Tag Archives: farmers

Research: cheaper food means less nutrients

A few weeks ago, I shared a study that found nutrients in the U.S. food supply are declining. Which could explain why millions of Americans, who prefer to be thin, are overeating to get more nutrients.

Another study found that industrial farming techniques – including the use of petroleum-based fertilizer – reduces nutrient levels in food, while dramatically increasing yields. This means we have abundant cheap food with lowered nutrient levels:

This article summarizes three kinds of evidence pointing toward declines during the last 50 to 100 years in the concentration of some nutrients in vegetables and perhaps also in fruits. It has been noted since the 1940s that yield increases produced by fertilization, irrigation, and other environmental means tend to decrease the concentrations of minerals in plants.

Jarrell and Beverly (1981) reviewed the evidence for this well-known “dilution effect.” Although their review has been cited over 180 times (60 times from 2000 on), few mentions of the dilution effect contain a reference, suggesting that the effect is widely regarded as common knowledge.

Common among scientists perhaps, but the public is unaware. When I share this among friends and readers there is a strong disbelief, with the most common response being - food is cheaper. Yes it is, because it has been hollowed out like a pumpkin and there’s nothing left on the inside.

And that makes it a struggle to get the message out. How do I explain the dilution effect to a public obsessed with everything but this – from diet programs to food labels to coupon cutting that encourages cheaper food?

 

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Are you aware much of the U.S. is in a devastating drought?

From the Union-Tribune - Historic drought ripples across Southwest:

It’s been a brutal summer…in the upper Colorado River basin. The drought that’s spanned the nation for months has wrung out the Rocky Mountain region where much of the West’s water is produced. Residents of northwestern Colorado are watching gardens fail, crops wither, forest fire threats grow, reservoirs shrivel and businesses founder as water restrictions tighten for both farms and cities.

 

It’s causing billions of dollars in damage, but not receiving much media attention. I’m only aware of it through a conversation with a farmer at the farmers market. He said we are all hoping for a wet fall and winter, or things could get really bad.

 

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Farmers markets continue strong growth – 10% this year, 151% this decade

In the past few years, the USDA has started paying more attention to farmers markets. They now conduct a yearly survey asking all market managers in the country to stand up and be counted:

 

It’s safe to say that farmers markets are booming. They have more than doubled in the past decade (151% growth), and show strong growth every year:

  • 2011 – 17%
  • 2010 – 16%
  • 2009 – 13%
  • 2008 – 7%
  • 2006 – 18%

For reference, there were 36,569 supermarkets in the U.S. in 2011.

 

At the market – in season – March the beginning of Spring

I found a fantastic column from writer Carol Golden in San Diego Magazine. “At the Market – what to watch for this month:”

March is a transitional month, like pubescence for produce. We’re tired of root veg, but strawberries haven’t come of age. Thanks be to peas—the hint of light, sweet green we crave as days grow warmer. Eat whole sugar snaps raw, chop into salad, or lightly steam. For English peas, channel your inner grandma and sit with a bowl to shell them. Add the peas and a little water to a skillet, cook until the water evaporates. Or live dangerously with a knob of butter and sea salt. Sauté briefly, eat, and smile. Spring is almost here.

Keep reading for a CSA from Poppa’s Fresh Fish company – $25 for a box (25% off retail)  of local fish, mixed fish, shelled fish, or simply wild salmon.

And, Claravale Farm is bringing their raw milk to the dairy desert of Southern California. Did you know that it is near impossible to find milk, cheese, ice cream, or butter at farmers markets in Orange County and San Diego?

Well the milk man is back, at least at one farmers market in San Diego!

A long way off: seafood at farmers markets that is fresh, local, and sustainable

“Ideally, farmers market customers would like a vendor to offer:

  • Wild fish that is freshly caught, rather than frozen.
  • Caught in local waters.
  • Sold directly by the fisherman, his family or his employees.
  • Available regularly and reliably in a diverse range of products.
  • A reasonable price.

“Realistically, however, it is virtually impossible for one vendor to fulfill all of these criteria, any more than one person can be both a top-flight ballerina and a football linebacker.”

“Many farmers markets do have fish vendors, but almost all of those are resellers who readily tell customers that they bought their fish wholesale. If a certified produce vendor at a farmers market were doing that, they’d be violating the direct-marketing regulations that govern farmers markets.”

“Looking back at the fish vendors who have sold at the prestigious Santa Monica farmers market since she started managing it in 1982, Laura Avery says she can think of only one, a shrimper who no longer operates, who she was sure sold only what he caught.”

From LA Times Market Watch

The same goes for me. I have visited markets all over this country and only found one who sells what they catch. That is Buster’s Seafood at the Dupont Market in Washington DC.

West Coast and Atlantic Northeast dominate U.S. in Farmers Markets (map)

A recent study from the USDA released this map of farmers markets. Notice that the Northeast and West Coast dominate (dark blue).

From the report:

“Direct-to-consumer sales are highest in the Northeast, on the West Coast, and around a few isolated metropolitan areas throughout the country.”

“Farms with direct-to-consumer sales are most likely to have neighbors who also participate in direct sales—this is a neighborhood effect”

…choosy moms choose farmers markets and the whole neighborhood improves?

“The West Coast has a long-standing system of farmers’ markets and farmerto-grocers’ marketing channels dating back to the 1970s. Small-scale farmers began selling organic and high value-added niche foods to upscale restaurants in the late 1970s (now a national trend) and are now part of farm-to-school marketing arrangements.”

“Another U.S. hot spot for local food sales is the Atlantic seaboard, particularly the Northeast census division. Local food sales farms in the Northeast generated 14.4 percent of U.S. local food production.”

Source: Direct and Intermediate Marketing of Local Foods in the US, USDA (page 11)

Go local: an explanation of foodsheds

With all this talk about eating local and counting miles I thought it would be good to explain what it really means. The foundation for local eating starts with a foodshed.

Foodshed: a region or area from which a population draws its food.

The typical limit on these regions is 100 miles. Draw a 100-mile circle around where you live and that is your foodshed.

In economic terms this is ideal distance a farmer, or her goods, can travel to reach a market. That way it arrives on your plate as fresh, ripe, and nutritious as it can be.

Go outside of this limit and there is an increasing reliance on fossil fuels and a decreasing quality of the food.

For those concerned about pollution, global warming, or oil-addiction these “food miles” are a cause for concern. Farmers face similar concerns, albeit from the other side, with a rising cost of gas and oil-based fertilizers that narrow their profits.

Still for others the “go local” movement represents a desire to get the very best food they can find, and that is the fundamental reason for foodsheds.

I’ve tried to document what happens to our health with the advent of low quality foodour acceptance of it, and the difference in nutritional content.

These rings of farmland surrounding our communities represent the ideal of sustainable living. Where the countryside is not poverty-stricken, but instead a vibrant economic sector known as much for its wineries and ‘farm-days’ as it is for fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Even more these areas are often recession proof as evidenced by their continual rapid growth during the past half-decade.

It is for all these reasons that the locavore movement is popular and gaining momentum, there is something in it for everyone. Even the beefiest of meat eaters.

For further reference I’ve pulled together several maps of America’s foodsheds. Take a look.

san francisco california foodshed map 100 mile local locavore
Click for a larger image.

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