Indiana Eating Green
Feb 28, 2011 03:00AM
By Elizabeth Daniels
In a time when additives and preservatives in food are the norm, people are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality and cleanliness of the foods we eat, therefore foods grown locally make a lot of sense for those who want more control over what they put into their bodies.
The movement to buy local produce can be seen across the country, with farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives popping up in communities everywhere. What’s more, sales of natural and organic foods continue to increase. According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $24.8 billion in 2009. Experiencing the highest growth in sales during 2009 were organic fruits and vegetables, up 11.4 percent over 2008 sales.
So, what does it mean to buy local, and why should we care? While local can be a flexible term, the basic concept is simple: local foods are produced as close to home as possible. At the most rudimentary level, buying local means more money stays in the community, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that.
Proponents of the local food movement say buying local food means there is less time between when your food was harvested and when it gets to your table, thus the food is fresh. Fresh, local foods also mean more nutrients, as food loses vitamins and minerals as it ages. Local foods also require less packaging and travel less distances, saving on waste and pollution. Therefore, buying local is better for the environment. And perhaps most importantly, buying local food allows consumers the opportunity to build a relationship with food suppliers, learning about their food and their practices.
In Indiana, we are lucky enough to have local farms and farmers that are not only dedicated to providing the best quality foods, but also to educating consumers about the importance of buying local, sustainable farming practices, and so much more.
Farms and Farming
Jeff Evard, owner of Life Certified Organic Farm in Morgan County, came to organic farming from a place that was the exact opposite of organic. He received degrees from a land grant university in horticulture and agronomy and began his plant journey applying the most advanced and scientific methods of managing plants with the emphasis of solving problems using inputs like chemical based insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and fungicides. And while he still uses his scientific education to help him solve problems in his growing systems, “It became clear over time that I could not continue participating in the act of spreading these poisons that will surely come to light as being as bad smoking cigarettes at some point in the future.”
He built a small-scale organic farm with his wife Melissa, and attempted a living that would afford an income to cover the costs of land, health care benefits, and fairly compensated workers. “I could see immediately that I would have to charge $10 per tomato to do it,” he says. “At that time, I began cooperating with another small organic farm, and we grew to be a diverse midsize organic farm.”
The farm now has 14 acres of open farm fields, plus half an acre of greenhouses. Life Farm grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that can be found at local farmers’ markets including many heirlooms, traditional varieties and specialty crops in their fields. The greenhouses, primarily unheated, extend the season on warm weather crops and produces cool weather crops year-round.
Life Farm also works with its sister business, Nature's Crossroads, to support organic gardeners in the Midwest by rebuilding the supply of locally adapted, organically grown, Earth-friendly seeds. Evard says he depends on the community to buy the farm’s produce and seeds. “The community depends on eating clean food and the organisms that provide it at every level,” he explains. “We share our knowledge in the community with gardeners to help folks grow their own food and we support the gardening efforts of hunger relief organizations so they can grow their own, as well manage surplus from the farm.”
Evard also runs the Life Farm CSA. Community members provide money in very early spring to support farm operations for the growing season. In exchange, they receive a "share” of the harvest, often presented as a weekly box of produce.
“A small vegetable share from Life Farm costs about $15 per week,” says Evard. “In the box are the benefits of growing your own veggies without the labor involved in cleaning the produce or growing a garden. Plus, it’s a great way of getting fresh organic produce in people’s hands for an improved diet. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Located in Zionsville, Traders Point Creamery is a family-owned artisan creamery and dairy farm dedicated to “nourishing the land that nourishes us all.” Offering a variety of organic and grass-fed, non-homogenized dairy products, the creamery is devoted to producing the most nutritious and healthful product possible, while promoting a community of local food and sustainable farming.
The farm has been in the family for over 50 years, but in 2003, Dr. Peter “Fritz” Kunz and his wife, Jane, started making dairy products, selling direct to customers, and delivering in the central Indiana region—vowing to preserve the family farm and continue the legacy of sensible, sustainable agriculture. The cows are 100 percent grassfed, spending all of their time on pastures and the farm is Certified Organic by the USDA.
As a physician, Dr. Kunz understands the linkage between nutrition and health. He says his studies have convinced him that grass based dairy products can, and do, improve human health. “America is not getting healthier and there are many pieces we’re not able to explain. We need to take a look at how our food is made and educate consumers about what good food tastes like and feels like.”
For example, he explains that when animals are raised on pasture and eat the rich greens, they acquire nutrients that are important to human health: omega-3, fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), beta-carotene and vitamins A and D. When people eat products such as milk, meat and eggs from grass fed animals, research suggests that the risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer is reduced.
Bringing community together is a priority, therefore Traders Point hosts a Green Market with local vendors who are using sustainable practices to create the most healthful products for our bodies and our Earth. The Green Market is hosted every weekend all year long but has two different seasons with vendors participating in one or both seasons.
At This Old Farm, an 88-acre farm in Darlington, Jessica and Erick Smith strive to bring consumers the information needed to make local, sustainably grown food products as accessible as possible. The farm offers meat and eggs from animals raised on grass, as well as seasonal vegetables.
The Smiths also represent 20 different farms through an alliance so that they “can bring clean, local food to not only our traditional retail families but to commercial markets as well.” Through the alliance, Jessica says they are large enough to not only provide traditional retail families, but commercial markets as well. “Buying local is one of the greenest things you can do and we want it to be easy to source product.”
This Old Farm started a meats and processing division in late 2009 to expand the offering of locally raised meats and further support sustainable farming through the addition of natural meat processing services from poultry processing, to nitrate free pork cures, deer processing, longer dry age times for grass fed beef.
Seldom Seen Farm is a small-scale, family run farm east of Danville that grows all kinds of vegetables, flowers, and herbs on 50 acres. Owner John Ferree calls the farm “transitional organic,” which means they adhere to the list of prohibited, allowed, and restricted materials for organic production. “We do not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides, and we rely on shallow cultivation for weed control rather than a sprayed cocktail.”
Established in 2004, the farm’s goal is to provide Indianapolis area households with fresh, high quality vegetables for as much of the year as possible—this is done through the use of 7,500 square feet of unheated greenhouse space where early summer crops are grown. “The hoop-houses will not only bring in an early crop, but the produce from them is of higher quality than field grown produce,” says Ferree.
The farm also has a CSA program, which he describes as a relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members. Ferree says CSAs provide shareholders with the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with a local farm, while the farm is assured of a supportive community with which to share its bounty. At Seldom Seen, half shares (designed for two adults) and full shares (designed for a family of four) can be purchased.
“A CSA may not work for everyone, as you can’t pick and choose the produce you want week after week,” explains Ferree. “However, it does provide a terrific opportunity to learn to cook with produce you may not have tried otherwise.”
The decision to buy local is a personal one, but one that definitely has its rewards, including enjoying the taste of fresh food, improved health and nutrition, environmental stewardship, and supporting the local economy. In the U.S., the average grocery store's produce travels nearly 1,500 miles from farm to fridge. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, about 40 percent of our fruit is produced overseas and that which we buy at the supermarket travels an average of 1,800 miles to get there. It is also estimated that Americans consume more than $600 billion in food, with only about 7 percent of local food dollars staying in the community. It’s a staggering statistic, but we can improve that figure, and our own lives simply by buying local.