Ethical Eating

Locally Grown -- the Locavore's Lament

You know that horrible tipping point that happens when something good becomes a marketing strategy and then it's not so good anymore? I'm thinking of "real" balsamic vinegar and "authentic" parmigiano reggiano cheese and "organic" produce (although that's getting better). 

Now I'm afraid the same thing is happening in some ways with the locally grown food movement here in our own backyard.

It's hard to say precisely what "locally grown" means, but it's generally accepted to mean that the food was grown within 100 miles of its ultimate place of sale. The idea behind locally grown foods is simple: They are often fresher, they support the local economy and agriculture, and they aren't as environmentally damaging because they don't require consuming barrels of oil to ship them around the world. In a less well-defined way, it's also a good way to get back to the Earth, to reconnect with the immediate georgraphy of the place you live.

Obviously, farmers' markets are hives of locavore activity. In a perfect world, a farmers' market is a simple thing... local farmers show up with their freshly picked produce and sell it to consumers eager to get the best and freshest veggies.

Unfortunately, this is where things start to unravel. The sad fact is, "farmers' markets" and "locally grown" have become desirable marketing labels, and since there are no real standards to enforce these concepts, anything is fair game. You could go to Publix this weekend, buy a bunch of produce, set it up on a table alongside the road, and viola! You're a farmers' market with locally procured food. And judging from what I've seen at some farmers' markets this past year, that's exactly what's happening.

Here's the thing... Florida is a HUGE agricultural state, but remember that our seasons are switched. Our produce season is winter. Right now is our harvest period for vegetables and the tail end of the citrus and avocado seasons. In summer, we get local mango and tropical fruits. So any place that claims to be selling locally produced vegetables in the summer is full of it, just like there are no "local mangoes" right now. It's just common sense. No one is growing vegetables in our summers because they don't grow in the summer. It's like finding a "fresh, local" tomato in Connecticut in March. Isn't going to happen.

The best way to guarantee that you're getting truly local produce is to buy it from the place that grows it, places like the Urban Farmer in Pompano, where you can actually see the rows of vegetables out back. Otherwise, you never know... your "farmers' market" pepper might just be from a farm halfway around the world. Or your local grocery store.

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Jon Van Zile