Just over a year ago I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her family’s first year experience changing their eating habits to only local food. The concept appealed to me on many levels—not only would I be supporting my local economy, but I would get to know my farmers and understand how the food I put into my body was raised. I also discovered that the food tasted better!
Last February my family joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Fish Hawk Acres. Although the Rock Cave area group of participating farms are located quite a distance from my home in Huntington, Dale Hawkins offers UPS ground service to anywhere in West Virginia. For months my weekly box arrived with wonderful surprises and we enjoyed many first tastes of vegetables I have never seen in the local supermarket as well as other local value added products.
We stopped our CSA box not out of any dissatisfaction but only because Huntington’s Wild Ramp Market opened in mid July. Similar to the growing number of new farm markets that have blossomed across the United States, this market offers fresh produce. What makes The Wild Ramp significantly different is that it also offers meats, fish, value added products like honey and jellies and maple syrup and herbal teas, milk, cheese, eggs and other farm produced items. In addition the market has sought out local makers of other products such as crackers, pasta, coffee, died beans and more. The Wild Ramp is a community effort with events offered often. This Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. is a Pumpkin Fest with an afternoon of pumpkin and cookie decorating and on Tuesday evening, a special event will be held to introduce the market to Marshall University students.
One reason why I truly appreciate the producers who provide food to The Wild Ramp is that I get to know their farming practices. I know the few who farm conventionally and how they use the chemicals they chose. I know our one organically certified farmer and have helped her one afternoon doing some farm chores. And I have gotten to know over 40 others who use farming practices that are not certified organic but follow those techniques.
I still need to go to the local supermarket for household items such as detergent, shampoo and toilet tissue. My grocery expenditures are about the same as they always were.
As I have gotten more and more involved in the local food movement I have learned more about the conventional farming practices that take place on large farms in other parts of the country. This morning I read something that made me more aware of how far our food systems have strayed: feed components to help chicken grow quickly in mega poultry farms have ended up in their waste; that waste has been turned into commercial fertilizer, and that fertilizer used by farmers unaware of the fertilizer’s chemical breakdown. Now components like arsenic are showing up in rice grown in paddies here in the United States that have been fertilized with that product.
As a consumer, after I get over the feeling of my stomach cramping when I read that, I can think it through carefully. One of the issues we have in this mountainous state of West Virginia is that we have small farms because of the hilly terrain. Many farms use farming practices that fall between the conventional and the organic and many of our farmers are using “old time” practices for raising their foods. We can know who is raising our food and we can feel confident that our health will be enhanced with their products.
The following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area:
- Local Harvest – This Web site will help you find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Farmers’ Markets – A national listing of farmers’ markets.
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center – Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals – The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) – CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes – The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA’s, and markets near you.