Sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to forget. That food comes from some real, concrete, and tangible place is one of those no-brainers that so many people overlook. We come to believe that food is something that is packaged, canned, or boxed and appears magically on the shelves of our local supermarket every week. Perhaps we can be forgiven for neglecting the obvious because most of what passes as “food” these days doesn´t resemble anything that actually grows from the ground. Yet today, more and more people are rediscovering the importance of how actual food comes into our homes and bodies and how it can become a vital part of community.
Food should be the ultimate connector. Less than 2% of the American population consider themselves farmers today, yet 100% of the population has to eat in order to stay alive. Rather than blindly trusting that our boxed cereal and canned soup will show up every week at the supermarket, a better approach is to discover the people in and around our communities that are producing the food that we should be eating.
The link between what we eat and the community we live in needs to be strengthened. The global food system that stocks our grocery store shelves is vulnerable and dependent on thousands of factors. In order to get our loaf of bread, wheat grown in Argentina must be picked by Brazilian laborers who are poorly paid. It must be shipped overseas to a processing plant in Mexico where it is turned into flour. That flour is then shipped to the bread company´s factory somewhere in Eastern Europe where it´s mass-produced into the uniform loaves of nutrient-sparse bread that is once again shipped across the Atlantic to our grocery store shelves where it must be sold in less than a week or else be tossed in the dumpster. In the volatile world we live in, any number of things could happen along that long and susceptible supply line to interrupt the arrival of our loaf of bread.
A more sane option would be to get to know a local farmer who is growing wheat. Visit her fields and talk to her about how she maintains the fertility of her soil. Agree to purchase a part of her crop. When the harvest is in, take the whole grain wheat berries to a local bakery and have them grind them up into whole-wheat flour. Add some eggs from a local farm and a little bit of yeast and you have yourself a fresh loaf of bread baked from ingredients grown in your own watershed.
Along the way, you will have made new friends, supported small farmers, strengthened your local economy, and found ways to make your consumption ethical and healthy for yourself, your community, and your local environment.
Tying the food you eat into the well-being of your local community is one of the most important things we can do. Local schools can start gardens tended by students, parks and other open spaces can be turned into garden plots farmed collectively, and farmers’ markets can create a space for the invisible farmer and the anonymous consumer to meet. Rediscovering the obvious relationship between food and community creates a ripple effect that affects our own health and well-being, the economic resilience and viability of our neighbors and local community, and the sustainability of our environment.