Wednesday, March 7, 2012

San Diego has Seasons? YES, We Do

Spring is my favorite season; it is a time of awakening, rebirth, renewal, and while the crocuses do not emerge from the snowy ground in San Diego (they did when I lived in Pennsylvania), we still have seasonality of the foods we grow.  San Diego berries are mostly absent for a few months in fall/winter, San Diego heirloom tomatoes are at their glorious peak in the end of summer, beautiful ranunculus and anemones have recently bloomed, and good San Diego corn, especially organic, is a rarity, even when it's "in season."  But we are very fortunate: our local farmers manage to grow an abundance of beautiful, flavorful fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers year round.  If you want to learn about San Diego's seasons, the farmers markets offer an excellent education.

Why Bother Eating Local and with the Season?
I buy foods locally and in season because I want to support the people that are tirelessly building a sustainable local food shed in San Diego with their blood, sweat and tears, often without much financial profit.  These folks are my champions, heroes and rock stars.

And yes, of course, there are some challenges to supporting our local seasons:

Everything is not always available (many things cannot be grown year-round, crops fail, weather effects how fast things grow, some items are more popular than anticipated and sell out, etc) – but this can be a beautiful thing!  We can anticipate and appreciate the beautiful foods that are in season!  We increase our creativity in kitchen.  We increase our health by increasing the diversity of foods we include in our diet, instead of sticking to the same routine of meals regardless of the season.

Also, small scale, locally grown produce may look less uniform, less consistent, or less “perfect” (but, to quote Joni Mitchell, give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees, please!).  This is not to say they are less beautiful, by no means, usually quite the opposite (think purple carrots & romanesco cauliflower).  But each carrot is going to have a more unique size and shape, which makes them harder to transport and neatly stack in vast quantity on a grocery store shelf...And it may be a less familiar type of carrot.   
I relish and celebrate the diversity! But this is also a challenge for large scale prepped food operations (real world example: school cafeteria staff needed to be trained on how to prep a locally grown variety of broccoli).

Sometimes the locally grown is more expensive because small scale farming has higher labor costs (they use less mechanized harvesting, pay their workers a decent wage, less mono crops, use practices that are better for the land in the long run instead of making it easier to make a quick buck, grow varieties chosen for flavor instead of for ease of harvest, etc.).  I find it helpful to think that this is what good food SHOULD cost; think about why other food is so "cheap" (for starters - tax subsides and at the expense of our environmental and personal health).  And our country has, like, the cheapest food supply in the world (as a nation, we spend less than 10% of our disposable income on food).  Our bodies are literally made out of the food we eat.  Shouldn't it be a financial priority to build our bodies out of the best materials we can afford? (At the risk of sounding radical:) Maybe skip the cable tv and daily Starbucks?  I don't mean that as a criticism of those with cable and coffee (but you bought fair trade, right?), just to illustrate that we have a choice of where to spend our hard earned dollars.

Think of all the good we do when we spend our dollars supporting local organic produce: we help our environment by decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels and preserving our natural resources; we help create jobs for others; we keep our dollars circulating in our local community; we support a sustainable food system; we cultivate personal relationships with the people that grow our food – all while we eat the freshest, most beautiful foods available!

Think of the alternative: we buy a cheaper product that decreases our physical and spiritual health; we support businesses that poison our environment with toxic byproducts; we encourage businesses that consolidate wealth and power, pay their workers less than livable wages, use slaves, and have dangerous and toxic working conditions – we financially profit from the misery and suffering of others.

In this society we vote with every dollar we earn and every dollar we spend.  What world will you vote for?

(Or grow your own)

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