Over the past week, I have been looking for ways to opt out of the global food economy and eat instead from the Northern Colorado foodshed.
Food is often produced in this country at great expense to our soils, air, water, our farmers and our health. The true origin of our food is hidden behind idyllic imagery of family farms and open pastures, and we happily buy the illusion.
I was looking for more honest food – food plucked from familiar land, still clinging to the soil it was born in. I wanted short, gnarled carrots and turnips just because they were in season. I wanted tree-ripened peaches that would have been smashed to pulp if they were shipped the 1,500 miles an average food item travels in America.
I also wanted the dollar I paid for my food to go to the farmer who grew it – not the eight cents that typically does.
I’m happy to report that our foodshed is both vibrant and very accessible.
The Food Co-Op, locally-owned Beavers Market and even my neighborhood Safeway all offer locally grown fruits and vegetables. For even fresher produce, outdoor farmers markets run through mid-October, and indoor farmers markets begin in November. A year-round facility to bring farmers and customers together called the Community Market is also being developed.
Another option is to buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. A share will get you a season’s worth of vegetables, fruits, mushrooms or various other offerings delivered weekly. The CSA model is a way for the community to fund a farm’s activities while sharing in the risk of farming.
Growing a garden is an obvious alternative. There is no more trustworthy food than food you grew yourself. If you don’t have a yard or a planter box, you can rent a plot at the community gardens on Spring Creek or in Timnath.
Finding natural, grass-fed beef from the Northern Colorado foodshed is more difficult. Most ranchers nearby send their cattle away to feedlots. What they do sell is sold by fractions of a whole cow, usually quantities over 100 pounds. Buying individual cuts is next to impossible.
A rancher I spoke with explained why: U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, which are designed for industrial slaughterhouses that process 400 cattle per hour, are not suited for smaller operations. A processing plant that would cater to Northern Colorado ranchers would likely not be able to support enough volume to be worth a regulator’s time, so it would be shut down.
Ironically, regulations intended to protect public health have instead promoted a system that is breeding antibiotic-resistant food-borne illnesses like E. coli that are being found in everything from spinach to peanut butter.
Vast regulatory bureaucracies are less important when the meat you buy is raised locally and processed nearby. For the same reason, most farmers around here don’t bother to be certified organic even though they use organic practices – they would rather just tell you themselves.
Across America, the number of farmers markets and CSAs are growing steadily, and so is the population of small farmers, according to a recent USDA census.
Researchers at Columbia University are investigating the feasibility of an integrated national network of foodsheds. Preliminary analyses demonstrated that the Northeast, including New York City, can meet 100 percent of its dietary needs from its network of foodsheds. That is evidence that foodsheds are capable of replacing modern agriculture.
What is missing from modern agriculture is a sense of place. We have divorced our food from the soil and the sun, growing it instead with fossil fuels and fertilizer. In doing so, we have turned our back on the land and our heritage both as a culture and as a university.
This is our harvest – a time once celebrated by the entire community, but now all but forgotten. Experience Northern Colorado at its best. Eat some of it.
Erik Anderson is a senior natural resources major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit these sites:
http://www.beetstreet.org/ (Homegrown Fort Collins)
http://belocalnc.org/ (Be Local Northern Colorado)
http://www.fcfood.coop/ (Fort Collins Food Co-Op)
http://beaversmarket.com/ (Beavers Market)
http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap (Seasonal ingredients map)
http://www.localharvest.org/ (Local foods map)