by Jeffrey Frank
There are growing concerns in our country about the health and safety of our food. And rightly so. In recent memory we have been exposed to contaminated beef, spinach, and seafood, and those are just the stories that got national attention. Most incidents get no attention.
Our food supply is at once more safe and less safe than it has been at any time in our history. There are dozens of agencies with the task of safeguarding the sanitation of our food supply, inspecting producers and facilities, and maintaining organic standards, yet our food production, processing, transport, storage, distribution, and retail systems are so vast that they cannot be controlled. What’s more, with the food industry now following the pattern of all industries in the United States, more and more production happens overseas where land and labor appear so seductively cheap. The health and safety standards followed in the United States may not apply to overseas production, even though the food may ultimately wind up on our plates.
What are we to do? We farmers get asked this question all the time and the answer comes down to this: grow it yourself. That is the ultimate guarantee of the health and safety of the food you eat.
But for the majority of people who don’t have the time, knowledge, land, inclination, or interest to produce their food, here is the next best thing: know your farmer. Buy as much as you can from her. Visit his farm. Support local agriculture through purchases at farmers markets, and by patronizing stores and restaurants that use local products.
Of course, the benefits of these simple actions go well beyond the health and safety of the food itself. You help to make farms economically viable and keep farmers farming. You keep the landscape beautiful with a diversity of agricultural land uses. You reduce the pollution generated in processing and transporting food. You help keep farms out of the clutches of developers who care not at all for the land, the community, or the people they uproot. You stimulate the local economy by keeping your dollars circulating in the Lehigh Valley, rather than building a new home office complex back in Scottsdale, Arizona, or wherever the corporate owner my be.
As a farmer growing vegetables for people I know, I take special care in every stage of production, from seeding to displaying our produce at the farmstand. I am proud of the work we do and the products we grow. I can picture the faces of friends and customers who buy our farm products, and it is important to me that they will enjoy and benefit from their eating experiences. Being a small-scale farmer is not just about money. Considering the hours we put in, most of us we would make more at a minimum wage job. We do this work because we love it—the land, the weather, the labor, participating in the mysterious act of creation.
What could be simpler and have more benefits than eating local food?
Jeffrey Frank and his wife Kristin Illick farm Liberty Gardens in Coopersburg.
(Originally published in the Alliance’s 2008 Directory of Organizations That Promote Sustainable Communities.)