shaking the hand that feeds you

If someone told me a year ago that I should only buy local, organic produce, I probably would have laughed at that person, rolled my eyes, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, right. Maybe when I’m rich and live in San Francisco and wear sporty trek sandals and have a completely different set of priorities altogether.” Well, folks, I’m still a teacher in LA, so that should answer the first two, and while I probably would have purchased a nice pair of Keens at this point if I had a spare $90, I don’t, so that has yet to come true, either. However, the priorities have done some major shifting, or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So please bear with me if you haven’t already been seduced by the wiles of sustainable agriculture. It’s beyond important, so I’m going to try to convince you, here and now.

Rather, I’ll first call upon Michael Pollan to convince you. (I’m sure you’re wondering, “How long before she turns into a religious extremist touting Pollanism?”)

“Indeed, the surest way to escape the Western diet is simply to depart the realms it rules: the supermarket, the convenience store, and the fast-food outlet. It is hard to eat badly from the farmers’ market, from a CSA box (more on this later), or from your garden… When you eat from the farmers’ market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious…. As for supermarket produce, it is likely to have come from far away- from the industrial organic farms of California, or, increasingly, China… So many of the problems of the industrial food chain stem from its length and complexity. A wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers, and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

He’s good, right? It took reading that for me to get interested in eating locally and organically, even though my friend Liz could slap a huge “I told you so” on my realization; she and her husband Mike, two of my bestest, frequent their farmers’ market and have preached “organic” and “local” for years, but I’ve tuned them out. Now that I’m listening, who else would I invite to accompany me to a screening of Ingredients, a documentary film about the local food movement? I did, they accepted, we watched, and here are some take-aways:

  • Approximately 1/5 of the fossil fuel that our country uses is expended in the packing and transporting of food. Buy local, and you won’t be supporting big oil and its purported evils. The oil shortage is one big, yet less obvious reason to prioritize local eating.
  • In the world, the U.S. spends the least on food per capita, but the MOST on medicine! One could argue (and I’m sure Pollan would/has) that our preoccupation with frugality and fleetness of our food has forced us to sacrifice the quality of it, and accordingly, our health.
  • Today, less than 1% of people in the U.S. are farmers- it isn’t even a choice of occupation on the census anymore. Small family farms aren’t lucrative enough to attract proprietors because we, as consumers, don’t support them.

The film profiled several inspiring farmers that use organic, ethical methods and sell to their communities and local restaurants, shortening the food chain between grower and consumer where, as Pollan says,

“…eaters can make their needs and desires known to the farmer, and the farmer can impress on eaters the distinctions between ordinary and exceptional food, and many reasons why exceptional food is worth what it costs. Food reclaims its story, and some of its nobility, when the person who grew it hands it to you. So here’s a subclause to the get-out-of-the-supermarket rule: Shake the hand that feeds you.”

So imagine my excitement when, just two days after watching Ingredients, Liz proposed that we visit a local, organic farm and do just that! Once we’d shaken the hand, Liz said, we could sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) box, where fresh-picked produce is delivered to you in a bi-monthly box- a sheer genius way to make local food easily accessible. Quite obviously, I agreed, and by Sunday we were on our way to Tanaka Farms in Irvine.  While not certified organic, Tanaka Farms uses all organic practices.  So while yes, you could go to Safeway and buy organic produce, like Pollan says, it is probably shipped there from a large, commercial organic farm that had the resources (it costs big bucks) to be certified.  Small family farms will give you the benefits of organic practices (no dangerous toxins, higher nutrient density, less environmental impact, I could go on!) AND the benefits of eating locally.

This is Liz!

Gorgeous apples that we got to sample for free.

Our ride for the epic farm tour.

Crops demonstrating the "chop suey" method of organic farming- alternating plants by row so that the bugs get confused. Sounds crazy but it works!

Our guide Raymond demonstrates how you can eat the roots of an onion plant. **We did get to see Farmer Tanaka in the flesh, but he was too busy cultivating delicious organic produce to actually shake our hands. Raymond was a great liason.

Mmmm, onion roots.

Bananas. Did you know they take up to a year and a half to ripen?

Carrots, bok choy, green onion, cilantro, and lettuce- free samples!

The highlight of the tour for sure- picking our own carton of perfect, ripe strawberries.


Strawberries are planted next to onions- an organic technique called companion planting to keep the bugs away.

Couldn't resist. Probably my favorite dessert, ever.

Snap peas, kale, spinach, apples, green onion, and an avocado- my purchases from the Tanaka market. This cost me around $12- totally worth it and not that much more than what you'd pay at the supermarket.

Liz and I left inspired and giddy, ready to spread the good word about local farming.  We’ll start with our school (Liz and Mike both teach with me), which we will try to make a drop-point for CSA boxes from Tanaka.  That way, we’ll be making local produce more available to our urban community.  Of course, the ultimate goal would be making it accessible to not just our co-workers and students, but everyone, low-income families especially.  Baby steps.

I’ll leave you with some more Pollan, because I just can’t say it any better than he does:

“Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience or they can nourish a food chain organized around values- values like quality and health.  Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon as you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote- a vote for health in the largest sense- food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.”


Find a CSA program or farmers’ market near you!


5 thoughts on “shaking the hand that feeds you

  1. This looks awesome. One of my goals in life is to go pick fruit from a farm and make pies of said fruit that evening.

    Also, I love the consistent referencing to FREE SAMPLES! throughout this post.

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