Harvest the benefits of locally grown food

Eating local food could seem like an onerous project, one more way to complicate your life along with being organic, vegetarian, low-carbon, anti-inflammatory, and Paleolithic. (It’s actually difficult to do all of these at the same time.)

Eating local food could seem like an onerous project, one more way to complicate your life along with being organic, vegetarian, low-carbon, anti-inflammatory, and Paleolithic. (It’s actually difficult to do all of these at the same time.)

But eating local is mostly organic, very low carbon and wholly compatible with vegetarian, vegan, TQI or paleo diets. It’s also pleasurable. Focusing on local and seasonal food is great for your palate, our community and the wider world. On Vashon, “local” often means island-grown; I tend to use the term loosely to include foods grown and processed in Western Washington. For me, local food includes strawberries, eggs and kale from Vashon farms, garlic and squash from my own garden, Nisqually salmon and Fairhaven flour.

The best and most selfish reason to eat local is that produce picked this morning, or even three days ago, is flavorful sweet and vibrant. If you eat mainly local produce, you’ve probably had the experience of biting into a restaurant salad, or dinner at your aunt’s house in Iowa, and wondered why the vegetables were so gross. One hates to imagine the abuse that could make a beet bitter or a tomato tasteless. But of course, most Americans encounter mostly bitter vegetables and sour fruits — no wonder they don’t want to eat them!

For those of us who eat animal products, small-scale, local husbandry provides a healthy and arguably humane choice. Our neighborhood chickens free range on grass; their orange-yoked eggs are rich in healthy fatty acids and delicious. When they stop laying, they become soup hens; stewed with vegetables and barley, they make a family meal with ample leftovers, plus extra quarts of chicken stock. The world can’t sustain daily meat consumption for everyone, but an occasional pot of chicken soup warms the winter evenings.

Our island community farmers are friends and neighbors. Eating local allows them to pay the mortgage, keep their children shod and even get out of town once in a while, probably in the winter. If they buy local in turn, that money circulates in our community for some time before it’s siphoned out by some unavoidable corporation. As long as those dollars are sloshing around Vashon, they support our restaurants, essential services and tiny but vibrant retail sector.

Farmers perform the most essential service: They grow food. We can likely survive without the internet or airlines, but when the ferry fails, the economy crashes or California dries up, we’ll still want to eat. At present our farmers grow around 1 percent of our necessary calories, but our island could raise a lot more than that. What if each year our farms produced more of what we need? Imagine more farms on Vashon-Maury, more land in production, greater variety of local crops and more of us enjoying local broccoli, plums, yogurt and cider. Can you see yourself buying all the ingredients for your favorite meal at the Farmers Market next summer? It’s an achievable dream, unless your perfect supper revolves around tropical fruit.

In the big picture, we know how massively wasteful is the industrial food economy of monoculture crops, long supply chains and giant grocery stores. Burning diesel to grow lettuce is downright irrational. The energy expended to pump water and build heavy machinery, to refrigerate and transport, to package and advertise, exceeds the caloric value of the food by orders of magnitude. The monetary costs of this shell game rise and fall with the price of fuel, but the real costs include eroded soils, depleted aquifers, poisoned rivers and carbon emissions that warm the globe and make it harder to grow anything at all.

But local food — raised with mostly human power, minimally processed and transported between the field and your kitchen — is genuinely sustainable. We can continue to raise locally, in diverse small-scale plots, for many generations to come.

What is the sacred, if not that which nourishes us? Do we want our nourishment owned and controlled by corporate hungry ghosts or raised by people we know? Eating local transforms the water and soil and sunshine of our island into our own bodies. Eating local we learn the slope of Maury and Vashon fields, the timing of salmon runs, the season and name of each kind of berry. It brings us into relationship with this specific place. And the salads are amazing.

— Margot Boyer is a VIGA board member and small business owner.

The Vashon Island Grower’s Association (VIGA) represents local farmers and those who eat and use their products. This column is the first in a series by VIGA members.