Opinion: Why is local, sustainable food important?

Editor’s note: Michael Spencer, communications committee member of the Nevada County Democrats, submitted this written summary of a presentation by Eric Dickerson made at the group’s First Tuesday Democratic Forum held August 6, 2013, entitled “Why Is Local Sustainable Food Important?” This is an Op-Ed article:

Democrats were provided with an excellent explanation at their First Tuesday Forum August 6. Eric Dickerson, a local homesteader, Sustainable Food and Farm Conference organizer and partner at Urth Organic (a microbial agriculture supplement based in Grass Valley), gave an informed and interesting presentation.

He started with an overview of locally raised food options in our area. It was a surprise to see how many options consumers have for eating locally produced food and how easy it is to find. There are some 200 farms, over 20 farmers’ markets, as well as a robust support system of grocery stores and restaurants in Placer and Nevada Counties alone.

The Local Food Coalition is an email group that acts as a market place and message board for buying, trading and participating in local sustainable agriculture (www.localfoodcoalition.org).

Nevada County Grown supports local growers in many ways and also provides a detailed list of local farms, ranches, farmers’ markets, restaurants and grocery stores. This list is available in print or online at www.nevadacountygrown.org.

The presentation then turned to the politics of food. He argued that since food is such a universal need, its quality and availability should be a larger part of our political discussion. Government regulations, as well as subsidies in the Farm Bill, combine with industrialized methods to create our food productions system.

It is a system that currently focuses on cheap rather than nutritious food, he maintained. There is, however, a growing movement of producers and consumers that focus on local, fresh, sustainable and highly nutritious food production which has a softer impact on the environment. Mr. Dickerson argued that this local sustainable system is one we should support with our votes and our dollars.

Eric then provided many examples of the gaps that presently exist in our food system. First he reviewed the food and ingredients gap, illustrating how what you may think you are eating and what you are in fact eating are often two different things. For example, strawberries are sometimes fumigated with a pesticide that is outlawed by the Geneva Convention for use in war, he said.

Sodium nitrites are used as a shortcut for sanitary processing methods. This ingredient is in most packaged meats, and is known to create carcinogenic compounds which, when eaten, cause pancreatic and other cancers.

Eric moved on to discuss demand and economic gaps, outlining how the cost of healthy food and access to it has dramatically affected the health of Americans.

He covered the production, quality and distribution gaps that exist; pointing out that food production is focused on large quantities of good looking food rather than highly delicious and nutritious food. For example, apples are picked before they are ripe to survive long transport and waxed to look good resulting in reduced flavor and nutritional benefit for the consumer.

Mr. Dickerson then explained how government solutions have often encouraged: quantity over quality; toxic chemical use; non-food GMO crops; large scale, industrial food production; and artificial additives.

While he argued our government discourages: small farms; growing for flavor and nutrition; food safety innovation; and the public being informed as to what is in their foods and how these foods are produced.

As a consequence, corporate agribusinesses now focus primarily on mass production of cash crops, such as feed corn, cotton and soybeans. Eric suggests that this trend must be reversed.

In closing, Mr. Dickerson provided suggestions on how the government could change the food system we have by: enacting scalable regulations for small producers; revising “Best Practices” for farming to take more sustainable approaches into consideration; modifying incentives and subsidies to assure they promote growing food that is healthy for people and using methods that are environmentally sustainable.

He also suggested how individuals can take action by: supporting organizations and companies who encourage local sustainable food production; voting with dollars by buying local and sustainably grown foods; limit GMOs and out of season produce shipped from abroad; shop farmers’ markets and even grow your own food.

The presentation was well received, with questions and discussions throughout the talk. Participants left with a new perspective on our food system, the politics surrounding food and the value of local and sustainable agriculture.

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