EAT LOCAL

By Tony Sears

Eating Local, Farm-to-Table, Farm-to-Fork, Seasonal Menu have all become buzzwords for a movement that not only supports local growers but also provides a healthy and tasty alternative to the corporate, chemical laden, genetically modified food chain for nourishing your family.

If you have ever eaten a ripe tomato, plucked straight off the vine, you will no doubt agree that even the best supermarket tomatoes never compare. The taste, the texture, the smell, the look – it’s just not the same. And the more corporatized farming becomes, the less likely you are to think “WOW!” when you bite into that bit of bland salad. You are also less likely to know just where your celery came from, what was sprayed on it, who handled it, how it was stored, or when it was picked. Just yesterday, I saw organic celery in the grocery store that was pale yellow and browning on the edges. It was the same price as the fresh bunch I bought at a farmers market recently, and it was about one third the size. It may come as a shock to some people but celery is not yellow. Freshly cut celery is a brilliant shade of green, is super crunchy, and tastes slightly salty.

Years ago I was hired to do a photography job for one of the nation’s largest food distributors. I arrived at a complex of giant warehouses, south of Los Angeles, where equally giant trucks unloaded and reloaded thousands of boxes of produce all day long. A company representative explained that product was picked up at the docks in San Pedro, having arrived by ship from countries as far away as New Zealand. The product was then brought to the distribution center, stocked to fill orders from around the country, and ultimately put back on a truck for transport to grocery stores, restaurants, etc..

“Eating locally grown provisions insures nutritional values, food safety, and fresh taste.”

That got me thinking… just how old is the food in the “fresh” produce section of my neighborhood supermarket? When I bought strawberries in December, for example, did I even look to see where they were grown? Let’s say it was Chile, from where the US gets 8% if its imported fruits and vegetables. Chile is 5,000 miles away from the Port of Los Angeles. Hmmm… The average cargo ship sails at about 15 mph, which means it takes at least two weeks to make the trip.

Let’s say the strawberries are picked on day 1, then packaged and transported to the shipping location the same day. They surely must sit on the dock or in storage for a day or so, until the ship is fully loaded and ready to go. Let’s assume they arrive in the US on day 17. They have to be unloaded and transported to the Distribution Center – one more day. My berries still have to be inventoried, perhaps repackaged, then stored until orders are processed. Call it another day. Finally, they are trucked out to arrive in Las Vegas on day 19 and stocked in the supermarket. If I’m lucky, they get put onto the shelf in the produce section the same day. But I may not get to the store for two or three days, and of course I won’t use them until the weekend when I top that dessert for our dinner guests. So… that’s… day TWENTY FIVE! No wonder they’re not as bright and firm and juicy as the ones I get in May from just down the road. My rather tasteless strawberries are, by even a conservative estimate, over two and a half weeks old! Vitamin and nutrient decay in strawberries alone can reach 90% after just a few days. In some instances, fruits, like apples, can be months old by the time you get your teeth in them!

“That got me thinking… just how old is the food in the “fresh” produce section of my neighborhood supermarket?”

That is why I have become a staunch advocate for buying local fruits and vegetables from local growers. Almost every community in America has one or more farms nearby, even the Nevada desert, and most have weekly farmers markets as well. Google “Local Farms” and see what you find. Small independent farms are often organic, relying on non-toxic methods of pest control. Most have websites to tell you at which farm stand or market their produce is available. You can be sure your beans or spinach were harvested within a day or two. Some, like The Gilcrease Orchard* in Las Vegas, offer a “pick-your-own” option, which is a fantastic and fun way to introduce kids to the world of nutrition and agriculture. I go most every Saturday morning, and I love hearing the squeals of delight when a toddler sees a bright orange carrot pop out of the soil. Have trouble getting your kids to eat beets? Maybe if they yank one out of the ground themselves they’ll be more likely to try them! Gilcrease also keeps chickens in an ultra clean and fun chicken house and has fresh farm eggs for sale. Not only do the newly laid eggs taste great, I can verify the treatment and living condition of the hens with my own eyes.

Eating locally grown provisions insures nutritional values, food safety, and fresh taste. Try adjusting your menus to seasonal availability as well. Everyone seems to associate salads with summer – you know, the perfect light lunch on a hot day… But because lettuce grows in the cooler weather, I eat more of it in the winter. So… strawberries in the spring, squash in the summer… Do your research and make menus fun with the things you find right in your own community. And think of the money you’ll save not having to pay all of those shipping costs, which are built-in to your supermarket fare!

Did you know… ?

If you keep freshly cut asparagus in a shallow bowl of water on your counter it will continue to grow? Up to an inch a day!

Lady Bugs are nature’s own pest control. They eat aphids and other insects that are harmful to plants!

Washing your veggies in a large bowl allows you to catch the water and use it in your own garden instead of sending it down the drain!

* The Gilcrease Orchard is a nonprofit community farm located in North Las Vegas, Nevada. www.thegilcreaseorchard.org