Anymore, lack of availability is really no longer a viable reason for not buying local, organic or otherwise ethical food in the upper Midwest. You may have your complaints about price, regulation or philosophy, but those who grumble that such good food is nowhere to be found are most often displaying their own lack of effort to find it.
In Rockford alone, we have at least three functional farmers markets where I can buy the freshest foods directly from the person who grows it. There are more in surrounding towns. We have the nations largest community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, Angelic Organics, only minutes away in Caledonia. We have stores devoted specifically to whole and natural foods, like Choices Natural Market on Riverside and the 320 Store on Court Street downtown. Supermarkets such as Woodmans on Perryville are continuously expanding their organic selections, and very few conventional grocery stores dont carry at least a few organic products, even in nearby small towns. Even some restaurants, such as Kiki Bs and Octane, are testing the waters of the local and organic food scene. Good food is out there, you just have to go and get it.
Even if you dont have access to Rockford or a similar populated area, we are well into the information age, and those who are willing to adapt with the times have a virtually limitless source of food information right at their fingertips. Recently, there has been a profusion of Web sites devoted to locating all of that farm-fresh food right outside your doorstep. These services can help you locate farms, farmers markets, CSA farms, restaurants, groceries, food co-ops and online retailers of wholesome foods. In the Illinois-Wisconsin stateline area, try the following sites:
If you are reading this in another part of the U.S., try going to http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/localfood_dir.php first. This is a listing of all the local food directories in the 50 states. If you would prefer to search a national directory of value-added food services, try http://www.localharvest.org/. With this directory alone, I can find 126 direct market farms, 33 CSAs, and 150 farmers markets in Illinois. You must be close to one of them! Using the locality-specific directories, I bet you can find even more.
Well, I hate to say it, but, for the time being, this is going to be the last regular edition of Farm Fresh Perspectives. By the time you read this, I will have already begun classes at Iowa State University in business management and sustainable agriculture. If we want to see new alternative farms become truly sustainable ventures, then farmer-entrepreneurs have to have as much business and marketing savvy as they do skill in the field or the pasture. I want to be part of that. The good food movement is growing, and ecological farmers are going to have to innovate and cooperate to meet the demand with a system that is more equitable to every link in the food supply chain. By pursuing a bit more training now, I hope to be more instrumental in this agricultural and culinary revolution down the road.
Even after Im no longer reminding you every week, remember that eating can indeed be a political act and that every dollar you spend on food is a vote. So vote for what you believe in! If you want to support local farms and organic agriculture, eat that way. And, if you can, do a little campaigning to inform others why you are voting the way you do. Education is a critical component of improving the overall sustainability of our food and agriculture system. If you have questions or need reasons to support local and sustainable food or farming, University of Illinois Extension can certainly still help. As of Aug. 16, Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant will become state Extension Specialist in small farms and sustainable agriculture. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling your nearby Extension office.
As for me, the position may be different, but the goal will be the same. We can improve our planet and the small farms on it simply by opening our minds and opening our mouths to what can best nourish us. And Ill end the same way I began: think global, eat local.
Andy Larson works with the Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurs in Agriculture in University of Illinois Extension. He can be reached at (815) 397-7714 or email@example.com.
From the Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue