Buying local produce is healthier for us and the economy
We were walking through the grocery store when my daughter stopped short and asked aloud what the huge, bumpy, hard thing was stacked among the rest of the fruit in the produce section.
I had no idea what it was. It must have been over a foot long and it was incredibly heavy. The tag claimed it was a Jackfruit from southeast Asia. Huh. That is a long way to ship a piece of fruit. I looked at the price per pound, then tried to figure out what the thing weighed and did the math. It was probably a $40 piece of fruit. We walked on.
But I can’t stop thinking about that Jackfruit and the fact that we’ve arrived at a time in history when you can walk into a grocery store in western Colorado and buy a piece of fruit that was grown 9,000 miles away. It just seems kind of ridiculous, especially when we live in a place that grows amazing fruit. I half wonder if some mother is standing in a market in southeast Asia staring at a $40 Palisade Peach and thinking the same thing.
Before I start sounding too pious about the social consciousness of my groceries, I’m just as curious about the Jackfruit as my kids. When it goes on sale, we’ll probably buy it just to try it out for fun. The thing that keeps bothering me though is that we’ve gotten so spoiled as a nation — we fully expect a full produce section in the grocery store 12 months out of the year. I recently ran in to grab a few lemons and they were out. No lemons. It was preposterous. Lemons are a staple. I use them every day, all year. Forget the fact that they aren’t grown anywhere near here. I have come to rely on them because they are always stacked in the produce section.
It wasn’t that long ago that people ate only what was produced seasonally within the region that they lived. You ate root vegetables in the winter and fruit in the summer and you bought them from farmers who you knew by name. How quickly the world has changed. I read somewhere that the U.S. exports 1.1 million potatoes out of the country each year and imports 1.4 million potatoes into the country. It just makes no sense. If I lived in the city surrounded by concrete instead of dirt, I could see not blinking an eye at the Asian Jackfruit. I’d probably eat raspberries and peaches in January without even considering where they came from. But we don’t live in the city. We live in an agricultural oasis in the desert where our farmer friends and neighbors manage to get as much good stuff out of the Earth as they can in our short six-month growing season.
Anybody who’s sliced into a locally grown tomato in the height of summer knows just how delicious local produce can be, but it’s also more nutritious because it’s fresher. If you bought it from a local farmer, it was probably plucked that day from the farmer that sold it to you and the money went directly into his or her pocket. If you buy the Asian Jackfruit, you have to wonder how long ago it came off the tree, how many hands it passed through to get here, how much fuel went into getting it here and how much of that $40 actually went to the farmer. My guess is very, very little of it.
All of this got me thinking as I was digging into a simple salad that was sourced entirely from the Palisade Farmers Market, consisting of lettuce, roasted beets, a tomato and some sliced radishes. It was delicious. Far better than anything shipped in from out of the local region. What if, for just this week, we each took our weekly produce budget normally spent in the grocery store and spent it on local produce instead? What kind of impact could that have? Is that so crazy of a concept?
What if we did that for a month? At the very least, we’d certainly enjoy our food more. But what if we made the commitment to do it for the entire growing season? It would change our entire economy. Come winter, we can go back to the mealy apples, rock hard peaches and tasteless tomatoes. But for the next few months, at least, we can eat better tasting foods that are better for our bodies and keep more of our grocery budget right here in our own community.