Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Farmers Market week is coming...

get ready for some local food fun in a neighborhood near you!

Farmers Market week is a great chance to celebrate local agriculture and our local communities. Mark your calendar for August 3rd-9th and plan on heading out to your local farmers market...or take a short trip and visit a neighboring community's local farmers market. They're all Puget Sound Fresh!

Governor Gregoire's proclamation for Farmers Market Week.

WSDA News Release

Article roll-call:

Farmer charges for plastic bags, some customers outraged, others applaud

Lean times cause shoppers to shift toward frugal spending...but will the habits stick?

California is first state to ban trans-fats

I know that guy!

OR Advocate of Eating Local Food Conducts Experiment

I went to school with Justin Roethbeck! I saw this article on the front page of the Statesman Journal when I pulled over for gas on my way driving home from Palo Alto, CA . What a pleasant surprise to see a fellow Whitman alumnus supporting local agriculture. I hope to get back in contact with Justin and follow his local eating adventure. You can check out his progress here.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Produce Popping

Well, here we are, in the middle of July, and the produce is popping. I, for one, am really enjoying this year's bounty. Last year, I worked at Full Circle Farm and got first-hand farming experience. This year, I am much more of a regular, everyday consumer. Granted, I still work in the "industry", but since I am not physically on a farm, my lens is tinted a different color. We are lucky enough to have a mid-week farmers market within walking distance of our office: the Wallingford Wednesday Market is just a hop, skip and jump away and consistently bustling with people, music and food. A great "hump-day" excursion. Our local market is also where we gather data and info for our bi-monthly Puget Sound Fresh newsletter.


Article roll-call:

Produce Tracking Website

Fashionable Local Food Trend: Hire Someone to Plant your Garden

A Growing Appetite for Kitsap Food

Whole Foods Recipe Showdown!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The evil empire comes home to roost

What do we think about Wal-Mart's new campaign to buy local? Personally, I find it to be an interesting occurrence. While the myriad positive benefits of buying locally produced farm products has been getting lots of press over the last few years, it really took a market shift in the transportation industry to affect larger change. No, all problems with the food system are not solved by Wal-Mart deciding to buy more locally and to heavily publicize the practice, but it is an interesting case-study for those of us interested in relocalizing the food system. This new development spurs many questions in my head: what is their definition of local? What kind of buying practices and ethics are they using when dealing with local farmers? Who is benefiting from the partnership? Etc. etc. etc. It also forces people involved in the industry to reevaluate what factors drive change and whether or not the system can work from the bottom up instead of the top down.

In the past, there have been barriers between locally grown and Wal-Mart. Traditionally, Wal-Mart has been associated with blue-collar "peanut-butter and jelly" people, while locally grown is often associated with either white-collar "foie gras" types or no-collar "wheat-grass and granola" folks. Breaking down these divisions is part of what we do at Cascade Harvest Coalition, but it's been a tough road to convince people to spend more money based on health and ideology. Now, with Wal-Mart "joining" the cause, the argument shifts toward better economic value, i.e. it's cheaper for the consumers. See, we've been pushing the other side of that argument for years, i.e. it's more profitable for the farmers, but, in general, people are much less likely to give more but they love to spend less, even if the end result is the same. If that makes sense. So, for us it's been an uphill slog to try and educate consumers about the benefits of buying locally, when really the driver for change is lower price. Or at least perceived lower price.

So, this discussion begs the question: if you do something right for the wrong reasons...should it still be considered right? Wal-Mart has started sourcing more locally grown produce, but not to benefit the farmer, or to build healthier communities, or for many of the other benefits. It has started sourcing more locally grown produce because it might/will save money on transportation costs and because it can spin out a shiny, new marketing campaign. Surprisingly, those two reasons are not on the 10 Reasons to Buy Your Food from Regional Family Farms.

In fact, with Wal-Mart entering the game, many of those reasons may be corrupted or at least bent in the wrong direction. For instance, one of the most overlooked, yet important reasons for buying from local family farms is that locally grown food protects genetic diversity. Wal-Mart requires buys huge amounts of one, single product to help keep its prices down. Well, that does not promote genetic diversity.

Or the reason that locally grown food is fresher and tastes better. Wal-Mart may buy more locally grown produce, but that doesn't mean that it's putting it out on the shelves any faster than it was previously. Most of the local product will probably be shipped to a distribution center where it will wallow and wilt until called upon by some Supercenter.

On the flip side, though, any good change, no matter the package, is good change, right? Wal-Mart is a huge company with lots of stores, money and employees. If it decides to reduce transportation and buy locally...they're reducing transportation and buying locally! Maybe this is the shift that we've been looking for: to bridge that gap between traditional Wal-Mart customers and traditional Locally Grown customers.

For now, it's a "wait-and-see" period. There are too many factors to predict just how this announcement will affect the system. And, like most everything, it will not be a simple "good/bad" evaluation...there will be quite a bit of gray area. The key thing will be to stay on top of the news and to ferret out more information about the proposal, so as not to let Wal-Mart simply push one past us. But we also must not maintain an elitist front. Somewhere in the middle shall we stand, with the wishes of farmers and consumers driving us onward.


PS Congratulations to The Evergreen State College Organic Farm on becoming certified Salmon Safe!

Article roll-call:

Consumers can drive sustainable change

Can Changes in Physical Environment Cause Changes in Attitudes and Perceptions?

Walmart goes local?

Index of Locally Sourced Wal-mart

Fields of Fuel

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Paper or plastic or something else?

The debate rages on...

but does it really matter? At the end of the day, will a surcharge cause people to change their ways and bring their own reusable bags? Even if they do, what is the overall impact of fewer bags in the Seattle waste-stream? The fee does seem like a good idea and certainly one that a professed "environmentalist" should get behind, but in the midst of the back-and-forth I find myself disenchanted, disheartened and disappointed.

These questions don't get at the real problem that I have with this debate, which is, why must Seattle citizens debate everything? We complain about little progressive change, yet the persistent roadblock are our complaints! We claim to have a legacy of progressiveness, yet we have very little to show for it (especially over the last decade). We react instead of act. We are locked into an inertial crawl, where any true action will knock us from our proclaimed progressive path. Public transportation, the Alaskan Way viaduct, the Supersonics...every issue must be debated and discussed and every single view represented until the deadline has passed! nothing happened! except debate!

Yes, I do understand that our country was founded on the principle of true democracy, where every opinion counts and must be counted, but often, while leaders may have paid lipservice to those ideals, in the end it took visionary leadership to get anything worthwhile done. No, I am not advocating for a rise in back-room or pay-to-play politics, rather I am seeking greater leadership from our elected officials. They are representatives for a reason. They are elected based on their proposed plans of action (I hope). If they cannot muster up the gumption to make a decision for their constituents, for fear of losing the next election, then they are poor representative officials and should be run out of office anyway. The object of the position is not to sit and wait until it's time to throw mud at potential usurpers, but to act and try and experiment and innovate.

Also, I realize that this post itself is a complaint that serves little to no effect in the real world. But that's part of the fun of blogging! Perhaps I have listened to Ross Reynolds on KUOW's The Conversation too frequently (notice how he never pronounces "h", e.g. -uman, -uge, etc.), where callers have their own agendas and lots of anecdotal evidence to share. Perhaps I am being too critical of our elected officials and not giving them enough credit for their work. Perhaps. But I feel mired in the middle, like every decision is an indecision, like every vote ends in inactive compromise.

Okay, this post didn't directly address any of our organization's focus issues, but it was a good chance for me to vent some of my frustration with our local political climate.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Good Food trailer

Article roll-call:

Grant spurs Monroe farmers work on crops for biodiesel

Hole in the Middle
We are actively addressing this issue with the Puget Sound Food Project.

Water is the new Oil


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Article dump

Just a few interesting articles today. Check out and click on the "What's Fresh Now" button to view the Early July edition of the newsletter.

Washington Organic Acreage Increases

Wal-Mart Starts Buying Locally

Innovation and Food Stamps