summer gives way to fall, crisp, juicy, almost a bit starchy; breakfast’s answer to the water chestnut, perhaps. If you like to make quick pickles, they are a perfect choice to hit with some salt, vinegar, and a dash of pepper.
Consider the quotation associated with the pear-bearing card in the Mexican bingo game Loteria: “La Pera: El que espera desespera. The Pear: He who waits despairs.” Well, wait for them to ripen at least, but then seize the day with both hands, and feed the effort with pears. Here are a few ways to try them:
Add pears to any Thanksgiving baked yam recipe (even the ones with marshmallow fluff? ESPECIALLY those ones!). They get on like a house afire and your actual home will smell amazing while they cook.
Pears love ginger. Ginger loves pears. Don’t keep them apart or they will eventually pull some Montague-Capulet attitude on you. Infuse water with pear and ginger slices, or add ginger to pears poached in wine with other fall spices. Basically all fall cooking is some variation on spices and slices, so start here and have fun with it.
RealSimple.com has a recipe on their website for peanut-sesame noodles with shredded chicken and pears that sounds like a hoax, but would probably be delicous if you were inclined to try it.
Add thinly sliced pears to a grilled cheese sandwich. No, really. You can thank me later.
Acorns are dropping from the mighty oaks at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) – marking a time to celebrate our 5,358 acres of oak woodland and rangeland at the facility.
On Oct. 15 we will open the doors to the center, inviting the public to join scientists and staff as they enjoy the fruits of the season with a farm-to-table luncheon, live bluegrass music and an oak-inspired silent auction. Funds from this event will support educational programming on our site.
The event offers the community the chance to learn about the research being conducted and enjoy the best in local produce from Black Dog Farm Catering.
From 10 a.m. to 12 noon there will be optional field tours of some of our key research projects, where visitors can meet the scientists, see what tools they use and what they’re learning about our environment.
Participants can choose from four field experiences, including large mammal wildlife research using the latest in drone technology with UC Berkeley researcher Justin Brashares to a relaxed visit in the vineyard tasting Mediterranean wine varietals with UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor Glenn McGourty. A stroll with the HREC director will offer a visit to the Shippey Hall, woodworking and mechanic shops, lambing barn and greenhouse to experience a slice of the diversity of research, outreach and teaching offered on the site.
A three-course luncheon runs from 12 to 3 p.m. and includes presentations from our director Kim Rodrigues, live bluegrass music from local band “Gibson Creek” and the silent auction.
We’ve been so grateful to all those who have offered artwork, jewelry, food and oak woodland experiences for this silent auction. Items include gorgeous oak paintings, a stunning oak table made by Ben Frey, a dinner and farm tour with Magruder Ranch and a family science adventure kit focused on our woodlands, alongside books, posters and photographs.
Funds raised at the event will support the creation of a new nature trail to Parson’s Creek, which cannot currently be safely accessed during school field trips.
We are now offering many more opportunities for the public to visit our site. More than 500 K-12 students and 2,000 community members visit annually, yet we cannot currently access the creek safely. This trail will open up great opportunities for riparian educational activities with our local students.
Tickets cost $65 for adults and $15 for children. Register online by visiting the HREC website http://hrec.ucanr.edu or by calling Hannah Bird at (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105. The registration deadline is by October 11. The event will be at the Rod Shippey Hall, 4070 University Road, Hopland. You can also learn more by visiting our event page.
Due to the nature of the research with sheep and a commitment to using guard dogs as part of a predator control program, no dogs are allowed on UC ANR HREC for public events.
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Justin Brashares, Ph.D., is an associate professor at UC Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. His focus areas include
the catastrophic global decline of biodiversity widely recognized as among the most pressing problems we face as a society. His research attempts to understand how consumption of wild animals and conversion of natural habitats affects the dynamics of animal communities and the persistence of populations. Work in his group extends beyond traditional animal conservation to consider the economic, political and cultural factors that drive and, in turn, are driven by, changes in wildlife abundance and diversity. Through these efforts, his group strives to propose empirically based, interdisciplinary strategies for biodiversity conservation.
Glenn McGourty is the UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and plant science advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties. He received a bachelor’s degree in botany from Humboldt State University in 1974 and an master’s degree in plant soil and water science from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1979. McGourty joined UC Cooperative Extension in 1987, and works with winegrape growers, wineries, nurseries, landscapers and vegetable growers. Present research activities include evaluating 14 Mediterranean winegrape varieties; clonal trials of Sauvignon blanc, comparison of organic, biodynamic and conventional farming for their effects on winegrape and soil quality; and evaluation of cover crop species.
Prahlada Papper is an educator and naturalist as well as a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley in David Ackerly’s ecology lab. His research at the Hopland Research and Extension Center involves the genetic and ecological diversity of California oaks. Papper doesn’t really expect to find answers to the age old mysteries of oaks, but does think that by using modern tools like genome sequencing and ecological models, we can look at some of the old questions in new ways.
Kim Rodrigues, Ph.D. is the director of the Hopland Research and Extension Center. She began her UC career with Cooperative Extension in 1991 as a forestry and natural resources advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties. She became the county director two years later. Her research and extension activities have focused on environmental policy and engagement of the public in resolving environmental conflicts. Her experience, coupled with a great passion for HREC’s 5,300 acres of oak woodland and a keen desire to reach out to the community to encourage collaboration and partnerships, offers new opportunities and exciting times at HREC.
At Farmer’s Guild earlier this summer, when Inland Mendocino County farmers gathered for a potluck at Green Uprising Farm, we were asked to introduce ourselves and share what our favorite part of summer was. Almost everyone was head-over-heels for summer, with it’s warm weather and abundant produce. Not me, though – I’m a fall and winter girl. On the day that I was born, it was the first rain of the fall and I’m convinced that it’s in my blood to look forward to the cold weather.Summer produce is great, but fall produce fills me with over-the-top hyperbole, like “this is the single BEST fig I have ever tasted in my whole life” (from Floodgate Farm, and it really was). I plan much of my preserving to happen in the fall months, when summer produce is still plentiful and fall produce has come into season. This year I’m canning as many heirloom tomatoes as I possibly can manage, making basic stewed tomatoes to be used in all sorts of soups, stews and braises during the winter. I’m dehydrating loads of the gorgeous French prune plums you can find from Green Uprising Farm & Covelo Organics, among others.
I’m also dehydrating Asian pears and late pluots we have here at our property, and making concord grape jam with our grapes. I’m canning dilly beans and blanching and freezing greens beans while we still have them, and will probably put up a few dozen quarts of pickles before the cucumbers disappear. I’m going to buy several cases of apples & pears from Seely Farm on the Food Hub in the next week or two also. I’ll probably make spiced apple and pear sauce, can some pears in syrup, and dehydrate a bunch of that as well.
I planted my winter squash really late this year and I’m not sure how that crop will come in, but if I need to, I’ll probably buy a few cases of delicatas and butternuts from Seely Farm to keep in the pantry as well. It’s much cheaper just to buy them now then end up having to buy them at the grocery store, and as long as they’re stored in a cool, dry place they’ll last for several months. Hot peppers are also in season, and I’ll be fermenting lots of hot sauce and making pepper jelly for the pantry, because we could never live without pepper jelly.Sometimes, as we move into fall, people can forget that it’s a vital part of the growing season for farmers as we finish harvesting summer produce and work to maximize everything we can get out our work for the summer season. It’s the perfect time of year to look for good deals on bulk purchases, and to stock your freezer and your pantry. If you’re on the fence, let me be the one to convince you: buy a box of butternut squash to stash in your pantry or garage. You don’t have to can it or anything, just leave it there and it will last on it’s own. Buy a box of apples, eat them fresh and then make some applesauce to can or freeze. If you’ve never canned before, read up on this post about how it’s totally manageable to can some tomatoes, or just throw them in the freezer if that’s too much to deal with.
We only have another month or so before the weather gets cold and the selection of produce at the farmers market transitions into winter crops, so don’t wait. To inspire you to embrace the last of the summer growing season, we’ve started a new facebook group to share your best local food recipes, tips and more. Log on and share what your own favorite recipes, your favorite seasonal produce, and how you’re celebrating the change of seasons.