Living here just over the hill from Silicon Valley, most news stories are about techwhiz billionaires and the latest “iGadget.” We don’t usually hear much about the other people we depend on- the ones who plant, cultivate, harvest and sell our food. In Santa Cruz County, we are so lucky to have an abundance of small family farms, and I’m especially grateful that one of my friends has a farm, organic at that.
Its pretty obvious that to grow good food, you need to have healthy soil and clean water. Being an organic farmer means that you are connected to the land more deeply. You need to grow companion plants to keep pests under control and water judiciously, especially in this time of drought. You need to be able to read the sky for weather and get up in the night to protect the crops from the cold. Really, you need to tend to the fields as if they were part of the family. This system might seem crazy, but sustainable family farms are the best alternate to large scale agribusiness because they don’t poison the soil or pollute the ground water. In our little corner of the world, small farms are on the front line of conservation.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tasted a strawberry from Sea Level Farms. They are called “Bella’s Best” named for my friend. You know it’s a good berry because it’s red all the way to the middle. When we get our first basket of the season from the farm, my brother and I eat them so fast they never make it home. Right now we have 50 pounds of these fantastic red berries frozen in bags in my garage freezer. I hope they last through the winter.
When I travel, I see that there’s no comparison to this local produce. Berries in general are a bit fragile, so to make the long trip, they are usually picked before they’re ripe and shipped across the country or around the world. Once these berries from the big industrial farms finally arrive in faraway places, they are big, hard, and orangey-red in color with white centers. This is not a strawberry at its best, and with the “food miles” it’s traveled, that little basket of fruit has cost us fossil fuels and taken money out of the local economy.
We all have the power to change the direction of our food. If we support our local farmers, buy their produce when possible, and shop locally and organically we can change the market. Food and the environment are intimately connected. It seems overwhelming to think about all of the environmental problems out there when you just want to slice some berries on your yogurt. But every little action can add up to something delicious.