The challenges of shopping locally in the age of E.Coli eggs and scary lettuce

The recent E.Coli outbreak effecting eggs, lettuce, and ground beef highlight how important it is to shop locally and to know where the food on your plate comes from. The truth is, it’s not always easy to secure all of the food your family eats from your local community.

As farmers, my family spends a great deal of time in the garden and fields planting cover crops, spreading manure from our animals (in lieu of using chemical fertilizers), and implementing various permaculture principles on our farm. In this way, we are able to raise a great deal of our food. We started our rotationally-grazed Galloway herd to fulfill our desire of eating pasture raised beef. We are able to eat eggs from free range chickens. I humbly acknowledge that we are indeed blessed and fortunate enough to have the space needed to grow and raise a lot of our food. This is a are blessing that not everyone is afforded nor inclined to undertake.

Having lived in several major cities as an adult, I am keenly aware of how difficult it can be to find local food raised in keeping with ones values. Some cities make connecting with farmers pretty easy; I have lived in fairly large cities that maintain robust, vibrant markets. Farmers come from hours away to set up there and command prices that allow them to make a good living from the farm. However, I have lived in other communities where farmers’ markets were either inaccessible or consisted largely of resellers– folks who purchased produce from produce markets where food is from everywhere, and simply resold them to the public at the market.

So where does that leave the average consumer? Well, honestly, it makes “shopping locally” a challenge. Few would disagree with the need to support family farms, but folks have to feed their families, regardless of where that food comes from. Some communities struggle with food insecurity, food deserts, and lack of transportation to even get to markets. Many families struggle with the cost of food, and though they would like to purchase more fresh produce from local farmers, the budget may not allow for that. Additionally, many farmers markets across the country now accept EBT/debit/credit cards, but individual farmers may not be set up to do so. Many rural communities lack sufficient wireless infrastructure to be able to even add these payment options.

In addition to those socio-cultural challenges, there are real supply chain and natural impediments that also make it difficult for the the average consumer to eat locally. While grocery stores/box chains are dealing with the fallout of potentially contaminated food, farmers across the country are dealing with the aftermath of our long, protracted winter.

Farmers across the country have altered or delayed their planting schedules. Even cold-tolerant plants have been thrown off a bit by the conditions.  My Southern farming friends have not been immune-  many farmers markets have delayed their openings since so few vegetables are currently ready for harvest.

So please be patient with your local farmers. There is no part of our food system that is immune to the reach and whim of mother nature or other outside forces, whether you shop at your local farmers market or stop by the farm stand down the road from your house!

-CW

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