Monday, March 17, 2008

A Link in the Chain

I push my shopping cart through Whole Foods, passing produce, bottles, jars and cans, and plastic clamshells. I veer over to the bulk aisle and pull out my washed Ziplock bags. I need fair trade chocolate chips (who doesn't!), rolled oats, organic cashews and, hmm, that's it.

I meander through the refrigerated aisles, overlooking stacks of egg cartons, juice and milk, and pluck a large carton of organic, local yogurt off the shelf. Even though most eco-bloggers claim it's a piece of cake, I haven't yet mastered the art of making yogurt. I'll try it again this weekend. I need nutmeg and search out some of the organic, fair trade variety. My husband is almost out of coffee and Whole Foods carries, in bulk, the holy trinity of that beverage: shade grown, fair trade, and organic.

I toss dried pasta, local grapeseed oil and two cans of California olives in my cart and head to the check out counter. After loading my selections on the conveyor belt, I make small talk with the tattooed cashier as I swipe my debit card and then retrieve my canvas bag. Ahh, the big grocery shop for the week is over.

Last May, I read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In it, Pollan explores eating outside the industrial food chain. He spotlights one particularly feisty, "beyond organic" farmer, Joel Salatain, who prophesies an "alternative local food system rising up on the margins". This system would depend not only on a new kind of food producer but also on a new kind of buyer. As I toss my single bag - a week's worth of store bought groceries - over my shoulder and walk to the car, it hits me. That new food economy is here and I am that new kind of buyer.

My friends - after buying from these people for a year, I do consider them friends - at the farmers' market provide all of our produce, honey, juice, dried beans and some of our cheese. I buy my flour direct from an ancient mill in wine country, less than a mile from my parents' home, or from the independent health food store within walking distance of my house. I make my own butter, bread, granola, pasta sauce and jam and recently responded to local mom's post to exchange homemade baked goods, jams and such.

Eating within my foodshed has been a journey. The most recent link in this chain is a buying club for local dairy, eggs, pastured meat, and organic tortilla chips. For several months, the club was hosted at another member's home, one city over. We amassed enough members to have a second drop off site, here at my own home. I'm in charge of book-keeping, recruiting enough members to keep the site viable and coordinating orders. As I write this post, I await delivery and look forward to the first pastured eggs of the season, I despair that some of the cheese is still being made and will not be available until next week and I email members to let them know delivery will be two hours late.

Over the past year, I have uncovered this burgeoning, alternative food system. There are no bar-codes, shopping carts or printed receipts. Instead, there are late night deliveries of fresh milk and eggs, rainy treks for broccoli and lettuce, an antique water wheel grinding wheat, another mom's homemade jam, family dinners and, perhaps most importantly, being on a first name basis with every link in my food chain. What a welcome to the new food economy!


Burbanmom said...

That is SO AWESOME! I hope someday I can get to that point! Of course, it would help if our GD farmer's market would open up!!! ARRRGGGHHH!!

Joyce said...

We won't have a farmer's market open for at least a month. You are so lucky to live where there is such a variety of produce grown! I suppose there could be some change made by growers here to cater to this market, but we also have a definate disadvantage with climate.
I wonder-isn't this way of shopping really too time consuming for a family where all the adults work full time? I would like to hear from those who are in this situation. I know we all need to slow down and enjoy life more, but, while this does replace some of the other, perhaps less desirable uses of time that many have in their lives, it still does take time. How do people do it?

Green Bean said...

Yes, it is WAY easier to eat local in more temperate climates like California. I have a definite advantage and am completely spoiled.

I am blown away, though, by the tasty looking local meals that people in the mid-west and the east are throwing together in the Dark Days Challenge. I'm assuming it requires a fair amount of advance planning on the part of those folks. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote it is easy to eat local in January - but you have to think about it in August.

Joyce, I am a stay at home mom so I have much more flexibility in searching out different sources of food. I'd love to hear from posters who work full time about this.

According to Michael Pollan, there are going to be many food chain alternatives - different ones for city versus country and, also, I think, different ones that work for different families. Whole Foods, local health food stores and stores like that do carry some local produce and the more people buy, the more they will carry! Also, one of the women who picked up from the buying club last night works full time as does her husband. She said that is why they like buying clubs and CSAs (community supported agriculture - where you buy a stake in a farm and you get fresh produce delivered to a local host home weekly throughout the growing season). Such buying alternatives don't interfere with their work schedule.

Finally, it has taken me a year to get to this point and there were times when I have felt like it is too much work. I keep going because ultimately it is really pleasurable to eat this way. But local eating is easy for me. Finding alternatives to my car - much harder. I know other people who have no problem commuting by bike or carpool, who have much more energy efficient homes than I but who find it a challenge to eat locally (even in California). We all have our own personal "lower hanging fruit." This one happens to be mine. :)

Joyce said...


arduous said...

Wow, that sounds so awesome. I admit that I haven't been taking advantage of the plethora of California farmer's markets avail. My Saturday mornings get so filled up what with trying to deal with a weeks worth of errands in a weekend. But I think you are right, and it is probably worth the effort so I need to get off my butt and go do it!

CindyW said...

Hear hear. I am also a chatter, so I end up chatting with the same farmers week after week and learning all sorts of "useless" information. One weekend I came to know that the pig farmer (from the Santa Cruz mountains) lost his dog (she did not go home for a couple of nights) and he was beyond worried. Then the next week, I learned that his dog was safe and sound, albeit quite dirty. Must have had a little adventure. Useless, like I said. But fun.

BTW my friend, I have seen the soups, pies, and magic you make from your garden. So you can't tell me that making yogurt is hard!

philip said...

i wondered if Green Bean could make contact with me, regarding a book we are writing and woudl welcome her input on.

Melinda said...

Green Bean, awesome rally! I feel invigorated!

Last year, Matt worked 60 hrs/week and I worked about 80 hrs/week (the film industry = awful). We managed to eat maybe 50% of our food from local sources - all of our fruits and veggies and some of our staples.

We did this by having a weekly local/organic produce delivery, and going to the farmers' market on my one day off. In retrospect, we could probably have grown a few things in our yard with minimal effort to supplement our diet.

We also shopped at the local natural foods stores for the rest - a lot of it was local.

Now I'm lucky to be working only part time, from home mostly. It was a conscious choice and a huge pay cut that we have mixed feelings about. But the benefit to our health and happiness is phenomenal, as I grow about 50-75% of our food in our backyard.

While at times this is a lot of work (it will be several hours a week for the month of April), it is time we don't spend at the grocery store....

This is (really) long, but basically you start somewhere, and you build on it. We certainly didn't one day decide we're only going with local sources. We started frequenting the farmer's markets, then added produce delivery, then looked for local grain sources... and so on.

ruralaspirations said...

I love what you're able to do. I aspire to do it. I'm concerned about how much energy (both mine, and the fossil-fuel variety) it would take me to get all those things from so many different places. Fortunately I don't plan to live in this suburb for much longer, and suspect the task will be much easier when I'm in a smaller town. Cheers to you and your groceries!

Beany said...

This was a great post! I am curious about the people that are hosts to my buying club and it was good to read your perspective.

There was a time when I used to make excuses about going to farmer's markets. Barbara Kingsolver's writing on the farmers' plight and their efforts made me change my mind. I am just really shy and I honestly do like the anonymity provided by grocery stores. But then I noticed how shy the farmers themselves were (farmers markets aren't exactly the hot bed of extroverted behaviour) and the fact that they remembered me and talked to me about what I was buying...made me warm up to the idea of having more contact with those that provide me with food.

Green Bean said...

Arduous: Get out there, girl - after you finish the crackers. ;-)

Cindy: Honestly, I've failed like 5 times with the yogurt. I will not be beat though!

Melinda: Thank you for a working couple's input. I think there are many different models for lighter living and local eating.

RI: Thank you! I fell across the mill, literally, and I started my site of the buying club because I couldn't justify my emissions to pick up the food. Hopefully your new situation will have many more opportunities!

Beany: You're too shy! I've seen your blog. Just kidding. I actually am the same way. Even better than the anonymity of super markets was the anonymity of the self-check out stands that some of the bigger ones have. But then you start connecting with people that produce your food and, well, it becomes addictive.

Maria said...

Just saw your link to the raw milk co-op. Is it for OP milk? I'm part of the Belmont co-op for Claravale... would you mind emailing me to share info on the OP co-op and if there's room for one or two more buyers?

Green Bean said...


I can't access an email address for you. It's the Claravale raw milk. It was OP but we switched just like you guys in Belmont.

Sorry I don't have more info for you.

kale for sale said...

Yeah, we've got it made living here. After visiting Portland a couple of weeks ago with the farmers' markets not yet open(!) for the season, I got it. California is a dream for eating local. I love not going to the grocery store and a year ago wouldn't have believed it was possible. And when I do go it's for one or two items. I actually think we save money staying out of the store as we no longer bring home impulse buys or items that sit on the shelf for years.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

That is awesome. You give me hope that deciding to be a new farmer was a good decision and that the customers will be there to buy the yummy things I grow.

I'm looking forward to this growing season for more than one reason this year!


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