by Farmer Jay
Recently while making an organic almond butter and jelly sandwich for my child, I decided to thoroughly read the labels. Interestingly, the jar of jelly proudly stated that this jelly was organic. All ingredients, including the berries, were grown without the use of harmful chemicals and/or pesticides and were brought to you “farm-to-table” from the foothills of Washington.
I felt dumbfounded at the ridiculous nature of this statement; this mainstream brand was served at tables all across America … how could that be considered farm-to-table? How many stops did those berries make before arriving in the jam jar and on my supermarket shelf and later in my refrigerator?
Is this term “farm-to-fork” being thrown around way too loosely in an effort to confuse us into believing that we are a part of a very important “local” movement, when in fact it is all a marketing scam? Pictures of farmers and cows and green pastures abound, but what happens to our food once it is harvested, where does it go and how does it get to our plates and how long does it take for it to arrive there?
I felt the need to dig deeper and find out for myself. How do I ensure I am doing my part? How can I guarantee I am successfully supporting the real meaning of the farm-to-table local movement?
First, let’s start with what is “farm-to-fork” or “farm-to-table” is supposed to mean. This term refers to a local movement concerned with producing food locally and delivering that food to local consumers. This movement is associated with organic farming initiatives, sustainable agriculture, community supported agriculture and restaurants. It is also representative of the public retaliation against GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our food supply. Many advocates credit the works of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Thomas Keller for their preference for real food and the slow food movement. They strive to educate consumers about the connection between the farm and farms’ communities, the way our grandparents produced food, and today’s food production practices. It was only a few generations ago that 70 percent of the population grew at least some portion of their own food. In those days, “local” was the only option. How have we steered so far away from the original model?
This fall from our roots is leading to our own demise with an increase in disease, obesity and mental illness. Carl Jung once said, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” Perhaps our society has had its fill, recognizing this very quote coming to fruition. Are we finally ready to take a stand and demand a difference? This progression can only commence if it is in our own communities, our schools and our own tables. OK, so now to answer question ”how do we get back to the basics, back to REAL food?” To do this, we must analyze the local farm-to-table movement and gain a true understanding of its exact definition. Some restaurant owners would argue that ALL food is farm-to-table because all vegetables come from a farm. Although this seems like a logical explanation, let’s examine where our food goes after harvest and WHO or WHAT harvests our food. Often, our seeds are planted with the help of big machinery. Later, it is harvested in much the same way, by machines. These veggies (harvested too soon) are about to embark on a great journey in hopes to arrive at your table in about 7 to 10 days, maybe even longer. Soon after harvest, they arrive at a packinghouse. After packaging, they travel to the distribution center or wholesaler, then to your local retailer, eventually to your green bags and then finally … to your table. Whew … hardly a one-stop hop from farm to table. Even I’m exhausted after all that traveling! Fortunately, your veggies don’t become exhausted from a long journey. However, despite their attractive appearance, they lack nutritional density and taste, not to mention they will need to be used almost immediately because they are on the verge of rotting. Unfortunately, this has become the chosen food model. The lack of nutritional density decreases shelf life, which means the need for your return to the cash register increases.

Today we find ourselves fighting our way back to our local food source and the farming practices of yesterday. Accountability can only be established when a relationship between the farmer and the consumer exists. Farmers markets and green markets have risen from the 1,755 in 1994 to 7,175 in 2011 due to consumer demand, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today more than 58 percent of our population shops at farmers markets.

With all this having been said, shopping farmers markets doesn’t guarantee local; local doesn’t guarantee chemical- and pesticide-free; all natural doesn’t guarantee organic; and farm-to-fork doesn’t guarantee that the farm was indeed within our community. We must ask questions. It is our right to know what is nourishing our bodies. It is our right to spend our hard-earned dollars on real food that is fresh and we deserve the right of answerability. So ask your farmers market vendors where the fruits and veggies were grown and how they were grown. Ask your restaurants claiming farm-to-fork who their farmer is, and by all means demand food that is local, organic, grass fed and non-GMO, as well as has proper labeling and no more false advertising. It is our right to know the answers to those questions and it is our responsibility to lead those we buy from in the direction of reducing the demand for fossil fuels. Each purchase we make is a vote! Exercise your right and vote responsibly!

Tips for Reducing the Demand for Fossil Fuels

• Reduce, reuse and recycle: By recycling half of your household waste, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Buy economy sizes, buy products that use less packaging (boxes, packing materials etc.) or that come in recycled packaging.

• Use less heat or air conditioning: Setting your thermostat just 2 degrees lower in winter and higher in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. Do this at the very least when you’re away from home, at work or gone for the evening or weekend.

• Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light. The United States could eliminate greenhouse gas emissions equal to 800,000 cars if each household in the country replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL bulb, according to Energy Star. Energy Star is a program of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designed to help consumers save money and protect the environment by using energy efficient products and practices.

• Drive less and drive smart. Walk, carpool or bike whenever possible. When you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently. For example, keeping your tires inflated properly can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget; it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

• Switch to e-cards instead of paper. So many are available for free online.

• Go paperless: Use washcloths, cloth napkins and kitchen towels instead of paper towels and paper napkins.• Reduce the amount of junk mail that comes to your home or office (call catalog companies and tell them to take you off their list, call your debtors like power company, water, cable, mortgage and credit card companies and tell them to send you your bills via email)

• Reduce the amount of stuff you throw away by using Craigslist, Freecycle, eBay or donate to Goodwill and other non-profit organizations.

• Buy used. The same resources listed above can help.

• Reduce the amount of resources you utilize. Use less detergent, cut out the fabric softener and dryer sheets — use a half cup of white vinegar in the wash instead.

• Reduce the amount of pesticides you consume and that are released into our environment by going organic.

• Plant a tree.

• Demand that your favorite restaurants use their local and organic farms and truly become farm-to-fork!