Is Local the New Organic?
Is Local the New Organic?
Editor's note: This is the first post from Jennifer Lamson, chair of
the board of the Cascade Harvest Coalition. Read her bio here.
Last week, the New York Times ran a feature by Marian Burros on New
Seasons Markets, a grocery store chain in Portland that is banking on
consumer interest in local, sustainable food--as opposed to simply
The chain recently completed an inventory of the origins of its stock
and have labeled everything grown in Oregon, Washington and Northern
California "Homegrown." They've already got 6 stores and 3 more on
the way but remain adamantly opposed to expanding beyond the Portland
suburbs--a testament to their commitment to being grounded in the
local food economy.
People concerned about health, taste, and the environment have long
sought out organic products. Once a cutting-edge concept for gourmets
and health food junkies, organic is now mainstream, with many
familiar major food brands launching organic product lines. I bought
organic milk at a Seattle Safeway the other day that was packaged
under Safeway's own new "O" label. Organics are the fastest growing
segment of the food industry, with sales increasing by some 20
percent per year.
But, as the New York Times piece noted, organic alone is not the
answer to the question of the fundamental role that food plays in our
local economy, environment, food security, community vitality, or
even health and enjoyment. I don't know where that organic milk I
bought from Safeway came from. I like the idea of sticking with my
delivery from Smith Brothers dairy each week. Even though it's not
organic, there's no growth hormone used and I am supporting the last
of the independent dairy farms in my state, Washington.
We won't be seeing New Seasons outside of the Portland area soon--but
other Northwest areas are making progress on the local food front.
In the Seattle area, for example, cutting-edge projects are exploring
food as a driver in the local economy and as a focal point for public
policies ranging from health and nutrition to urban planning and even
Sustainable Seattle is launching a first-of-its-kind research project
looking at how dollars spent on locally produced food affect the
local economy as a counterpoint to the dollar spent on the average
grocery item that has traveled 1500 miles to reach the consumer.
Washington State University's King County Extension office is leading
an effort to establish a food policy council for Seattle and King
County that would bring together a broad spectrum of food system
participants-- from farmers to hunger activists to grocery executives
to land use experts -- to work jointly on solutions to current
challenges like childhood obesity, disappearing farmland, and
alarmingly high levels of hunger in our community. Leaders of that
effort talked about how a food policy council could be a source of
innovative, community-based solutions in an OpEd in the Seattle PI in
The local-food movement may even help us close the divide between
rural and urban, red and blue. From the NY Times piece:
"Doc and Connie Hatfield, who founded the Country Natural Beef
cooperative in 1986, said the co-op now has 70 ranchers, who raise
beef on a vegetarian diet free of hormones, antibiotics and
genetically modified feed. `Most of the ranchers are rural,
religious, conservative Republicans,' Mr. Hatfield said. 'And most of
the customers are urban, secular, liberal Democrats. When it comes to
healthy land, healthy food, healthy people and healthy diets, those
tags mean nothing. Urbanites are just as concerned about open spaces
and healthy rural communities as people who live there. When ranchers
get to the city, they realize rural areas don't have a corner on
values. I think that's what we are most excited about.'"
I have always believed in the power of coming to the table together
to hash out issues, find common ground, and be reminded of one
another's humanity, but I have most often thought about it in the
very personal context of family and friends. In these times of bitter
division, can coming to the table in celebration of delicious local
grown bounty help remind us of our many shared values and experiences?
Posted by jenlamson