Local Food, Not So Hard to Swallow

Stephanie Burke

Kristen Wasche, professor of holistic health at Western Michigan University, shops at the Bank Street Farmer’s Market and the Natural Health Center (NHC), a natural health food store. She also has planted fruit trees and grows vegetables that account for one-fourth of the produce her family consumes. Wasche also gets milk and eggs from her neighbor’s goats and chickens, which together provide milk and eggs for both households along with other products, such as homemade yogurt.

Wasche’s eco-friendly actions helps both the economy and the environment.

Economically, purchasing locally grown products puts money into the local community and keeps it there. Environmentally, locally grown products require less oil usage for transportation and fresher products that contain fewer pesticides and herbicides are available, Wasche said.

“We have to support our local communities, (otherwise) they won’t make it,” Wasche said. “Everyone can’t afford to (buy local), but do the best you can with the resources available. Every little bit helps.”

Paul Stermer, executive director at Fair Food Matters, a non-profit charitable organization in Kalamazoo, defined local as within 100 miles of our nine-county region.

“Buying products elsewhere helps other economies,” Stermer said. “When you buy local your food doesn’t travel as far, and in most cases, it tastes better.”

Eating local in Michigan is easy to do. Michigan’s agriculture economy is the second most diverse after California, Stermer said.

“We grow things here that 48 other states can’t,” he said. “Eating local is extremely easy May through October,” which is Michigan’s growing season.

Beginning on the first Saturday of May, the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market, located at 1204 Bank Street attracts local farmers selling vegetables, meat, poultry, fruits, flowers and crafts. The market is open through the end of November.

Visser Farm, located at 10791 Blair St. in Zeeland, Mich., has been around four generations. In addition to raising beef and pork, the farm grows numerous types of vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, onions, eggplant and lettuce.

The farm sells their products at various farmers’ markets in Michigan including the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market.

“When you eat local products, you know where they came from and you are supporting the people in your area,” said Rob Visser, a farmer at Visser Farm.

A lot of times, when tomatoes are being raised for travel, they are picked green, they are chemically treated for preservation and then they are shipped, Visser said. “If they get vine ripened they taste better and are more nutritional.”

When products are transported locally, less pollution from travel is created in comparison to a product being shipped from farther away, Visser said.

Another way to purchase locally grown foods is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA allows farmers to sell a share of their farm to consumers. In return, consumers receive a weekly basket of locally grown products from the farm.

CSA farm, Green Gardens, located at 8319 White Rabbit Road in Battle Creek, has 60 members. Shareholders receive a box with eight to 12 different crops, said Trent Thompson, a farmer at Green Gardens.

The direct relationship of the consumer to the farm pushes the use of sustainable practices, Thompson said.

Being a small farm in their second year of business, the CSA system has provided Green Gardens with the money needed to get started in the spring. Consumers either pay the $400 for their share in one payment or on a weekly basis.

“The capital early on is critical for the farm’s success,” Thompson said. “This year we were able to cut out one farmer’s market and spend more time at the farm growing.”

According to Julie Stanley, owner of Food Dance, a restaurant located at 401 E. Michigan Ave., one of the advantages of buying local products is the relationship developed with the growers. With knowing the farmers comes learning their values, which makes supporting them more satisfying, Stanley said.

“People are becoming more aware of what they put in their mouths. Eating what is in season when it is harvested is working with nature. It makes more sense for your body’s natural rhythm,” she said.

During Michigan’s growing season, Food Dance purchases about 90 percent of their food from local farms, Stanley said.

“I think it is great that currently the trend is to buy local,” Stanley said. “It is the way most countries outside of the U.S. have always eaten, buy daily and eat what is given to you.”

Kalamazoo has several resources that help make eating local possible, said Kristen Wasche. “(When you eat local), you eat the freshest and best grown food, including plants and animals, that you can get.”