There is an interesting trend, if not a paradox, happening in the food market these days. People are becoming more and more interested in labels and their meaning (think natural foods) while at the same time seeking out the most convenient options. The former has much to do with what consumers are putting in their bodies; the latter is keeping up with the increasingly rapid pace of our society. These are a few of the many consideration related to what people eat. Whether we are concerned with nutrients, the welfare and humane treatment of livestock, or supporting local economies, we all vote with our dollar every time we shop. This Earth Day, let us be reminded of one more very important factor less frequently considered: how do our food choices affect the world around us?
Broadly, consumers concerned with the aforementioned question can seek out sustainable foods. While this term has made its way in the public lexicon to the point of possibly being overused, what it suggests is that the food produced by farms nurtures the land as it takes from it. The American Public Health Association defines a sustainable food system as “one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment. A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all. Further, it is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities.”
At People’s Food Co-op, we break this definition down into a few categories: organic food, bulk foods (whole, minimally processed food sold in bulks to reduce packaging), fair-trade, and locally sourced foods. All of these categories are important in their own right and many food manufactures, such as Organic Valley, have taken note of the increasing desire by consumers for both convenience and healthy foods options. In fact, the Organic Trade Association reports that in 2014, sales of organic reached $39.1 billion, up 11% over the previous year. While this is still only 5% of the overall market, progress is progress. After all, organic farming encourages biodiversity and no-till farming, keeping carbon in the ground and decreasing emissions.
As spring arrives, one of the best ways to celebrate Earth Day is to eat local and focus on being a conscious consumer. Sourcing food locally is an ideal way to reduce one’s carbon footprint, as it drastically cuts down the miles food has to travel to the table. Furthermore, as Jan Joannides, Executive Director at Renewing the Countryside, points out, “while choosing food that is good for our own health and our family’s health is smart, there are plenty of reasons that choosing local foods has benefits that ripple out into the community. Local foods are often grown on smaller farms, and smaller farms tend to be more diverse. They are more diverse in terms of product mix and in terms of the various habitats. This means that they provide a rich biodiversity, which is good for the ecosystem.” Local foods, especially produce, have the added benefit of being fresh and at their peak ripeness. Consumers have more access to the producer and can vet their growing techniques, and food tends to be safer as there are fewer opportunities for contamination between a local farm and table. Knowing the source and safety of the food adds a level of comfort to consumers at the checkout line.
At People’s Food Co-op, we source local whenever and as often as possible. We also strive to make eating local the easy, convenient choice. In fact, we work with 200 farms within 200 miles of our stores, with 80% of all of our fresh meat sourced locally year round and produce stocked seasonally as available. This means money spent at the Co-op is paid to local farmers and remains in our local economy, and millions of miles of food transportation is spared, drastically cutting down on carbon emissions. So join the People’s Food Co-op in celebrating Earth Day and our farmers by buying local!
If you plan on celebrating Earth Day by planting your own garden, People’s Food Co-op will be hosting a Compost 101 class on April 19 in the Community Room. All participants will receive a bag of compost from Growing Home of Olmsted County.