When asked, most people will tell you that they believe there are two weeks of groceries available in their local supermarkets. Because of efficiency planning by the few large food distributors there is now just 3 days of food available in your local stores. If there is a major disruption of the distribution system that’s all you’ve got until FEMA or some other disaster preparedness organization can bring food supplies in to your area.
All we need to do is look back to the 2006 March snow storm that closed all the routes into Albuquerque for up to a week. V.B. Price reminds us in his new book The Orphaned Land that Albuquerque store shelves were almost empty by the time the highways were again open. Without local food producers, our community is at the mercy of a food system that is rapidly becoming more concentrated into fewer and fewer corporations driven by the bottom line to maximize their profits. We can ensure a more secure food supply and counter the concentrated food distributors by shopping at local farmers markets in our area.
Shopping for local food has a number of benefits for you, the farmers and your community. When you’re buying produce you’re meeting the person that grew those crops. You are able to learn about their growing process and how to cook foods you’re unfamiliar with, as well as taste new foods at many of the markets. The farmer can benefit from learning from you and others about your needs. In this way we build relationships between people. New connections in turn help meet the changing needs of the community. A stronger community can be more responsive to changes, enhancing the overall community health and well being.
Keeping your money in your community has far-reaching benefits. When you shop at a large chain grocer only 38% of each dollar stays in your community. Shop at a farmers market and 58% or more of each dollar you spend stays in your community. Now you’re helping to keep work in your area. You’re investing in your farmers which means they will be able to invest in providing more, better food for you.
Some local farms such as Skarsgard Farms use greenhouses to extend their growing season. This kind of investment in growing capacity allows farmers to provide fresh local produce year around. Now you can enjoy the freshest local produce all year. These farmers become better off economically by lengthening the growing season and providing more local produce during the off season. Now we have a wonderful cycle of growth in the farming community, and more local food to meet the needs of the community. As local demand increases more people are becoming interested in becoming farmers. Wow – more food, more jobs, more local control over our food supply! Now when you shop you know you are helping keep your community healthier and more people are living better lives.
According to local farmer and market manager for the Albuquerque Northeast Farmers’ & Artisans Market, Jedrek Lamb, we are not yet a sustainable food region but we have the ability to reestablish the tradition of locally supported farmers here in New Mexico. The potential for growth is huge, as New Mexico currently spends 4 billion dollars a year on food – of which 97% is imported, commonly from 1500 to 2000 miles away. Currently consumers spend about $14 million of that $4 billion at farmers’ markets.
Farmers’ markets also directly benefit local merchants near the markets in additional sales that grow the area economy. Albuquerque has a number of farmers’ markets that support local and regional farmers and provide quality foods at reasonable prices. To finding out about the markets close to you can visit the New Mexico Farmers’ Markets Association (NMFMA) website. The NMFMA website is a wonderful place that provides information for shoppers about when and where markets are held. There is information on the produce that is available during various times of the year, as well as how to cook different vegetables and recipes. Not only can you learn when to get leeks but how to turn them into a delicious soup.
There is no way to predict the next time our food supply will be placed at risk. What we can do is invest in our own community’s ability to feed itself. By doing so we can reap the benefits of a stronger community, traditions and wellbeing. May 18th begins the regular farmers’ market season in Albuquerque. Make it a goal this year to go to a farmers’ market and begin to build a better future for everyone and have a fun time doing it.