You are part of a network — not the internet, not your cell phone provider and not your medical insurance provider. I’m talking about your food network that puts food on your table day after day, week after week, day in and day out. Your food network is more important to you than any of the others I have mentioned. Without that network, you would, in a matter of days, find the shelves and bins at your local supermarket frighteningly bare.
To give you an idea of how widespread, and in many ways fragile, this network has become, let’s look at what it takes to get a tomato from seed to store. To do this, we travel to Florida. Estimates put the Florida production of tomatoes during the winter months as high as 90% of the total production during the winter. (Zhengfei Guan, 2017) Such numbers are not surprising as Florida offers growers so much in the way of growing conditions. On the other hand, there are some problems with growing in Florida as well.
As an example, most of the soil is Florida is deficient in nitrogen either from overcropping or natural lack of organic matter. The soil by and large is sandy and won’t retain water. Despite what you might think, the climate in Florida is not at all conducive to tomato production. Wide swings in temperature have negative effects on tomatoes, including taste and development. Because of the high natural humidity, insects, fungi, and disease are a constant problem. What this all means is that the tomatoes produced are of sub-par quality yet have a much higher production cost factor.
Once planted, be it in soil or a hydroponics production facility, it takes constant management and inputs to produce a crop of tomatoes. The USDA Pesticide Program found traces of more than 35 pesticides on supermarket tomatoes processed for sale. The Florida handbook for commercial tomato growers lists 110 different pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are permissible on commercially grown tomatoes.
Not your average tomato
While we are talking about growing the tomatoes, we need to talk about the tomatoes themselves. Growers depend on hybrid varieties of plants developed especially for commercial growing operations. The plants are bred to produce consistent sized fruit with shorter yield times to maximize production. The standard size makes harvesting and packaging easier. The fruit is bred to have tougher skins to reduce bruising and damage during harvest and transport which translates into less flavor.
These tomatoes may have to travel thousands of miles to get to their final retail destination. For this reason, they are never allowed to ripen fully on the vine but are harvested when still green and forced to ripen off the vine This is the major reason that most grocery store tomatoes offer bland taste and texture. It is industry practice to spray unripened tomatoes with ethylene to force the ripening process and turn the tomatoes red.
The truth of the matter is that commercial producers have no incentive to produce tomatoes that have high nutritional value, taste, and flavor. Commercial producers get paid by the pound for fruit that meets the size and visual markers.
Why time matters
The time factors involved also are a detriment to the value of the tomato. A typical tomato on your supermarket shelf is more than two weeks old, far from fresh. Studies have shown that once harvested; vegetables begin to lose their nutritional values. Some studies suggest that after only one week, vegetables can lose half their nutritional value.
Add to that the uncounted costs of such industrial production such as electrical costs, chemical costs, environmental costs. How much diesel fuel was consumed to get that produce to the market, how much toxic chemical residue left behind? Those are costs that are hard to measure and validate.
Once that tomato is sitting in the bin at your market, looking all perfectly shaped and visually appealing, what have you got? Essentially, you have a two-week-old vegetable, produced using questionable methods and materials, with
Your Food Web
A vast interconnected web I call the food network of which you are the center. It spreads out from you across the globe, not just the US. Most of the offseason fresh produce you consumes comes from other countries, even other continents. If you add in all the resources and people that involved, even peripherally, that network becomes enormous. The sad part about it is that the producer, out on the other end of that network, reaps very little profit. The bulk of the profits in the vegetable industry stay with the middle parts of the network – the distributors, processors and transportation providers.
Now imagine that some part of that web fails. Suppose the transportation portion fails. Imagine if the chemical part fails. The part that is supposed to supply you with nutrient-rich, flavorful and healthy food has already failed. What then?
You need another web. It’s time to start building a local network, based on local growers with whom you can build a personal relationship. Building such a local web, a local food network, makes sense in so many ways.
It puts you days, perhaps weeks, closer to the food you are eating. Instead of a tomato that is weeks old, picked when it was green and shipped halfway across the country, dosed with toxic chemical and then sold as fresh, what if you could get a fresh tomato.
Imagine that tomato was picked just this morning, hours before you found it in the market and brought it home. How important would it be to know the name of the person who grew it, to be able to talk to that person about how that tomato was grown and picked. Perhaps, to be able to visit that farm, see those tomatoes on the vine and understand how the grower works.
Grow your Local Web
That is the local food network. But without you, it will not work and grow. Without you, the local farmer cannot produce. They depend on your participation, your dollars to make it possible to continue. I hear over and over from growers that they would love to expand. They want to grow more, to be able to invest in the infrastructure to produce year round, but they don’t have the local support from the end user. That is YOU!
The next few weeks you are going to hear from local growers and producers, managers and participants in local food markets and supporters of the local food nets. I want you to hear what they have to say about producing locally, marketing locally and the support they need locally. I want you to meet them, get to know them and learn how to find them.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.
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