10 Reasons to Eat Local

1 – It’s fresh! (tastier and more nutritious)
As soon as food is picked or uprooted, it’s composition starts to change: vitamins such as C, E, A and thiamine are unstable and begin to deteriorate. So, not only does food look and taste better when it’s fresh, but it’s also healthier. Did you know that some locally grown food has travelled to the north of Tasmania to be packaged before travelling back south to be sold? Even more amazing, Tasmanian produce is often shipped to central markets in Victoria before being sold to Tasmanian shops, AND has to wait for 2-3 days extra so that Quarantine’s methyl bromide treatment can off-gas! Our “Vege Box” produce goes from paddock to box in under 24 hours. Beat that!

2 – It’s safe: our growers don’t use sprays on their produce
What’s the next best thing to growing your own food? Knowing the person who grows your food for you! All of our growers started out by growing food for their own family, so they are pretty fussy about how it is done. As well as their own supplies, and selling through other avenues, they are now growing specifically for us, and they know how we like it: no toxic chemicals. While we don’t ask growers to be organic certified, we select people who are growing using organic methods, or working towards it. We believe growers should be supported to make the transition to organic farming, and we try to provide such support. As part of the Community Supported Agriculture tradition, we organise farm visits to allow subscribers and growers to meet each other and get to know each other’s philosophies regarding food.

3 – The food hasn’t been treated post-harvest with noxious chemicals or irradiation
Most produce from interstate (including Tasmanian produce that reaches us via Victorian markets) is treated with methyl bromide by Quarantine. Methyl bromide is an extremely toxic gas and has also been recognised as an ozone depleting substance. It has been banned in many countries and is prohibited in Australia except for a few critical use applications such as quarantine, where the alternatives are inadequate. Organic produce suppliers avoid chemically treated produce by seeking out producers who can supply an ‘Area of Exclusion’ Certificate or ‘Plant Health’ Certificate. This means that the produce has come from areas declared free of fruit fly and other pests so does not have to be treated. Some markets in Victoria have been contaminated with fruit fly so even some produce from ‘clean areas’ must now be treated, making it harder to source untreated produce.

Irradiation (exposing food to nuclear radiation) is another way Australian food can be treated to benefit the on-sellers despite risk to consumer health. Irradiation sterilises food to preserve it, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, prevent the spread of invasive pests, delay or eliminate sprouting or ripening, increase juice yield and improve rehydration. It is currently only approved in Australia for use on some tropical fruits, herbal teas and spices, but according to Food Irradiation Watch (http://foodirradiationwatch.org/2014/01/28/australia-issues-with-irradiation/), there are 16 further approvals in the pipeline including zucchinis, melons, stone fruits, strawberries, grapes and apples.

It seems to us that the best way to avoid eating treated produce is to eat local produce!

4 – You can support small-scale, environmentally friendly farms
It has been argued that small, low intensity farms are inherently more environmentally friendly than large-scale farms. Even if this is not true, organic farming is certainly better for the environment than conventional farming. Although none of our growers are certified organic, they all grow using organic methods. Here is what the International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movements has to say about the environmental benefits of organic farming:
“Organic agriculture enhances soil structures, conserves water, mitigates climate change, and ensures sustained biodiversity. Through its holistic nature, organic farming integrates wild biodiversity, agro-biodiversity and soil conservation, and takes low-intensity farming one step further by eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which is not only an improvement for human health (food quality) and agrobiodiversity, but also for the associated off farm biotic communities”

5 – We can almost eliminate “food miles”
Do you know how far your food has come? Even some Tasmanian produce travels to the other end of the state to be packaged before returning to it’s area of origin. Some even goes to the mainland to central markets before being transported back to Tasmania for sale.
Other than the obvious issue of freshness, and previously discussed quarantine treatments, this also has an impact on climate change, because of the transport-related carbon emissions. Food transportation will also become increasingly expensive and impractical as the world’s oil supplies plateau (the “peak oil” phenomenon) and start to drop off, which according to some experts has already occurred.

6 – You can support our community to become less dependent on oil-based transport (and products) for the future
For those who haven’t heard the term “Peak Oil”, it refers to the point in time when maximum petroleum extraction is reached and extraction rates start to decline globally. Many experts claim that Peak Oil has already occurred (in 2006, according to the International Energy Agency). Whether it has already occurred, or is about to occur, we can expect petroleum shortages to drive prices higher and higher, which will impact on the cost of transporting anything and everything. There are many other aspects of the modern agricultural system that also use oil-based products and produce carbon emissions, which are eliminated or minimised through using traditional farming techniques and organic methods, as our growers do.
A big part of what Channel Living aims to do is to help our community become less dependent on oil based products and services, in preparation for a future with a lot less oil. By supporting and encouraging local food growers, we will retain and build food-growing skills locally, hence reducing dependence on transported food.
Peak Oil Tasmania (peakoiltas.org) is a group of concerned citizens who formed with a view to “help Tasmanians understand these issues and to show that, with optimism, creativity and decisive action, we can not only overcome this challenge but create a healthier, more sustainable society at the same time”.

7 – You are supporting the local economy and employment
This benefit of buying locally grown food is probably the most obvious, superficially. But why is supporting local economy and employment better than supporting the same elsewhere? Economist Michael Shuman argues that by supporting locally owned businesses, we can reduce the negative effects of capital mobility and the inequality created by corporate power. He also stresses that spending money locally has a “stimulus effect”, contributing two to four times the economic benefits of spending money outside of the community.
Shuman puts a strong argument forward for empowerment of communities via building local economies. The Business Alliance for Living Local Economies has initiated “Small-Mart” (www.small-mart.org), based on Shuman’s book by the same name, which aims to improve the prosperity of communities through maximising local self-reliance. Small-Mart claims that localisation combines “conservatives’ passion for free markets, small business, and small government with progressives’ passion for community empowerment, sustainability, and real democracy”.
Further reading: have a look at a 2010 article by Michael Shuman “Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace” (www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-h-shuman/).

8 – You are encouraging retention of farming skills in our community
A big part of what Channel Living aims to do is to facilitate the “Great Re-skilling”. This is a fancy term used by the Transition movement that just refers to the revival of basic life skills our grandparents took for granted; essentially how to do, make and tend to things oneself, with minimal use of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. Re-skilling enables relocalisation of our basic needs: water, food, energy and essential goods, allowing us more independence from fossil fuels and transportation. There are many people in our community with these skills and Channel Living aims to facilitate the sharing of that knowledge before it is lost from our community. By supporting local farmers, you are supporting the retention and growth of foodgrowing knowledge in our community. While this gives a warm and fuzzy feelingon its own, it also may prove very useful in the future when fuel prices skyrocket and transporting food becomes less practical. Local Food for Local People (the Vege Box program) facilitates the sharing of knowledge between growers and instigates learning from other people in the community. That is part of what our subscribers are supporting when they commit to paying for the vegetables each week – it’s not just about buying and selling!

9 – You get to know the growers, and how your food is really grown
Aside from the grower profiles on our website and in the window of the Co-op, many subscribers have already met our growers personally. Why is it important to know your growers? Matthew Evans, “Gourmet Farmer” and advocate of eating local produce, refers to this as “one degree of separation” between producer and consumer. While it’s nice to have nationally recognised organic certification bodies guaranteeing the purity of our food, nothing beats actually seeing where and how the food is grown and talking to the people behind it.
A relationship between growers and consumers also benefits the growers; a big part of their motivation for growing is pride in their produce and the knowledge that someone is loving eating it! If they send their produce off to market, that connection is lost and anonymity breaks the feedback loop, creating all sorts of lost opportunities. Knowing your growers is also fun!

10 – You will engage more with your community, which is empowering and fun!
Community resilience refers to the capacity “to hold together and maintain the ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside” (Rob Hopkins, Transition Towns founder). Connection between community members is the foundation of community resilience, upon which other aspects of a resilient community can be built.
I remember on the second pick-up day back in January, it dawned on me that I would get to see all (or almost all) these great people – growers and subscribers – every week! I’m sure the volunteers would agree with me that the Vege Box program provides a great setting for meeting new people, and a fun way of contributing to the wellbeing of the community.