“We need to do everything we can to encourage urban concern for the fate of the countryside and the country people. We would benefit in innumerable ways from a system of economic alliances between local producers and local consumers.” – Wendell Berry “Citizenship Papers” 2003.
An urban-rural organic food connection provides much more than a shopping experience at the Dupont Circle farmers market. Climate change, water pollution, mistreatment of animals, ecosystem degradation, loss of biodiversity, economic instability, and health risks – these are the problems associated with industrialized agriculture. Consider that one of the major sources of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is nutrient runoff from agricultural lands. Local organic food, then, is as much about eating as it is about environmental restoration, the economics of agriculture, and community identity. A local organic food culture is an essential component for individuals seeking a more sustainable lifestyle, but by definition, it is also a community activity.
Organic farming works within natural cycles and ecological relationships to improve soil health. It avoids using harmful inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. The fundamental starting point is the abilities and limits of the land, rather than a production quota. Marked by this concern for all life, organic agriculture has rightly become a point of focus for those concerned with their community’s health, and DC is no different. Organic gardening, of course, involves the same principles.
An organic apple, however, can still have traveled 1,500 miles to our kitchens. Considering the fuel consumption, it is essential that meaningful efforts for sustainability be local. Yet, supporting local farmers is an opportunity for other mutually beneficial relationships. Take, for example, the language of our food system that would appear helpful, but actually is limited in what it can communicate to the consumer. The USDA’s definition of “natural” only requires that no man made products be added in the processing; the use of fertilizers or other inputs is unknown to the consumer. The USDA “organic” certification costs a thousand dollars annually, which some small organic farmers cannot afford. However, these farmers follow strict guidelines of their own and produce high quality organic food. Without a local producer-consumer relationship, this type of information cannot be known. In addition to reducing fossil fuel consumption and strengthening the local economy, being closer to the farmer affords the consumer the opportunity to learn about production methods and build a caring, appreciative relationship. These relationships, so foreign in our current economic system, are nonetheless irreplaceable.
Fortunately for DC residents, local organic farms abound, and their goods are available through a variety of channels. Farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA’s), health food stores, restaurants, and local organizations concerned with these issues are abundant. The DC area’s local organic food scene is mature and robust enough to offer options from western Loudon County to Prince Georges County, for high- and low-incomes alike. Check out Part 2 of this blog to learn specifics about where to find local organic food in DC.