News & Views

Buying local is an investment in a better quality of life… for all!

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was tying grape vines at a farm in Central California, when the temperature soared well above 95 degrees. Only a few days in the country, this undocumented field worker, who didn’t have easy access to water, shade or the work breaks required by law, passed out from the heat and died two days later.Maria-Isabel

Maria was 17 years old. The Center for Disease Control reports that heat-related deaths of farm workers are on the rise in the U.S.  This deadly trend is unfortunately one of the costs of cheap food.   When you buy cheap food at the big box stores, you also invest in this deadly system of industrialized food.

Compare this experience with that of working at a local farm like Simple Gifts in North Amherst.  Here the farm workers work hard but are treated fairly.  As apprentices who live on the site, they are gaining a valuable education in preparation for the day when they might manage their own farm.

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Farm apprentices and farm managers at Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst

Our industrialized food system of mega-farms, long-distance shipping and big box-stores has driven down the retail price of food to the point that Americans, on average, expend about 9 percent of their annual income on food. The industrial food system in the U.S. produces relatively “cheap” food, but at a cost. Fortunately, in some parts of the U.S., we can partially opt out of this exploitative and costly system.

In our community of Amherst and surrounds, the locally grown vegetables are of higher quality than anything shipped from a distance.  We can enjoy the freshness and flavor of the food available at our local farmers’ markets, farm stands, food coops and some regional supermarkets.  Yet most experts agree that less than 10 percent of the produce purchased in our region is grown locally.

Why don’t more of us in Amherst “buy local”?

I suspect the reason that 90 percent of the consumers in our fairly progressive region of the country don’t regularly buy local food is due to its perceived higher price and the convenience of shopping at the big box stores.

Busy people treat food shopping as just another task, rather than a pleasurable social experience.  Studies indicate that we have 10 times more conversations when we shop at the farmers’ market than at the supermarket.  I know when I stop in at the new Simple Gifts Farm Stand in North Amherst, I always bump into friends and neighbors.

The “grand opening” of the new Simple Gifts Farm Stand was an example of the sort of celebration of good food and community, some of us have come to value.  When we stop in at Simple Gifts, we invest in a food system that strives toward a better quality of life – for all!

Shopping locally isn’t an “efficient” use of time in a task-driven life – which is one of the reasons I make the effort slow down and shop at the farmers market or Simple Gifts.  Yes…. for me, buying locally is an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).

bigy.jpgSome regional supermarkets do try to offer local products.  The Big Y in Western Massachusetts, for example, is a family-owned business and a major supporter of the UMass Student Farm, which grows organic vegetables for sale locally. When we do choose to shop at supermarkets, we can support local farmers by asking specifically for locally grown products.

And what about price? How often have we heard the statement that local food costs more?

Certainly, local beef, pork and chicken cost more than meat raised in a factory farm. You just can’t beat the efficiency and scale of the industrial animal factory for low price. Hve you ever experienced “sticker shock” when you see that local, fresh eggs may be priced at $5.00 a dozen or more when industrial eggs may be closer to $1.50?   Well, there is a reason!   Just look at the pictures of local eggs and free-ranged hens compared to factory farmed eggs below….

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The fact that local meat products are generally produced with less stress on the animals may not be worth the higher price to some of us.   And some people truly can’t afford to pay the higher price for meat, dairy and eggs that are produced in a sustainable manner. But many of us have a choice!  On the other hand, there is little difference in price between local and shipped vegetables, especially during our growing season.

If we were truly concerned about the health of the animals, our own health, the health of our community and the health of the environment, we would choose to buy local meat, dairy and egg products, wouldn’t we.  We would investment in a higher quality of life for ourselves, for local farm families, our community, and for the animals we consume.

When we buy local bacon and sausages, we can even introduce our children to the live animals that provide these products for us, like “Pig Floyd” at Simple Gifts Farm!

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Pig Floyd is helping to clean up the weeds at Simple Gifts Farm

“Cost” includes more than “price”

The industrial food system that produces cheap food does so at a great cost!  The retail price does not include the cost of harm done to the workers in the food system; on farms, in factories, shipping terminals, big box-stores, and the fast-food restaurants serving the food. These workers earn near minimum wage. A federal minimum wage law that leaves families in poverty is part of the cost of cheap food.

When we consider the quality of life we enjoy in those regions like ours where local food is plentiful, we might also wonder about the quality of life of those who are working to produce, ship and sell cheap food. When we buy food shipped from long distances, we say “yes” to an exploitative system designed primarily to maximize financial returns of corporate shareholders – at the expense of others.

It is true that relocalization of the food system may result in higher (but fairer) food prices overall.  At the same time buying local food will create local jobs and build community.

When you buy your food locally you are making an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).  I think this is an investment we can’t afford not to make.

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The North Amherst Community Farm is a small, local, not-for-profit organization devoted to preserving farmland and promoting sustainable farming practices in our community. The capital campaign we completed in 2016 will preserve a 30+ acre farm property in North Amherst, MA that is currently managed by Simple Gifts Farm.

Please sign up for the NACF mailing list to learn more! 

Why we support local farming…

Those of us who support local farming in general and the work of the North Amherst Community Farm non-profit specifically are concerned about the long term impact of industrial farming.  This story from England suggests that “As long as society sees farming only as a business and food as just a commodity, we’re all headed for ruin.”  We agree….. do you?   Please share your thoughts in the comments box below!

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MATTERDALE, England — I am a traditional small farmer in the North of England. I farm sheep in a mountainous landscape, the Lake District fells. It is a farming system that dates back as many as 4,500 years. A remarkable survival. My flock grazes a mountain alongside 10 other flocks, through an ancient communal grazing system that has somehow survived the last two centuries of change. Wordsworth called it a “perfect republic of shepherds.”

It’s not your efficient modern agribusiness. My farm struggles to make enough money for my family to live on, even with 900 sheep. The price of my lambs is governed by the supply of imported lamb from the other side of the world. So I have one foot in something ancient and the other foot in the 21st-century global economy.

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Local entrepreneur leads the way to post-carbon farming in Amherst, MA

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Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, who is a co-owner of Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, drives a pedal-powered tractor called a Culticycle at the farm, Wednesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS – Buy this Image

AMHERST — Weeds are a major cause of crop failure at organic farms, making the equipment used in controlling their growth important to the successful production of fruits and vegetables.

“After harvesting, it’s our biggest labor,” says Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, who runs the 50-acre Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst. “Everything we do is with weed control in mind.”

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Wild Edible Plant Walk – June 17

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Take a walk at Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst with edible plant (and weed) expert John Root to learn about finding “wild” food in our own backyards! ‘

Free workshop and everyone is welcome (especially kids)! 

Saturday, June 17 – 10:30am – 12:00 noon

1089 North Pleasant St.

North Amherst, MA

For more on John Root, see: http://www.johnroot.net/edible_plants.html

We burned the mortgage!

We “burned the mortgage”

September 20, 2016 was a big day! Having paid off the mortgage on the farm (thanks to all of our many donors), NACF celebrated!