Re-localizing our food system has been a passion of mine for many years.
I am currently the owner of Onsen Farm in the Hagerman valley growing food for Idahoans in geothermally heated greenhouses during the winter season. In 2006 I helped found Idaho’s Bounty Cooperative, which at different times of the year represents some 79 farmers, ranchers, dairyman, aquaculturists and processors in Southern Idaho. Idaho’s Bounty is committed to linking local farmers with local consumers. My position as a small farmer and local food activist gives me a unique perspective on the state of local food in southern Idaho.
The agrarian poet Wendell Berry once said, “ if you eat you are involved in farming.” I believe knowing your farmer gives one an important link to the land and eating locally involves one directly in the art of farming. The many benefits of “eating local” are well known. They include: greater food safety and food security, an enhanced local economy, and most importantly better, fresher and more nutritious food.
To eat locally however, one must have farmers selling locally, raising vegetables, grains, legumes, animals and animal feed, fruits and other crops directly consumable by people. With all of the buzz around eating local and sustainable and the amazing farm ground and growing climate in southern Idaho, local farmers still struggle to stay in business and local consumers still purchase only a small portion of their food from local producers. Older farmers are retiring or nearing the age of retirement and access for young farmers is difficult due to the high cost of farm land, equipment and limited educational opportunities for young people to learn the business of sustainable farming. As farmers retire their hard won knowledge and experience retires with them. As a community we can change this, and we should.
With produce from California increasing in price due to the drought and a greater awareness of the value of fresh nutritious food there is an amazing opportunity for Idaho’s citizens to take responsibility for their food and increase the production of local produce, meat, dairy, eggs and other products. Ken Meter in his study titled “Highlights of greater Treasure Valley Farm and Food economy”, says that if we all spent 15% of the $1.87 billion dollar annual food budget on locally produced products we could see a gain of $165 million dollars to new farm economy. That’s significant as much of this value would go to small family businesses and local farmers. Visit http://www.capitalpress.com/Organic/20150514/organic-farmers-processors-struggle-to-meet-demand, for an update on demand for organics in Idaho.
There are a few simple things we can all do to help:
- Grow some of your own food so we as a culture begin to remember what it is all about to have beautiful food and a connection to the earth.
- Buy Local by spending your food dollars at farmers markets, a local CSA, or markets that promote and sell locally produced food.
- Shop through Idaho’s Bounty co-op. http://www.idahosbounty.coop
- Develop farmer training schools that teach everything from seed to store, including value adding. There are great models out there in other states.
- Invest a portion of your investment dollars in Idaho’s Bounty and other successful local food businesses. Businesses like Idaho’s Bounty and the farmers and consumers that support them have worked for years to support the growth of these businesses but like all start ups, they require investment to grow and prosper.
Finally we need to invest in young farmers that want to farm at whatever scale they choose. This will require everyone, from existing farmers to bankers to investment professionals and consumers to change the way they think about farming, farmland, investment and education. Without this investment we risk a world in which all of our food comes from large, impersonal industrial farms. This is not the world I want for my children. Food is too important. We depend on hard working farmers and we should work to insure they have every opportunity to succeed by supporting local farmers, and business’s, and by buying local food wherever and whenever we can.