Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is ... Literally

The quote of the week has to be this one that I saw today in an article I was reading: It's going to take the people of America to stand up and buy local.

Yes!

Yes!

Yes!

If *we*, the People, want "change we can believe in", *we* have to take control, and the best way to bring jobs back to our country is to start buying products that the people in our country produce.

Like food, for instance.

I was reading an article this morning about a couple of entrepreneurial Moms, who've decided to capitalize on the whole local foods movement. First, they've been operating a local foods co-op for a couple of years, but they looked more closely at the issue and at our State (Maine), and they realized that we have
  • a lot of really great farms that are growing a lot of really great food;
  • a really crappy distribution system.

So, they decided to do something about the second item, and they've started a company that will process the "Maine grown" vegetables into forms that American shoppers like to see, like those yummy, sweet and kid-friendly "baby carrots" (which are actually just whittled down big carrots, but don't tell the kids who might like to think that carrots really grow in that shape ;). Their company "Northern Girl" will also sell things like cut and peeled packages of root vegetables and will package other vegetables to be sold from the grocer's freezer (like frozen broccoli).

Maine's Aroostook County has long been a severely economically depressed agricultural area. The problem is that many of the farms are too small to compete on an international level, but, until now, they haven't had much of a domestic customer-base. Their typical customer is the commodity buyer who wants high volume, but is only willing to pay very low prices. Many farmers out west (especially those who grow corn) have found the same problem, and this sort of business practice has resulted in the loss of most of our family farms to suburban sprawl, as large land owners can no longer grow enough food to even pay the taxes on their land, and small land owners can't afford to pay the mortgage.

For Maine's farmers, at least, Northern Girl hopes to change all of that by concentrating on mid-sized farms and offering farmers a professional wage.

A friend of mine has just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. She's new to the whole local foods movement, but is interested enough to contemplate giving it a whirl ... with one problem: she's been a vegetarian for twenty years, and both of her teenaged children were raised as vegetarians. Most of the locavores she knows, and indeed most of the authors who discuss their locavore lifestyles, are not vegetarians. She was, kind of, musing outloud if being a vegetarian locavore was possible in a climate like ours.

With a company like Northern Girl behind her, I think her chances of maintaining a year-round, local, vegetarian diet just got easier ;).

3 comments:

  1. Sounds great, Wendy! You Maine folk are certainly on the right track!!

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  2. You are dead right...and thought provoking, as usual.

    Tell your friend that we also are lifelong vegetarians who are trying to eat close to home.

    For us, the first step was eating domestic foods..IOW, if it doesn't grow in the contiguous 48, we don't eat it. OK..realistically, we do occasionally eat a bit of pineapple or macadamia nuts, but we go out of our way to buy American or do without. (This includes clothes and such)
    Next, we're searching for regional suppliers of flour/wheat, rice, and legumes. We're still in this phase, trying to buy things within a 6-8 state radius. (We're in Georgia) And of course I expand my garden every year...currently I'm producing most of our summer produce, and about 3 months of our winter needs.
    The obvious next step is to attempt to find things within a certain driving range..maybe 4 hours? It's tricky, as I go out of my way to find smaller farmers, rather than continue to enrich corporations, and I prefer organic. Not necessarily certified organic,(crazy paperwork and fees) but with a small local grower, you can visit and chat and get to know what you're buying, and from whom you are buying.

    Anyway, this way, we gradually phase out foods that we enjoy, but will be harder to get. Much easier, I think, than going "cold turkey" like Ms Kingsolver did!

    BTW..we are practically vegan in winter, because the local flocks aren't laying during the winter, unless they are artifically stimulated with indoor lights, and I don't care for that. And of course, cows and goats raised to follow their natural lifestyles aren't making much milk during the winter either. It's doable. ;o)

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  3. Thanks, Julie :). The longer I live here the more I realize how smart and resourceful Mainers are ;).

    Kate - thanks for sharing your story. My friend will be very happy to read your experiences. I agree with you that it's not about being perfect, but about making conscious choices about what we eat and where our food comes from.

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