Wait, let me get my soapbox…okay, I’m ready.
I just learned that today is Blog Action Day. Close to 20,000 bloggers talking about the environment on the same day. As you may know, having read previous articles, I am passionate about buying and eating locally.
Did you know that the average piece of food travels one thousand, five hundred miles from field to table?
Did you know that because of how far our food travels and the prolific use of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, one fifth of the fossil fuel we Americans use goes to food production and distribution?
Overview of Crescent Moon Farm, less than 10 miles from our house
That’s insane. That also means that true fertility is lacking in the soil of the big industrialized mega-farms. If the soil is stripped of all it’s nutrients, and then treated with chemical fertilizers, the food that grows in that soil is devoid of many of it’s beneficial vitamins and minerals. It actually means we don’t get as much of the good stuff out of our food as we should.
Plus, if the crops aren’t rotated and there is just a mono-culture of, say, corn or potatoes, then the pests really take hold, and the new “conventional” standard is to load on the pesticides. Why is it that using synthetic chemicals on our food has only been widely practiced for 60 or 70 years, and we call it “conventional”? Humans had been cultivating crops according to the natural laws of seasonal, moon, and sun cycles for over 10,000 years.
Interestingly enough, according to this New York Times article from Oct. 3rd, 2007, in a Swiss study, rats were able to tell the difference between biscuits made from organic, or so-called “conventional” wheat. The rats ate significantly more of the biscuits made from organic wheat. (Maybe the brilliant storytellers at Pixar were onto something with Remy in this summer’s fun film Ratatouille.) The Swiss and Austrian scientists felt the results were remarkable “because they found the two wheats to be very similar in chemical composition and baking performance”.
(scene from Ratatouille Â© Disney/Pixar. )
Professors at UC Davis were also cited in the article, since their research found that the levels of antioxidants present in organic tomatoes varied from year to year, but were consistently higher than in conventional tomatoes. Scientists believe there are higher phytochemicals (substances the plants produce themselves) in organic produce because those plants have to ward off invaders and insects themselves, rather than relying on synthetic pesticides and fungicides do the work for them.
When farmers utilize companion planting as well, all of the plants and beneficial bugs win too. When I worked for Fairview Gardens outside of Santa Barbara, CA we had nine rows of strawberry plants. Clover was planted in the furrows to keep weeds down. Interspersed in the strawberry beds were occasional leeks, onions and garlic (members of the allium family) to act as natural fungicides, and help fight disease in the berries.
Those two aspects of companion planting made a big difference in the yield of strawberries, but the kicker was when they planted a row of wildflowers to bookend the strawberry rows. The particular wildflowers they planted, attract the predatory bugs that eat the bugs who eat the strawberries. How cool is that?! I don’t remember the exact figures, but with that one little thing of devoting a few rows to the wildflowers, the farm more than quadrupled the flats of berries they were able to harvest out of the same space. Truly remarkable. So, companion planting and being aware of what the plants and land actually need, make sense from a financial standpoint as well.
Having said all this, you really do make a difference when you grow your own food, or buy from local farmers. Ask to visit their farms. Right now is a great time, with harvest festivals, hay rides, and pumpkin patches. Get to know the people who make the food on your plate possible. Ask them what it’s like for them, what their working conditions are, what they recommend that day.
Have you ever seen an eggplant with this much personality at the grocery store?
We have lived interdependently for at least 200,000 years. We need connection with each other, and good nourishing food, lovingly produced and prepared. Buying from local farm stands and farmers markets is just one more way to “vote with your dollars” so to speak, and connect with your local community.
Okay, now I’ll put my soapbox away for a bit, but it had gotten a little dusty, and Blog Action Day was a good excuse to break it out.