Eating locally and liking it: A fair to digest

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118175448112684.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl’, ‘John Barnhart rototilling his organic garden near an antique truck he restored.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118175438712209.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl’, ‘Barnhart’s Stone Corner Organic Market sign near Oregon, Ill.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118175445511976.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl’, ‘John Barnhart’s rows of organic vegetables near Oregon, Ill.‘);

The notion of living on a diet of locally-grown foods might draw a big yawn from anyone raised prior to the 1950s, when most foods were produced locally. But that is not the case today. The average American diet now travels about 1,500 miles before reaching our food store. It seems that the food system is designed around the just-in-time-deliveries characteristic of our industrial system. If so, what is the backup plan if a major crisis disrupted food deliveries?

When J.B. MacKinnon and Alissa Smith wrote the book, The 100 Mile Diet, they were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm it received. Their intent was to raise public awareness about fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide releases involved in consuming foods from distant places as opposed to locally-grown foods. They claim it takes 17 times as much energy to eat food from the global marketplace as eating local foods. They also envisioned a sense of enjoyment or taste pleasures coming from local foods.

They held themselves to a strict rule that all ingredients in their foods would come from within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Smith will tell the story of how they survived their self-imposed challenge at this year’s Energy Fair.

The notion of eating locally-grown food adds another dimension to the growing demand for organic food. According to a study conducted by Sustain and funded by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, residents of Illinois consume $500 million of organic food annually. While sales are substantial and increasing, 95 percent of it is grown out of state.

According to Jim Slama of Sustain, The Illinois Food, Farm and Jobs Act of 2007 has passed both the state Senate and House and awaits the governor’s signature. The Act authorizes the creation of a task force charged with developing a plan and budget to support an Illinois local food system.

This legislation reinforces what has been a growing trend within Illinois and surrounding states. People are increasingly concerned about food security, both in terms of quality and future availability. The recent discovery of an industrial chemical, melamine, in animal feed and pet food imported from China is just the latest in a series of food security threats impacting our food supply. Tainted feed was fed to both hogs and chickens in some states.

According to Jim Harkness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the United States imported nearly $10 billion more food, feed and beverages than it exported in 2005. Imports came from more than 175 countries. The rise in imports, resulting from removing trade barriers, has outstripped the supply of inspectors checking imported food quality.

But consumers are not waiting for the federal inspection system to keep pace with the rising rate of food imports. Locally-grown products are found at a growing number of farmers’ markets, food stores, co-ops and community-supported agriculture operations. Toni’s Restaurant in Winnebago prepares dishes with locally-grown produce when available. The mission of Choices Natural Market on east Riverside is to support local organic agriculture.

Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, owners of Inn Serendipity, near Monroe, Wis., will return with their spirited presentation of eating locally-grown foods throughout the year. Their energy concerns include using solar and wind power and fueling their vehicle with biodiesel recovered from local cooking fats.

Returning this year with locally-grown organic vegetables will be John Barnhart’s Stone Corner Organic Market . Booth spaces are also available for local producers of natural or organic meat/poultry, eggs and dairy.

This year’s fair is sponsored by The Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, ComEd and The Rock River Times.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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