December 20, 2014

Buy Local and The Big Picture

BG Board President Julie Michaels writes:   In his provocative front-page article Sunday (7.17.11), Berkshire Eagle reporter Ned Oliver asked a variety of people what they meant by “locally grown.” To Sheffield farmer Ted Dobson, it’s food grown within 50 miles of his farm. To the owners of the Berkshire Food Coop in Great Barrington, local is food that is grown within 100 miles of their store.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the Eagle decided to lay down its own definition of local, even as it chastised Berkshire Grown — an organization that has faithfully promoted the Berkshire region’s food and farmers for the past dozen years — for not supplying a rigid definition of its own.

Here is how the Berkshire Eagle defines local: ” ‘locally grown’ should be reserved for farm-fresh products grown in this county and the adjacent New York Route 22 corridor just across the state line running parallel to Berkshire CountyŠ.”

Bad luck to Mighty Food Farm, a Berkshire Grown member raising organic vegetables in Pownal, Vt. According to the Eagle, their tomatoes would not qualify as locally grown, even when purchased by a resident of Williamstown, just 10 miles away.

Ditto the yogurt produced by Side Hill Farm, another Berkshire Grown member in Ashfield, halfway between Dalton and Northampton.

We could supply numerous other examples of the false exclusivity such artificial boundaries impose. In fact, using the Eagle’s definition of

“locally grown,” a good percentage of the farms that sell their produce at the Great Barrington Farmers Market would be deemed ineligible for recognition.

We at Berkshire Grown believe that drawing artificial lines in the sand is petty stuff. Rather, our policy is to let each farm identify its location, as they do at the Great Barrington Farmers Market, and let buyers decide whether the produce meets their own definition of local. (This is the true sin of the Otis Poultry Farm; they are misleading their shoppers; in fact, lying to them about where their eggs are produced. We condemn this practice wholeheartedly.)

What most disturbs us about the Eagle’s editorial is that it misses the larger picture. We at Berkshire Grown are concerned about preserving the regional food shed for our community’s security and health.

The culprit is not a small farmer, 10 miles over the Berkshire County line; rather, it is corporate industrial agriculture that destroys the land with its pesticides, limits crop diversity, and undercuts small farmers by selling food at a discount. We want to see hundreds of farms blossom across the region, on this side of the Berkshire County line and on the other. Why?

Because the more farms we have in our region — be it in the Berkshires, in the Pioneer Valley, in Vermont, or even upstate New York — the more healthy food we’ll have to feed our children. Our community will be that much safer should our food supply be targeted by America’s enemies, and our landscape will remain open and rural — beautiful enough to draw the many visitors who come to the Berkshires every year, many of whom shop in our farmers markets.

Berkshire Grown’s mission is to “increase public awareness of eating locally and healthily through education and outreach; by encouraging supportive agricultural programs and public policies; by establishing local food and farm networks; and by promoting the growing and marketing of locally grown food.”

If the Berkshire Eagle truly cares about this mission, they might think about joining Berkshire Grown (community membership: $40) rather than attacking our organization on its editorial page.

Julie Michaels is President of the Board of Berkshire Grown.