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Inconsistencies in messaging affects local fruit, vegetable sales

By Max Phelps

Yards to Paradise

 

It is a natural thing to suppose fruits and vegetables are wholesome, healthy and safe.

Sometimes when the question “is it organic”, or “are your growing practices sustainable”, or “are the workers being paid a living wage”–perhaps the question should be “are my grocery purchases helping neighbors and the local economy, or am I buying imported fruit or produce”, or “can the roadside orchard make ends meet paying fifteen dollars an hour when Chilean, South African or Turkish workers may have been paid much less than fifteen dollars per day”, or perhaps the question should be “am I willing to accept some blemishes in fruits locally grown without commercial sprays”.

Often the gardener or farmer cannot control the message, and the government seems to be as unconcerned as the media in suggesting local growing, local sales and local consumption helps the vitality of our communities in so many ways.

Buying local produce supports local folks who are farmers, or perhaps just hobbyists selling extra produce thy raise in their spare time. Buying from your neighbors builds communities, networking and getting acquainted and making friends. Buying local means the freshest obtainable. Fresher and vine or tree ripened means more vitamins and minerals. And buying local has many environmental benefits.

So, why don’t we all see more local growers selling things like strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, tomatoes, etc.?

Part of it is our habit of ‘convenience’ shopping. It’s easy to get a gallon of milk or a bottle of soda at the grocery store.

Another reason is it takes a dedicated person to devote one or two days every week to a Farmer’s Market, plus the licensing and memberships. And if a farmer has folks coming to the farm, someone might get hurt and file a lawsuit, stopping the effort in its tracks.

Farmers take risks every year. They plant but never know if the weather, the demand, and so many other factors will actually result in them making any money for their long hours of labor. U-Pick farms often expand into entertainment for the kids and school tours and the like, selling ice cream or candied apples or other ‘touristy’ type merchandise, rather than mainly growing and marketing their fruit and vegetables.

Many of the more rural counties have on-farm sale of home grown items. But, the customers are limited—as it’s a rural area. Near large cities, land brings giant prices for other purposes besides farming and gardening.

So, the prospective buyers live quite a distance from those that could supply their produce needs.

This short article certainly doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities, and probably barely supplies an answer about the mixed messaging, but I hope it gets you, the reader, to think.

The grocery chain store has to supply things all year in the produce department. But in doing so, they often buy from wholesalers that buy from all over the world.

Mexican tomatoes may be cheaper than local. Turkish cherries may be cheaper than those from Michigan. And price more than anything is what the ads and circulars emphasize. Sometimes we just aren’t interested in giving a dollar more for locally grown. If we actually studied how many times the local dollar churns in the community, helping everyone whose hands each dollar passes through, we might see it hurts to buy foreign even if it is a little cheaper.

Look for local blueberries, strawberries, peaches, apples, honey, cheese and other produce for sale directly by local farmers, local grocers or health food stores. And, if you have a desire to check on the computer or phone, perhaps these websites might be helpful: www.pickyourown.orgfoodrevolution.orgripenear.me, or check your community advertiser or local radio swap/call-in programs.

And if you have the time and space, try growing some fruits and vegetables in your yard, garden or landscape. This will yield the freshest, and also give you some sunshine and exercise, and there’s no risk of catching ‘the virus’ either.

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