Five years ago the talk was about how great it would be if we could convince food buyers of the overall health and benefits of buying locally. Well, guess what? It’s happening. Dennis Dierks of Paradise Valley Produce, who sells his fine organic vegetables at local farmers’ markets says, “The Point Reyes Farmers Market is really strong this year; in fact, all the markets are very strong.” Dennis echoes the feelings of most direct market producers today who are seeing a surge of consumer interest in buying and enjoying locally produced food. David Evans of Marin Sun Farms offers grass-fed beef and pastured hen’s eggs at farmers’ markets and through his store in Point Reyes. “We have been consistently doubling our sales every year. The demand is very strong for our local products.” David is a leader in helping develop a local buying consciousness. “Buying local farm products promotes a connection within a community, a great binding force that incorporates relationships with each other to relationships with our environment and our culture and lives.”
It’s not just the producers who have been noticing a rise in local buying trends. Brigitte Moran, Executive Director of the Marin County Farmers’ Market Association, has launched an ambitious project, the Marin Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Brigitte and a talented board of directors. including Mike Gale of Chileno Valley Ranch, Lynn Giacomini Stray of Original Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Dennis Dierks, and farmer Ed Pearson. The project is to build a permanent home for the Sunday and Thursday markets along with a permanent retail, wholesale, and distribution facility for local farm products. Brigitte and the Board feel that the demand for locally grown is strong enough to support the outlet facility. She notes, “Buying local farm products is a vote for sustainable communities. Every food dollar we spend is an opportunity to add momentum to the revival of real food and invigorate local farming communities. It is a conscious choice to reconnect with the source of our food. Electing to support farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and local agricultural organizations is an invaluable investment in the future of our food systems and ultimately our ability to nourish ourselves and future generations.”
County government is overwhelmingly in support of the buy local ethic. Supervisor Charles McGlashan states, “It’s essential to buy more of our farm products locally, both for environmental and economic reasons. The average trip for a food item in the U.S. is over 1,500 miles, with the attendant fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This ‘business as usual’ agriculture deprives our local farmers and ranchers of a critical local market that values their good land ethic. Marin is now creating an incredible brand of local and organic food items, giving the producers a better financial margin that rewards our own economy and citizens.”
Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen has obviously thought long and hard about this issue. “Food used to be grown and eaten by communities for communities: to enjoy, relax, compose, exchange, discuss, engage, celebrate, rejoice, and embrace a meal rather than just cooking a meal. Where are our food heroes? Are they the ones that grow the food, are they the ones that eat it? We need to retrain society to understand that food is not just available for purposes of efficiency. It is available to be enjoyed and celebrated. If that were the case, people would not attend an annual food celebration for celebrity purposes, but would be knocking on our farmers’ doors to place an order to experience life as it once was respected.”
Knocking on farmers’ doors to get your food may sound like a thing of the past, but there are indicators that it may also be a thing of the future. Dropping by Liz Cunninghame’s Clark Summit Farm to pick up your free range (these are authentic!) eggs or grass-fed beef offers an opportunity to connect with the land through the farmer. Liz says,“Buying fresh farm products locally means supporting farms that provide the good old-fashioned attention to raising and growing products people feel confident and privileged to enjoy and consume here in Marin and Sonoma counties. We are fortunate to have such variety and quality available, which makes it a desirable cause for everyone involved.”
There are some caveats however. We can now say that the demand side outweighs the supply side for local farmstead products. The kind of food described above, with the farmer and land connection ethic, needs to be expanded. And for that, we need to grow more than food; we need to grow farmers! Deborah Walton from Canvas Ranch states, “As we grow and enlarge as a society, it becomes increasingly important to reconnect on a soul level with those people and things that form the core of our beings. Food is one of those things. To know where that food comes from -- the hands that touch it, the water and nutrients that feed it, even the familiar look of the farmer that delivers it -- is so basic, so important. All over the world, fathers and mothers grow food for their families, neighbors for their neighbors, small villages for fellow villagers. Why can't we do that here? Because we desperately need to grow more farmers, and grow the land that farmers are working now.”
Some families are taking up that challenge. The Lunnys, all three generations of them, have been expanding their farm operations on the Point Reyes Seashore. Their grass and pasture-based beef, organic artichokes and sustainably farmed oysters have indeed become part of our local food chain. Kevin Lunny states, “Our local food consumer is committed to protecting the environment, both by understanding the benefits of sustainable and organic food production, and by realizing the reduction in food transportation associated with buying locally. This person also values the freshness, quality, and health benefits of locally grown products. A local food buyer treasures the opportunity to form important relationships with the local rancher or farmer that grew their food, supports restaurants that feature local food, and shops at stores and markets that are committed to selling locally grown products. The local food consumer is not only conserving the environment, but is also helping keep community family farms profitable. To increase the number of people buying local, we, as food producers, must prioritize organic certification and food diversity in our farm plans, so that we can provide the highest quality and widest variety of products possible to this very insightful consumer.”
Warren Weber of Star Route Farms emphasizes the connection between the environmentally friendly side of organic farming and how our purchasing habits encourage farmers to switch to ecologically sustainable farming practices. “I have always thought that the importance of buying locally is to encourage organic practices as the basis for sustainable agriculture. Supporting these local organic farms and ranches protects diversity: the diversity of our food supply, of our productive natural resources, of our landscape, and of our communities. It is just plain good sense for the planet and good sense for ourselves.”It is just plain good sense. We have nurtured and matured our ideas and are putting into practice much of what is so eloquently described above. The road to local and planetary sustainability stretches out before us. We have taken the first few steps, with the efforts, risks, and vision of our local pioneers. Let’s keep walking the path.