But seriously, just as organic food began to hit the shelves at Wal-Mart and mainstream grocery shoppers began to believe that "organic" is better than "conventional," a series of outspoken foodies writing magazine articles, books and blogs, started to challenge the benefits of organic versus local.
The tremendous success of organic products was made possible because industrial food giants jumped on the bandwagon. And now that organic food has become a billion-dollar industry, the things that used to make it different-small farms, minimal distribution networks, farmers in Birkenstocks-are starting to disappear. Folks who think a lot about food are thinking harder about choosing food that's certified organic-but grown by General Mills and trucked halfway across the world. Many prefer locally grown food that's not certified organic but is sustainable, contributes to the local economy and involves minimal use of fossil fuels. As the price of gas climbs higher and global warming becomes increasingly dangerous, it makes more and more sense to consider how much energy we use to grow our food and bring it to market.
In places like California, which has a year-round growing season, given enough time and money, it's almost possible to eat locally grown food (if you're willing to give up salt, coffee, chocolate and spices). But here in New Mexico, rough terrain, harsh climate and scarce water severely limit our agricultural output; for those of us who don't live on a farm, an attempt to eat exclusively locally could be a fun challenge at the height of late summer's harvest-or a grueling folly in the barren months of winter.
And so the challenge for us becomes how to incorporate as much local food as possible into our lives. Many people we talked to said they've planted small gardens and started canning and freezing summer's surplus. La Montañita Co-op has created a regional foodshed project to buy food from our neighbors in southern Colorado, western Texas and eastern Arizona. Meanwhile, Los Poblanos Organics, a community-supported agriculture program in Albuquerque, offers members a combination of its own locally grown fruits and vegetables along with produce (such as citrus and kiwis) from out-of-state growers.
On a practical level, the joy of eating locally grown food doesn't come from a delicious sense of moral superiority. It comes from eating greens that were picked hours ago instead of weeks ago, tomatoes allowed to ripen naturally, apples that are small and imperfect-looking but bursting with flavor and meat from animals that never stepped hoof on a feed lot. The feeling of pride and satisfaction that comes from devouring the bounty of our own land is just (organic) frosting on the (locally made) cake.
- Reading List
- Coffee Culture
- Living Off the Land
- Eat Like a Man - Local Beef
- Shop Local
- Local, Organic, Sustainable Living
- Shopping Chart (pdf file)
One of the easiest ways to eat locally is to join a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA. In a CSA, community members agree to buy a share of a farm's seasonal output. Members may pay a flat fee at the beginning of the season, or pay weekly or monthly fees throughout the season; in return, the farmer divides his bounty evenly among the members. Together the members and the farmer share the risks of farming and the benefits of fresh, local produce. There are several such programs near Santa Fe. Here are a few:
Camino de Paz School and Farm, 505-747-9717 www.caminodepaz.net
This CSA, tended by students at the school, has a very flexible schedule that works well for folks who travel a lot or cook on an infrequent schedule. For an annual membership of $150, members are allotted a certain amount of food. Every week (or as often as they like) members visit the farm's booth at the Santa Fe Farmers Market and select as much or as little produce as they like. That amount is then deducted from the annual total.
Beneficial Farm, 422-2238
Beneficial Farm is run by Steve Warshawer, who coordinates La Montañita Co-op's Regional Foodshed Program. Although his farm is near Santa Fe, the CSA offers produce from a dozen regional farms and ranches. The summer season begins on May 1. Members pick up their weekly shares from noon to 2 pm Thursdays at Kitchen Angels. (If you can't make it, you can leave a cooler there to be filled. There will be a few other distribution points announced.) The seasonal cost is $660. Go to the Web site for more details.
Los Poblanos Organics, 505-681-4060
Located on a historic piece of land grant farmland in Albuquerque's North Valley, Los Poblanos Organics offers a combination of locally grown produce and organic produce from elsewhere, allowing the CSA to operate year 'round. Every week members are entitled to a box of produce designed to feed a family of four. There are pickup opportunities in Santa Fe on Mondays and Tuesdays (at Annapurna Vegetarian Restaurant and Cloudcliff Bakery). The cost is $26 per week but a discount is given for buying 10 weeks at a time. Members can choose to receive a box every week or every other week. Go to the Web site to see what's in this week's box.