This article was first published on Oxfam’s 3things website on 23 April 2013. It was written for Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which creates awareness of the changes needed to fix the broken food system. Eating seasonally and locally, to reduce the environmental impact of our food production and consumption, is the first of six steps to a better food system. This article is Australian-centric but it translates to our international food habits.
Buying local doesn’t mean getting groceries from the supermarket up the road. Often food travels for miles and days before reaching the shelves and you’d be hard-pressed to find exactly where and how it was produced and by whom, which takes its toll on the environment, the food system and our health.
Your head may feel groggy after reading this info and hearing the words ‘climate change’, but let’s keep it fairly simple. There’s one way that we can make a difference and it’s as easy as visiting farmers’ markets for fresh food.
I headed to Eveleigh Farmers’ Market at Carriageworks in Darlington (my favourite so far) to chat with local farmer, Michael Champion, the owner of Champion’s Mountain Organics, an OGA certified biodynamic farm at Mangrove Mountain, one of the closest farms to Sydney.
After visiting Michael and hearing about his passion for genuine, organic and ethical farming, I’ve put together the Top 5 reasons to visit farmers’ markets.
1. Preserve farmland and support local farmers
With population growth and pressures to erect more buildings, farms are being increasingly driven away from our cities, which is a problem for transportation and its environmental impact and feeding many more hungry mouths. “Even in the 60s, you could drive 5km up the road to pick your own strawberries,” Michael says. “And that was in Epping.” Buying overseas takes money out of the farmers’ pockets here and farmers want a piece of the pie too.
2. Reduce food miles and environmental impact
Michael says that he sometimes brings other farmers’ produce to his market, but it is never farmed over 10km from his own and he takes it in one truck from Mangrove Mountain to Darlington, to “hopefully reduce the environmental impact.” When the oil prices go up, perhaps this will put him in a better position.
3. Know and utilise the power of consumer demand and community
Buying locally is not just about how far the food travels (often the smaller the distance the better), but how the food is produced and the way it’s travelled to our plates. Michael says that it’s important to ask farmers questions and to vote with our dollar. People buy, and hence farmers produce what’s demanded, even if it’s out of season or area for them. As the saying goes, “If you eat it, you are a partner in farming.”
As Michael tells me, it’s hard to knock out the supermarket completely, but when we go there we must be “judicious”. Instead of asking why organic food is so expensive, he says we should ask: “Why is industrial farming so cheap?”
4. Reconnect with your food
“What is an apple cucumber?*” is the first question I asked Michael. Not only can you discover where your food comes, who produces it and how, and the method of transportation that has been used to get it to you, but you learn new foods and a little food history along the way, to say the least.
5. Eat fresh, tasty, nutritious food, keep healthy and meet friendly people
It’s not often that you go to the supermarket to have a chat with the farmer to find out when the food was picked and if they have used pesticides. From my experience, I can eat a box of fruit and veg from the supermarket but it will never make me feel as good as what I get from Eveleigh Markets. It’s also all about the community at the farmers’ markets and you’ll not meet happier or friendlier stallholders elsewhere. I love it.
(*An apple cucumber is a type of cucumber with a hard, crispy flesh and it gets its name from its resemblance to green apples. Michael says that we had this type of cucumber years before the “green ones”, like the Lebanese cucumber).
What can you do?
- Check out Champion’s Mountain Organics online or at the markets.
- Eat seasonally, using the Seasonal food guide.
- Read a quick rundown of ‘biodynamic’ at The Sustainable Table.
- Find your local farmers’ market through the Australian Farmers’ Market Directory.
- Visit the Slow Food Movement website
- Read Is Local Food Better? and more on Oxfam’s GROW Method.
- If you’re strapped for time, there’s always Organic Food Delivery, such as: Home Fresh Organics, Organic Angels or Food Connect!
What’s your average food shop like? Do you visit any farmers markets? Or do you plan to? Let us know why!