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Eating locally grown, organic foods has become quite the fashion in San Diego County. But to those following global economic issues and contemporary events in urban living, the producing and eating of locally grown foods has a dramatically serious side well worthy of your consideration.
Food availability is fast becoming the new driver of world politics, contends Lester Brown in the lead article “The New Geopolitics of Food” in the May-June issue of Foreign Policy Magazine. Brown, who founded the World Watch Institute in Washington D.C. in 1974, is not just another talking head. He is highly respected by world and business leaders, and leading academics. When Lester Brown speaks, those attempting to make or influence world policies listen.
Beyond the often cited statistics of how those of us in the USA consume more of just about everything per capita than anyone else on the planet (i.e., we are less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consume over 25 percent of the world’s energy resources), those food consumption comparisons show us that in a world where the majority consume the equivalent of one pound of grain per day, our USA consumption is just under four and a half pounds of grain per day.
Of course, we don’t consume those four and a half pounds of grain as grain. Rather we consume them the form of meat, milk and eggs, as well as the vegetable and grain products which make up our diet. Brown’s article sets out some contemporary challenges that make growing and consuming what is locally grown as being far more important than just “being a nice thing to do.”
Brown points out how everything from global warming, which decreases crop yields, to the increasing global competition for food, as the expanding world population moves up the food chain in their consumption preferences, is turning the availability of the land and the water needed to grow food into becoming major drivers of world politics.
Add in some unpredictable weather events, such as those in our country, like the floods in our Midwest and along the Mississippi river basin, and the drought in Texas and Colorado, and you have a global phenomenon where there simply will not be adequate affordable food supplies for the growing worldwide population.
Capturing the maximum crop yield through the use and conservation of local fertile soils, and adding to the stabilization of our climate by limiting transportation costs and pollution, which the use of locally grown produce does, all contributes to the mix of required actions needed to address the 21st-century food wars which Brown can see developing.
So what can we, as San Diego consumers, do?
Growing as much of your own food as possible, either individually or collectively with your neighbors, could be one answer. The May 7, 2011 presentation of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion on local public radio gave some indication of the variety of ways that is possible, showing us how Detroit, of all places, was becoming a center for urban gardening and urban agriculture.
By taking advantage of the population loss from this former manufacturing mecca, Detroit now has over 800 community gardens where they have replaced abandoned and demolished home sites with community gardens which not only make productive use of what otherwise would be scruffy vacant lots, but they also provide a source of healthy produce to a struggling urban population which otherwise would have difficulty obtaining the veggie balance needed in a healthy diet. As Garrison put it, much of Detroit now looks like a rural farmscape, with sweet corn and beets where there used to be city streets.
For those of us in San Diego County, another strong possibility is to participate in a CSA. The terms stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and in its simplest form, it is a linking of customers for locally grown products with a specific farmer who will grow them for you.
The customer subscribes for a weekly or biweekly basket of fruits and veggies. The subscription is usually for an extended period of months, thus the farmer has a firm commitment regarding how many customers they need to supply over an extended period of time. With that secured-in-advance customer base, the farmer can plan and plant accordingly.
For the customer, it guarantees them a basket of produce which is locally grown and incredibly fresh. The customer’s weekly pick up spots vary from farmer’s markets, to business or residential drop-off/pick-up sites. The contents of the basket are always a surprise, providing the best of whatever is in season at that time. For the healthy-eating minded, this provides a myriad of opportunities to experiment with easy, healthy recipes which you might otherwise not have tried.
Suzie’s Farm is one such CSA, which supplies an over 600 member customer base, plus supplies fresh produce to a host of local restaurants. Named for the Norwegian Elk Hound of Robin Taylor and Lucila De Alejandro, these farm owners of what is now 70 acres of prime river bottom land in south San Diego County, and their Suzie’s Farm team do everything imaginable to not only produce a delightful variety of organic produce, but try to involve their CSA clients in the “farming experience” as well.
We participated in a half-day tour a few months ago where we not only saw where our weekly baskets of fruits and veggies came from, but gained a good understanding of the farming methods used to achieve the “organic” certification.
Robin and Lucila, however, have taken the fun of getting your hands into the dirt to much higher levels with singles-only weed pulling parties where people who want to “get down to earth” can meet persons similarly inclined, in order to establish roots and advance their prospects for healthy eating in the process. They have even facilitated meditation sessions in the fields, providing a space for the contemplative to become more in harmony and balance with the earth’s elements. In the process, they are building farm loyalty within their CSA customer base — a reliable base of advance sales, which their local, homegrown operation needs in order to thrive.
As San Diegans think about the growing global competition for food, their individual costs for food, plus their need to pursue a diet rich in nutrition and variety, they might think favorably about the CSA option. In addition to Suzie’s Farm, there are other CSAs in the county. A listing can be found in “Edible San Diego” magazine.
No matter what you do, try to do something that helps you achieve the secure supply of the food you will need in order to remain healthy and enjoy the great life which is possible here in San Diego County.
Helen Nielsen-Eckfield lives in Carlsbad.