Letter writer: Local food benefits farmers and the community

Graphic by Lori Deaton

There is a lot of conflict lately over the use of genetically modified organisms, as if they are the worst part of America’s food production. With Chipotle going GMO-free and even local restaurants in Asheville like Mamacita’s joining the movement, you realize that there is the possibility for change.

However, in my opinion, this is not the change we need. Non-GMO food may not have genetic modifications, but it is more likely to be doused in pesticides and smothered with fertilizers that are also harmful. Therefore, if GMO isn’t the way to go, then what is?

In my opinion, it is eating local. To many people, that means a stop at the farmers market once a week, but that isn’t enough. For farmers that rely on these markets, they need people to buy more than just their lettuce from these markets. You may not think this is something you can change, but each and every person can have an impact. We can make a stand and win back the right to a healthy diet. The suppliers rely on the demand, so let’s demand local food.

So why is local food better? First of all it, it doesn’t use monoculture, which is worse for the ground and spreads more diseases in plants. Second, there is a shorter time between farm and table, which means it is fresher and it looks better. Local food is also better for the local government and economy, instead of helping farmers in the Midwest.

For animals, local food is more humane. When cows are raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, they are forced to eat corn instead of their natural diet of grass, and it destroys their immune system.

In all ways, local food is better. People who eat locally are healthier and have lower levels of toxins that bio-accumulate throughout a food chain like DDT in pesticides. For example, when one family in Sweden went all-organic for two short weeks, pesticide levels in their blood dropped dramatically.

I’ve seen the worst of America’s food system and talked to many local farmers who are seeing the worst of it. So that makes me propose the question: What could eating local food do for you?

— Claire Amon
10th grade
North Buncombe High School
Weaverville

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One thought on “Letter writer: Local food benefits farmers and the community

  1. Stewart

    Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (search “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States”) found that “greenhouse gas emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase.” Surprisingly, they noted, “Final delivery from producer to retailer contributes only 4 percent” of the life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions.

    Accordingly, they suggest that consumers modify their diets by eating foods that require less energy to produce in the first place. Eating an all-local diet, they found, saves the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 fewer miles each year, while eating a vegetarian diet one day per week is equivalent to driving 1,160 fewer miles per year. Quite simply, this is because feeding food to animals and then eating the animals is an extremely inefficient use of resources.

    The above-cited study may be the first to quantitatively compare the environmental implications of “food miles” vs. food choices. But it’s only the latest in a long series of articles in prestigious scientific journals and studies from top universities concluding that eating animal products contributes greatly to climate change.

    According to the United Nations’ 390-page report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, trains, buses, ships and airplanes in the world combined. Scientists at the University of Chicago calculated that switching from the standard American diet to a plant-based diet does more to combat global warming than switching from a gas-guzzler to a Toyota Prius. Even the most conservative environmental organizations are now discussing the need to consume less meat or none at all (see “The Low-Carbon Diet,” January 2009 Audubon magazine).

    Regarding local farms that raise animals. compared with factory farms, family farms do employ some environmentally beneficial practices. Yet in some ways they’re actually less eco-friendly. Animals allowed to move around expend more calories and thus consume more resources than those crammed into tiny crates and cages. Chickens not pumped full of antibiotics and genetically manipulated to reach optimal slaughter weight at 6-1/2 weeks take longer to raise — and consume more food in the process. Cows raised on pasture produce more methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide) than those crammed into feedlots.

    Supporting a meat-based diet requires five times as much land as a plant-based diet, and smaller farms use even more land per animal. Additional demand for these products means deforestation, which leads to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The amount of land needed to produce all the meat Americans now consume by so-called “sustainable” methods would be astronomical — and it simply isn’t available. So if the answer lies in a shift from factory to family farms, much less meat will be produced.

    There are definitely good reasons to support local farms. It’s great to do business with our neighbors, keep more money and jobs in our community, minimize “food miles,” eat fresher and tastier food, preserve local farmland and avoid supporting corporate agribusiness. And local farms are generally far cruel than their industrial counterparts when it comes to raising animals.

    But plant-based agriculture is clearly much healthier for the earth, and thinking locally is only part of the equation: We also need to act globally. Nostalgic calls for a return to the perceived quaintness of days gone by are unrealistic, given the population explosion we’ve experienced.

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