April 19, 2020 § 6 Comments
I remember neighbors in our suburban New Jersey development bringing their kids over to see my dad’s garden. “This is where vegetables come from,” they’d say, meaning, vegetables grow out of the dirt, and this is what they look like before they are put in cellophane-wrapped boxes, but the kids would blink up at their parents. “Vegetables come from Mr. Fogelin’s garden?”
As adults we are almost as clueless. Our vegetables still come out of cellophane-wrapped boxes, grocery store freezers, plastic bags, those snap-shut lettuce coffins, and the bounty is endless.
We can have any fruit or vegetable at any time of year. “Seasonal” is a nice little flourish added to items on the supermarket promo that gets tossed in the driveway once a week. “Seasonal” means local, or fairly local, and probably recently picked, but our supply chain centipedes across continents, and we don’t even think about where those vegetables come from.
As long as grocery store shelves are well-stocked, why would we think about it? Our food comes from everywhere! Sure, once in a while we are inconvenienced by the absence of a particular item at the grocery store, but that’s all it is; an inconvenience. Until now, we’ve had no reason to contemplate the magic of supply.
Now, as supply and demand lurch like a pair of mismatched dance partners, maybe it is time to consider the true cost of this way of feeding ourselves.
Is a box of tomatoes trucked across the country to a supermarket the same as a colander-full of tomatoes grown in Mr. Fogelin’s garden?
Getting commercial tomatoes to Publix contributes to global warming as the climate-controlled truck steams along the interstate. Growing those tomatoes likely polluted a local water source as mono-cultures require lots of pest control (Mr. Fogelin’s tomatoes were not always perfect, but in my book, delicious and sun-warmed beat perfect). Since days-to-market equal money, a lot of growth-boosting inputs were poured on those commercial plants.
Having picked up produce at a local market for our neighborhood food bank, I know, firsthand, the amount of waste in the system. The USDA estimates that food waste in America runs between 30 and 40 percent.
What if…what if we moved production closer to consumption? Wouldn’t we be more resilient and less vulnerable in times like these?
What if we reckoned the true cost of getting what we want any time we want it, and what if we were required to pay the true cost?
If we ran on that calculus, there would be more gardens like my dad’s, and less plastic, fewer pesticides, less CO2 in the atmosphere, no mono-cultures, and kids would know vegetables come from sunlight, water, and dirt (some of which is under the gardener’s fingernails). All it takes is a patch of earth, a packet of seeds, and rolled up sleeves.
I recognize that what I am saying has been said many times before, but we have been given one big gift by this catastrophe; the gift of time, and with that gift, the opportunity to rethink the way we do things.
Note: In many parts of the country it is time to turn the soil and plant some seeds. How about it?