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You might think it started when I was growing up in the sleepy farming town of Martin, Michigan, the daughter of a potato and onion farmer, surrounded by dairy farms, pig farms, beef farms, and muck fields. You'd be wrong.
Sure, we ate things my dad grew, and got our yearly steer from my grandfather. Hunting deer and fishing were also popular pastimes in our area. In the fall we would sometimes head to a local orchard to get apples and cider. But mostly we ate food from the grocery store, fairly processed, and I don't think we even knew what organic meant.
By the time I was in high school, however, I had seen the dark side of farming. Long hours. Church suppers where there were huge stacks of takeout containers for wives to take home to their farming husbands who were working until well after dark during harvest time. Whispers of small farmers selling out, giving up, unable to do enough volume to get the cost of goods ever lower. The large farms with huge operations wondered how on earth their children would be able to afford to buy into it. My own dad and his partner sold their farm after realizing that they could make more money in the long run by selling their land than by farming for several years. Farming was definitely not a profession to go into, or marry into.
After college I moved to the "big city" of Grand Rapids and found myself working for an international relief and development organization, World Renew, which helps subsistence farmers around the world. Soon I learned what organic meant, and how global trade affects poor farmers, and also I started learning more about the food systems here in the U.S. My husband and I joined a CSA and I suddenly had to learn how to cook with all the strange vegetables that seemed to multiply on their way home from the pick up location.
In order to improve my cooking skills I decided to cook my way through "Simply in Season," a cookbook that also espouses doctrine about eating locally. Julie and Julia came out so I decided to start a blog, The Local Cook. Through the CSA I met some chefs and became acquainted by the local food scene in West Michigan.
Soon I was hooked. It was an adventure finding local edibles, trying new restaurants where the food tasted like it was actually made there, and swapping tips with other members and my locavore friends. Things like where to find Michigan beans and the benefits of raw milk. I wanted a place to keep all this local info so I started Eat Local, West Michigan!
Now, eating local and drinking local beer has become quite trendy. Which is fine by me, anything that helps champion the cause is great. However, I do hope that participants discover that not only does eating locally taste better, it also helps the local economy. For example, according to Local First, when West Michigan consumers choose a locally owned business over a non-local alternative, $73 of every $100 spent stays in the community. By contrast, only $43 of every $100 spent at a non-locally owned business remains in the community. In addition, it's good for the environment and more healthy.
Oh, did I mention it tastes better? Because for all the do-good intentions, the proof is in the eating.
I hope you'll join us in taking the 10x10 pledge. It's the right thing to do, and a tasty way to do it.
Wendy blogs at http://eatlocalwestmichigan.com about local food and drink and http://thelocalcook.com where she provides recipes and tips for cooking with local ingredients. She is the church relations manager for World Renew and on the boards of Communities First Association and Slow Food West Michigan. Her opinions are her own and do not represent those of any organization.
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