Consuming local foods is becoming increasingly popular, and terms such as “locavore,” “foodshed” and “sustainable food system” are even trendy in some circles. As more people appreciate the freshness, flavor and nutritional value of locally grown food, it’s important also to understand the other reasons why we should support the growth of a healthy local food system in the greater Clark County area.
“Local” is a relative term that can refer to an area the size of Clark County or encompass everything within a 100-mile radius or greater. A size-specific definition will vary among individuals and communities, but’s what’s most important is that people support the farms and related industries in their own communities. Why? In a nutshell, because a healthy local food system is environmentally sustainable, builds food security and supports local economic development.
Much of the food we consume in Clark County is grown and produced hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away. The handling, shipping and storage of food over this distance uses significant resources. A locally-based food system can reduce the use of fossil fuels and electricity. Additionally, in our relatively urban community, smaller lots result in smaller farms that are more likely to use sustainable farming methods. This improves health by reducing air and water pollution and promoting a healthier environment for people and animals.
The smaller scale farms prevalent in Clark County are generally owned by local families, rather than large corporations as commonly happens in the Midwest. By buying directly from local farms or businesses that stock local foods, we keep more of our dollars in our own community. This money circulates locally, supporting nearby businesses that support a thriving food system, including farmers markets, gardening stores, nurseries, community gardens, neighborhood grocery stores, food cooperatives and restaurants. These businesses in turn attract other businesses to Clark County, further driving economic development.
A beautiful, deep river separates Clark County from our neighbors to the south. Though we might not want to consider it, the Columbia River could be a barrier during a major earthquake. Food shortages in Clark County could arise from any number of situations. Being able to grow and preserve a greater quantity of our own food helps promote community resilience, protecting us for the future and whatever might come.
So how can we support our local food system, strengthen it, and help it flourish? To do this, the Clark County Food System Council advocates supporting our local farmers markets, developing more community gardening spaces for people to grow their own food, preserving agricultural land in Clark County, developing facilities for processing and distributing locally produced food, improving access to healthy food, and getting schools, restaurants and other institutions to buy locally produced foods.
There’s another important benefit to a thriving local food system: it makes a community more connected. For example, when customers interact with farmers at farmers markets, they get a better appreciation for the value of fresh food. Children who work in a school garden will enjoy the fresh additions to their lunch menu and are more likely to engage in a science class discussion about the garden. Residents who appreciate the value of locally grown food may be more inclined to get involved in their community through participation on local councils.
Connecting consumers with those who grow and produce their food fosters a dynamic where both parties are invested in each other and will work to support each other. This synergy and the partnerships that evolve from them are crucial to creating a healthy, vibrant, locally-based food system.
Erin Harwood is co-chair of the Clark County Food System Council, an organization that works to foster connections between food, health, natural resource protection, economic development and the agricultural community. For more information, contact Harwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.