Seems you can't open a magazine or newspaper these days without seeing something that suggests we "buy local," "buy direct," visit our farmer's markets, learn about "from farm to table," read about the "100-Mile Diet" or, most recently, start keeping track of our "food miles."
Just WHAT is going on in the world of groceries?
Could a person live off what is grown and raised right here in the Rogue Valley?
"You'd have to go without bananas and coconut, but you could definitely form your eating habits for good health around what is grown and raised here," says Phil Johnson, floor manager at the Ashland Food Coop.
Although it's nearly impossible to expect most home cooks to spend the time (and money) required to locally source all of their food, there are several simple ways to effect a change that's healthful for our families, our community and our environment:
Shop for some of your groceries at stores and farmer's markets that feature local products. Ask for more locally sourced products at your regular market.
Organic is great, but local is even better. Even if they're not certified organic, most local farms use sustainable practices. "The important thing is that if you're buying it direct, there's a personal relationship with who grew your food and you can ask them," says THRIVE's Wendy Siporen.
Most importantly, think seasonally. "When you eat local, your diet will change with the season, so embrace variety instead of planning to buy the same things all year round," advises Johnson.
That means tomatoes, peppers, berries, peaches and melons in the summer; apples, pears, greens and squash in the fall; and greens and root vegetables in the winter.
Plenty of eggs, cheese, butter, lamb, pork and even chicken are available all year round from local sources. And don't forget the plethora of delicious chocolates and wine for dessert.
"None of this is a new idea," Siporen says. "Our parents and grandparents were eating locally from backyard and community gardens for centuries before the industrialized agriculture that occurred after World War II."
Even buying just one thing a week from a local source can be an effective change agent.
It's all about keeping our everyday culinary pursuits close to home, says Wendy Siporen, director of The Rogue Flavor Campaign, a project of The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy (THRIVE).
"As we learn more and more about how far our food travels to make it into our kitchens, people are making the connection between that and the oil crisis and climate change," Siporen explains.
On average, a head of iceberg lettuce is shipped over 1,500 miles to the grocery store where you pay for it, says Siporen. Those 1,500 "food miles" translate into more packaging, burned fuel, greater emissions into the environment, less reliance on rural communities and wear and tear on trucks and roads.
"Food miles" have been on the rise for the past 50 years or so, with a 15-percent increase since 1992 of food being shipped long distances and a projected 20-percent increase before 2012. About 30 percent of the trucks you see on the road are carrying food items. Some believe that by changing our lifestyles to more locally sourced food products, we can reduce that number of trucks by half.
However, conserving fuel and other resources isn't the only reason growing numbers of people are drawn to buying and eating local food. Food that used to be grown in our country is now grown around the world, and health scares make the newspaper almost every day.
"We've had all these food health scares and people want to know where it was grown and what practices were used growing that food," Siporen says.
Consumers are also gradually accepting the link between the nation's obesity epidemic in children and manufactured foods that are high in additives such as corn syrup, Siporen says.
Better health is reason enough to shop for locally sourced food. Building stronger communities while shopping is another benefit. Putting money back in the pockets of our neighborhood growers assures us that we'll continue to get the top-quality, local products year after year.
Southern Oregon is known for delicious, high-end, locally grown food items. Grower's markets in Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass are great sources for seasonal, fresh produce and other locally grown and raised food. Each Tuesday and Thursday, thousands of community members flock to the armory parking lots in Ashland and Medford to choose their favorites.
"I see the seed of excitement planted in the hearts of market goers as they come expecting the best fresh or specially prepared foods," says Mary Ellen DeLuca, market manager for the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market. "More importantly, though, the customers love the direct contact with the vendors."
Eating locally isn't just about shopping, DeLuca says. It's about sharing - sharing life in a positive, pleasant marketplace, just like her Italian grandmother did when she was a young woman.