Letter: Further Elaboration on Buying Local Food

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602 S. Gay Street
2nd Floor
Knoxville, TN 37902

I must emphatically second Cari Wade Gervin’s conclusion: buy local for freshness and taste. But several other points in the sprawling essay need elaboration and I would like to address three. My perspective is that of a moderate foodie and a USDA-certified organic Lenoir City vegetable farmer who sells at the downtown market and to local grocers.

First, the criticism of local farming as unable to feed the city/region/country poses a false issue. Few hold that local farmers can feed us all, or overturn U.S. or Tennessee agriculture, or provide all the different foods we need or want. I generally hear this criticism from those who merely wish to mock local agriculture as a political statement, as in, “You know those Eat Local people, maybe they’re misguided anachronists, but usually they’re closet socialist food police, or healthy.” Okay, there are always a few blessed purists working to keep things interesting. And I would not mind ending federal grain subsidies or adding the cost of environmental destruction to the price of pesticides. But really. Instead of plotting to overturn The System, I’m spending 80-plus hours per week to try to make a bare living by providing another choice, one that is fresher and usually better-tasting than supermarket food. As an organic producer, I do aim for superior environmental care, but that is a different article and a different fight.

Second, I doubt many buy from me to achieve a “meaningful life” or “authenticity,” as Gervin writes of “locavores.” Aside from the practical difficulty of making produce consumption conspicuous (a glass-door refrigerator/backpack?), my observation and feedback tells me I have to impress buyers with the qualities of taste or variety, or I go out of business. If you buy produce to impress your kitchen, our relation likely will be unfulfilling and brief. Furthermore, I suspect my customers might take offense at having the meaning and authenticity motive attributed to them.

Third, the article only provides simplistic analysis of the economics of local purchase. The cited economist correctly states that one may save by shopping at the supermarket and by implication can spend that saving locally. But he fails to note that the saved dollar is not necessarily spent locally, in contrast to the one spent at the farmers market. Furthermore, the farmer may in turn spend all the earned dollar locally, while a portion of the food dollar spent at the supermarket definitely goes to pay distant vendors and ownership.

John Ledbetter

Hines Valley Farm

Lenoir City

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