In celebration of New Paltz’s second annual “Local Food Week” (Oct. 1-7) I’d like to acknowledge the importance behind this gathering. Now more than ever, our support for local producers is as crucial for them as it is for us. In a world where large corporations now own most of what is produced, manufactured and distributed, it’s vital to seek alternatives. The best way to join this locavore movement is by getting involved in the community and buying from local businesses. It’s as easy as walking into town and visiting the farmers’ market on Sundays.
Today, food is one of the most difficult and misleading products on the market. For instance, we see “organic” and automatically assume rolling hills, happy cows and sunshine. However, with the hype around all things organic in the past decade or so, multi-billion dollar corporations from distributors to retailers have quickly joined the trade and created a very diluted version of organic. Would you ever affiliate Odwalla (those tasty, natural, healthy smoothies) with Coca Cola? Well, they own it. Even Kashi, the healthy and nutritious seven whole grain cereal snacks “against GMOs” is part of Kellogg, the same company that produces Pop Tarts.
To refresh everyone’s memory on what organic agriculture is: food or farming methods produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial agents (such as genetically modified organisms), and relies on techniques such as crop rotation, natural fertilizers (manure and compost) and an emphasis on conserving biodiversity. While many “certified organic” farms do not use pesticides, they are still engaged in the industrial food system. Crops are grown as monoculture and the food is picked two weeks and 1,000 miles away before it’s on your plate. This lessens the integrity of growing food and misses the essence of organic.
While it may appear as though Wal-Mart is now a supporter of small family farms and happy cows with their inclusion of organic and “all natural” products, behind that shiny billboard lurks another image. Most of us can agree that Wal-Mart isn’t the most avid supporter of workers’ rights, environmental concerns or treatment of their product suppliers. So when applying this toward the organic products they buy in, one can assume that they are not supporting sustainable farms but more like monoculture agri-businesses. As Michael Pollen wrote in 2006: “You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the advantage of making organic food accessible to more Americans is outweighed by the damage Wal-Mart may do to the practice and meaning of organic food production.”
None of this is suggesting to not support organic food being made available to everyone, because it should be. And if you do find yourself at the grocery store comparing a conventionally grown product with an organic one, still choose the latter option. However, there are better ways to consume organic food and do your part in helping the environment and the local economy. Supporting a local CSA (community supported agriculture) where you pay in advance to receive the season’s veggies each week or going to the local farmers’ market is the way to go. It’s a way to reconnect not only with your produce but with the community. Just this year Huguenot Street Farm made student shares possible (unfortunately all filled, so sign up early next year!).
Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. there is a farmers’ market right in town as well as on Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on campus in front of the Lecture Center. And if you ever want to learn more about sustainable agricultural practices and be part of educational workshops and field trips, join the Sustainable Agriculture Club which meets every Tuesday in SU 426 at 7:30 p.m. or visit their stand at the campus farmers’ market. Don’t forget to come out for a good time at “Eat in the Street” on October 7th on Church Street from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. filled with live music by three local bands, freshly cooked food with ingredients from local farms and friendly faces!