By Laura Fishman
When you’re shopping in the supermarket for the perfect strawberries, have you ever stopped to think about where the strawberries came from? Where were they grown? What farming techniques were used to grow them? Or, how much petroleum fuel was used to ship the fruit to your local store?
James MacKinnon—co-creator of the 100-mile diet, a method of eating food only grown within a 100-mile radius from one’s home—said that the food we eat is typically shipped 1,500 miles before it is consumed.
While some people may not worry about the food they are consuming, others are paying close attention. Many Santa Cruz residents have become part of a growing trend of people who are choosing to buy their food from their local farms.
Some are even choosing to eat local foods exclusively by switching to the 100-mile diet, which allows people to think locally by only consuming food that comes from nearby.
James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith from Vancouver, British Columbia founded the 100-mile diet in 2005, inspired by a meal they had in Northern British Columbia that consisted of fresh food where all ingredients were from a local garden.
“It was the first time in a long while that we had a meal where we knew where all the food was coming from,” said MacKinnon, who helped prepare the meal along with Smith.
After eating within a 100-mile radius for a year, Smith and MacKinnon began to promote the alternative eating style. They created a website with stories about their experience and wrote a book titled Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally.
Nancy Jackson, a dietitian at the UC Santa Cruz Health Center, claims that eating locally is healthier than our conventional way of eating. “Often when we have something shipped in from another location, it’s not in its ripest form,” Jackson said.
She added that the 100-mile diet is more than just a diet. It’s also an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Cheryl Nechamen, a member of the 100-mile Diet Speakers Bureau said, “It’s a healthy diet because it means you’re not eating processed food and you know exactly how your food is harvested.”
Nechamen, who was inspired by Smith and MacKinnon, resides in upstate New York and has been on the 100-mile diet since September 2006. She currently does outreach for the bureau by delivering speeches at a number of different events and she maintains a website for the diet.
“When I started people were very supportive,” Nechamen said. “People always wanted to talk about it.”
Cheryl Nechamen first started the 100-mile diet because she felt fossil fuels had become too much apart of our modern agricultural system. She wanted to buy food that wasn’t being shipped from a distant location.
“It’s so silly to ship food across the country or half-way across the world,” said Nechamen.
In Santa Cruz County, many local eaters purchase their food from Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSA). These farms offer produce subscriptions where the buyers receive fruits, vegetables, eggs, and other types of food products each week.
Live Earth Farm started the CSA program in 1995, and has been expanding business ever since.
Debbie Palmer, coordinator of Live Earth Farm CSA, chooses to eat locally in order to support the local farmers in the area. According to Palmer, for every dollar people spend in the grocery store, only pennies go into the farmer’s pocket.
Although Live Earth Farm delivers mostly fruits and vegetables with some dairy products, eating locally is not restricted to just produce; Palmer thinks it’s best to acquire as much food as possible in the nearby area.
“I source my meat locally,” Palmer said. “I get it from a grassroots farmer in San Juan Batista.”
With the environmentally conscience Santa Cruz population, more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of local eating.
Several restaurants in Santa Cruz County support local eating by serving seasonal food from local farms. All food at CafÃ© la Vie is localâ€“â€“90 percent of it is produced within 100 miles.
“I always eat locally, no matter what type of environment I’m living in,” said CafÃ© La Vie manager Ilona Anderle. “If I lived up in Alaska, I’d still eat what’s local and what’s in season.”
The theory behind the menu at CafÃ© La Vie is that it provides nutritious food while serving as an educational facility promoting wellness and healthy lifestyles.
Many 100-mile dieters choose to get their food at a farmers’ market. With more than six different markets in the local area, Santa Cruz has all different types of people coming together to purchase a variety of local foods.
Brandon Ferria, a local farmers’ market produce vendor in Watsonville, always sells his products within 100 miles of his farm. While selling eggs to the shoppers, he stated his belief that the farmers’ market plays great importance in the community because it supports family sized farms by offering local food.
“Just in this area we have a diverse climate,” Ferria said. “Having a farmers’ market is the best way for people to push their product locally.”
California plays a big role in the nation’s agriculture productivity. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state grows 66 percent of the country’s fruits and 56 percent of the country’s vegetables.
The Farm-to-College project at UC Santa Cruz pushes students and faculty in the UC community to think about local eating. Campus environmental organizations like the Food Systems Working Group focus on getting local food in the UCSC dining halls.
Lauren Fieberg, a third-year student at UCSC, works with the Student Environmental Center and promotes the concept of eating locally.
“I harvest some of my own food from the College Eight garden,” Fieberg said. In addition, the university offers a CSA program with the UCSC Farm and Garden.
Nancy Vail started out as an apprentice at the garden, which started in 1967, when she was a student and continued working to become the head CSA coordinator.
“We’ve supplied food to the Kresge food co-op in the past,” Vail said. “We’re now supplying produce to the Terra Fresca restaurant and to several campus dining halls.”
While many people support the idea of eating locally, MacKinnon admits that following the 100-mile diet was challenging at times.
“We lost about 15 pounds on the diet after the first month,” MacKinnon said. “And it took us seven months to find a farmer that raises grains.”
The biggest challenge for MacKinnon was the time commitment, as it took more of a conscious effort to find local foods and to always cook from scratch.
Debbie Palmer, Coordinator of Local Earth Farm CSA, believes the practicality of local eating depends on where you’re living.
“It’s certainly going to be harder to do in parts of the country that don’t have a long growing season,” Palmer said. “We’re really fortunate here in California to have a growing season as long as we do.”
Northern California is well-known for its plentiful farmland. In particular, Watsonville, considered the strawberry capital of the world, has a strong farming community.
There is a difference of opinion of how expensive it is to eat locally. When MacKinnon first started the 100-mile diet, he paid more for his food. However, once he discorvered more farmers in the community, the cost of his food dropped.
According to Vail, the price of local food should not be a detriment.
“It’s more money to buy local organic food but with cheap food there are a lot of costs that we’re not aware of, like costs to the environment and to the farm workers,” Vail said. “By paying a little extra, you’re supporting our environment, our economy, and our society.”
Many local eaters agree with Vail’s logic and choose the Farmers’ Market rather than large food corporations.
According to Roselda Rodarte, a worker at the Scott’s Valley Safeway store, very little local produce exists in the Santa Cruz Safeway stores.
“Occasionally we get berries from Watsonville and our garlic comes from Gilroy,” Rodarte said. “But most of our produce isn’t local.”
Derek Castro, Assistant Manager of Produce at the Food Bin, feels that buying food from farmers directly is actually less expensive than buying food from the grocery store. He said the only reason why Safeway may have cheaper food is because they’re a big corporation and they are able to order items in such large quantities. The down side of ordering in such large quantities is that the food on the shelf isn’t as fresh.
“You get food for a better price at the Farmer’s Market because the farmers aren’t going through any sort of distributor,” Castro said.
Local farmers are now trying to distribute food products to people who don’t have a lot of money. At the UCSC Farm and Garden CSA, 10 percent of the shares go towards families with low income. Farmers’ markets in Santa Cruz accept food stamps so people of all incomes can afford the fresh food.
“It’s great because people who have low incomes can afford to get healthy food and it’s great for the vendors because it brings in a whole new group of people,” said Farmers’ Market Food Stamp Coordinator Laurel Wilson.
Vail admits that eating locally is more difficult for people with a lower income because there’s a lot of cheap food out there, but it’s just not healthy.
It brings up the question of how we value the relationship with the farmer. Is it worth the higher price?
“By going to the Farmers’ Market you’re establishing a relationship with the grower,” Vail said. “That’s something you can never get in a Safeway.”
_For a list of farms, CSA’s, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and food co-ops with local food, visit: http://www.localharvest.org._