The last blog emphasized that despite grocery stores shelves being packed full of products, and millions of dollars being distributed for food assistance programs, our world is actually quite food insecure. Limited access to nutritious, affordable food is leading to rampant health problems and decreasing our societal knowledge of where food comes from. The first step is acknowledging the fact that food insecurity is a real problem for Polk County, as discussed in part one. This blog is part two of our series, and will discuss how we assess what we need in order to “relocalize” our food system.
“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”
― Joel Salatin
Just as Joel Salatin emphasizes above, it is clear that we must begin to address food system issues from the ground-up, rather than depending on outside agencies to be the fix-all solution. In order to begin building a resilient local food system, we must first understand what our nutritional needs as humans are. Then we must address the nutritional gaps in our local food supply and how to fill these at various scales within the community.
As humans we need: about 2,300 calories a day in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; additionally we need vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and medicinal plants for healing. All of these nutritional needs come from vegetables, herbs and spices, root crops, grains, animals and animal products, oils, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and products made from the above. In order to build a resilient system, we must grow all of the above, and also produce value-added products. That seems like a lot to tackle! But if addressed at various production scales, it is actually quite feasible if the community is willing.
The first step is to identify regional staples that can be reliably produced in large quantities each year.
One example in Polk County would be sweet potatoes, or apples. Next you ask:
- “How many pounds of apples, sweet potatoes, ________, do Polk County residents consume in a year?”
- “How many pounds do we currently produce…How many pounds are imported?”
- “How can we increase local production to meet demand?”
- “How can we make these local products accessible in all markets?”
Other regional staples for Western NC include: potatoes, onions, beans, corn, pumpkin and squash, cabbage and greens, eggs, fruit, nuts, berries, wild plants and game, and small and large livestock. Establishing a steady supply of products that are easily grown in your region is a first step towards stabilizing the food system.
After we establish regional staples, we must look at growing the most nutrient dense foods.
The trick is to grow things that provide the most nutrition per square foot of production. Some examples include: Cranberries, which are high in nutrient content and used to be native to NC, muscadines and paw paw which both provide cancer fighting potential and grow wild in our region.
We must also consider growing grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, etc. Additionally nuts have lots of potential to provide economic support to farmers, since now a large percentage of nuts produced in California are being shipped to Asia (70% of almonds are being shipped!). Locally we can produce almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and pecans. Seeds are also nutrient powerhouses and flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds could all be produced locally.
In terms of fats we must be able to produce oil and also obtain some from animal products. Grapeseed oil has great potential in our region where viticulture provides grape skin waste that could be processed into oil. Oil presses are not a high-cost equipment, and could be used on a co-op scale. Other important nutrient powerhouses we can produce locally are mushrooms, herbs, goat’s milk and cheeses, as well poultry and eggs.
It is also important to grow Antioxidant Super Foods
Elderberry is a great example of a product that is native to this region and also possesses many medicinal properties. Muscadine grapes, as mentioned above, are also a great source of antioxidants, boasting a higher antioxidant content that blueberries! Vegetables such as kale, asparagus, red peppers, red cabbage, beets, etc. are also so called “super foods.”
One we establish what we need to grow, it is important to understand how we can grow enough food to support our community. To do this we must:
Identify and plug local nutritional food gaps.
Chuck Marsh stated that the two hardest nutrients to provide at a local scale will be oils and minerals. Mountain soils are old and typically lack many minerals, but can be re-mineralized with proper soil management techniques. Oils on the other hand will require large scale supply of products, as well as the machinery to process and package. Typically grain is grown in the cereal belt, but in order to address food security, we must promote grain farming for human consumption. Finally non-grain staples and value-added products will be needed, which opens up the opportunity for local economic development and diversification.
The whole goal is to cut out the intermediaries who, by shipping the food 1000’s of miles, and spending large amounts of money on advertising, distort the true cost of food while also depleting the health of citizens. By cutting out the middle-man we can provide great nutrients per dollar and rebuild our local economies.
This will not be an overnight change, nor will it come without its challenges One insight I gained from the discussion is that we cannot learn or grow without challenges. Challenge builds character and inner strength. Working as a community to address food security will not only improve the physical health of citizens, but may also promote emotional and spiritual well being. The final blog will discuss how we can begin to work towards filling the gaps in our system.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time…