Time to Stop Talking About Going Local, and Doing It (pt 3 of 3) Eating and Getting Around

Time to Stop Talking About Going Local, and Doing It (pt 3 of 3) Eating and Getting Around

You hear so much about the value of "going local," but perhaps not so much on how to go about doing it effectively. Thanks much to Wayne Maceyka for sharing copious resources to do so, first covering the value of and need for localizing economies, then who's doing it, and now for two of the essentials in our modern life: local food and transportation.

 One of the basics of life is nourishment and along with that, moving the foods that provide said nourishment around.  Additionally, we move ourselves and other goods around all over the world as part of the economy.  We currently rely upon inexpensive fossil fuels to keep a national and international supply chain running to do all these things.

Industrial food production is garnering a fair amount of attention for the GHG emissions associated with its production (including transportation) as well as the growing awareness of the health consequences of ingesting it.  We derive industrial fertilizers from petroleum, and the machines that sow seeds, harvest plants, and spread the fertilizer depend upon fossil fuels to operate. 

From a popular culture perspective, Michael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma (here's his recent TED talk),  Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution which premiered March 26 (to name a few) have helped raise the public's awareness about where our food comes from and what that means to our collective health.

An inherent danger in relying upon a far-flung and energy dependent food infrastructure is the price of oil.  It skyrocketed to somewhere north of $140.00/gallon in mid-2008, and what did that do to global food prices and basic access?  For those of limited means; they struggle mightily.  A recent post on a food security e-mail list had an interesting comment about the ongoing need for local & regional food infrastructure.  I highlighted the potential for regional & local food,

"[Senate Bill] S 510 (and even more so, HR 2749) will make it almost impossible to get local, healthy food to local people by dramatically increasing the cost of preparing local, healthy food for sale and distribution.  We need new cooperative packing houses, new processors, new distributors and new retailers or our food will only be available to the affluent at a premium price.  Not only the poor (both working and unemployed) but also the lower middle class will be almost entirely dependent upon industrial agriculture"

From a transportation perspective, which as we all know the entire global economy depends upon, something that happened within the past six months caught my attention; Warren Buffettís purchase of a rail company, BNSF.  What I found most astounding was an article in one of the logistics industry publications analyzing Mr. Buffett's investment, the author used the term "peak oil" matter-of-factly.  As we have learned over the course of Berkshire Hathaway's existence, Mr. Buffett rationally decides to invest with a long-term lens that many 'investors' can only dream of.  So, does he believe that weíre heading for the land of energy scarcity?

What I'm getting at is that food and transportation are indelibly linked, regardless of the scale of food production we still need to ship it. 

The closer we produce it to where we consume it the lower the risk that increasing transportation costs affecting its availability. 

What I take from the various reports and analyses regarding energy and food is that local production of (nearly) everything will happen again; preparing for it the right way may prevent the massive societal disruption some predict.

What you can do now:

Visit your local Farmers Market:  Here in Massachusetts, the number of markets has nearly doubles in the last five years (through 2008) and there are more than 4300 markets nationwide, a nearly 20% increase from 1994 through 2006. There's one nearly every day of the week not more than one or two towns away from where I live.  Check your state's Department of Agriculture and LocalHarvest.org to find ones near you.

Sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share:  Like Farmer's Markets, CSAs have been booming in popularity.  Basically, you prepay the farm for the goodies youíll receive once the harvest begins (timing varies by region and by their growing facilities); you're financing their growth (pardon the pun).  Depending on the farm, your level of choice in what you get weekly will vary, some deliver to urban drop-off points and some don't.  Oh, and it;s generally an abundance of food, so be prepared to share with neighbors and/or friends.  Now is the time to join (and in some popular places, they may already be sold out!)

Check out Slowfood:  Chances are that thereís a chapter near you.  The culture of each chapter varies depending upon the volunteers running it, so it may or may not be the place for you and it's worth checking out.  If nothing else you may connect with other local food organizations you feel more connected to.

Think about other ways to get around 

This may sound general, and somewhat obtuse, but has some merit.  What would your life look like if gasoline were permanently north of $4.00/gallon?  Could you afford to get to work?  What about bus lines and rail?  Would these be possible alternatives for you?  Check out carsharing.net for options in your area.  I like the goloco model.  What about cycling?  Depending upon where you live and your desire to integrate activity into your daily life this could be a viable way to reduce your dependency on fossil fuels.  Hopping on a plane to visit relatives in Aspen or wherever may or may not be a trivial task in 5-10 years.

I'm not implying that if we all start supporting CSAs and farmer's markets and ride our bikes everything will be OK.  There are global forces at work supporting an industrialized economy bent on growth (by necessity) that would prefer to maintain the status quo, and we can start having an impact within our families and our communities.  As Gary Hirshberg reminded the crowd at a panel discussion following a special screening of Food, Inc. last Fall, as consumers (a label I really do not like) we have more power than we understand.  Spending our dollars guides the development of business and policy on large and small scales; speaking with them in new ways will make an impact.


Wayne Maceyka is innately inquisitive. He holds an ME from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a freshly minted Sustainable MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. His passion: creating resilient economies to generate, restore, & preserve capital -- social, natural, & financial. Organizations working in the regional food system and those seeking to make “waste” a feedstock are of particular interest to him.  When not “saving the world”, he works for the measurement technology firm Mettler-Toledo.

Hello, I’m Paul Smith. I combine constantly evolving knowledge of sustainable business, social media, and marketing to create powerful, durable results for your company. I write for the GreenSmith Consulting blog.