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By Melissa Schweisguth

May 11, 2006

Over the last few decades, most food farming has consolidated into large-scale “factory farms” that are long distances from population centers. The average vegetable travels about 2,000 miles before consumption. Such farms produce a limited range of crops using piped-in water, heavy equipment, energy and chemicals. This approach reduces food quality, makes it harder for family farms to survive and weakens local economies.

Growing your own food is a great solution, but is not possible for everyone, and even those with gardens need to supplement their harvest with other sources. The best options are Community Supported Agriculture, which allows you to buy directly from a farmer; growers’ markets, and retailers that sell local produce and artisan products.

Consumers who buy locally get the most nourishing products, picked at their peak of ripeness or fresh from an artisan producer’s line. It’s reassuring to know where your food comes from. And communities benefit from dollars reinvested into the local economy.

The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy, a nonprofit group, has said Jackson County’s economy would gain $4.65 million if each family increased its local food purchases by just $10 weekly. The cycle of local investment builds self-reliance and interdependence in communities, helping to ensure long-term food security and economic health.

Shorter transit means less fuel is used, reducing emissions and the need for oil extraction and refining. Local foods require less packaging, meaning less waste. And small-scale local farms are more likely to be organic, whether certified or not.

Direct from growers

In Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), consumers purchase “shares” in a farm or group of farms. In exchange, members receive a box of fresh produce direct from growers each week of the farming season, from spring until fall. The Rogue Valley is home to at least 4 CSAs. The concept originated in Europe with consumers who sought out farmers to grow fresh produce for their communities.

Member fees differ with the size of the box; the smallest ones typically feed two people. Those living alone can easily find a friend to split the bounty. The contents vary with what is in season and the success of each crop.

The variety offers a chance to try new foods and broaden culinary skills. Many CSAs offer recipes for the week’s mix and may include flowers. Some CSAs deliver direct to homes, while others drop off at central locations in the towns they serve.

Todd Setimo of Ashland said, “Our family has bought shares in a CSA for the last three years and we’ve always been happy with the quality and quantity. Not only are you supporting your family’s health and the economic health of a local farming family, but you’re no longer buying into the energy-intensive form of agriculture.”

Building a better world

At growers’ markets, shoppers buy directly from a variety of farms and other artisan producers. The Ashland and Medford Growers’ Markets run weekly through October or November. Like CSAs, these provide farmers with the best returns through direct sales.The panorama of choices at a growers’ market is a visual feast. And the market is a great place to connect with other people.

Local foods also fill grocery shelves. The Ashland Food Co-op, for example, gives regional organic producers top priority, says Annie Hoy, head of outreach and owner services. The Co-op works with a dozen or more regional produce growers and about 100 regional food producers, and organizes farm tours to connect customers to the source.

“We want our community to think local first whenever they make a purchase,” said Hoy. “This keeps the engine of our local economy running and puts your money to work for the community, not for some big corporation that doesn’t even know where we are on the map.”

THRIVE’s excellent “Rogue Flavor” guide lists CSAs, growers’ markets, artisan foods, retailers and restaurants that can be found at stores throughout the Rogue Valley. Building a better world never tasted so good.