Op-Ed: Philip Korman & Margaret Christie: A bushel and a peck of good things for Valley’s farm economy

The Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 24, 2014. By Philip Korman and Margaret Christie

SOUTH DEERFIELD — We’ve always felt that how we feed each other is the true measure of any culture or community. We know that our faith in the importance of locally grown food and strengthening the local food economy is widespread in the Pioneer Valley. More and more people are invested in supporting local farms and ensuring that good food is available to everyone in our region.

As the nation marks “Food Day” Friday for the fourth year, we have much to celebrate. This is a day for reflection and action; a time for each of us to consider how we could do more to ensure that here in the Valley, we do a good job of feeding each other.

Locally grown food offers many immediate, tangible benefits: freshness, great taste, preservation of open space and the creation of local jobs — to name a few. But it also allows us to take concrete action to address some of the big problems facing our society: diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity; climate change; and a fragile global economy.

Choosing to buy locally grown food — and helping to make it more available in schools, supermarkets and corner stores across our region — is one small step we each can take to address these challenges.

Our local actions can impact the world. By the same token, national and global problems can impede success here. The growing gap between rich and poor, for example, makes it harder for our farmers to charge the prices they need to earn a living and ensure the food they grow is available to everyone. Farmers can’t solve these conundrums all by themselves. Are we willing, as a community, to change some of our thinking and habits so future generations inherit a world with better possibilities?

Many of our local success stories reveal the power of individual actions. For example, we’re looking forward to the re-opening of Mi Tierra Restaurant in Hadley, closed since last year when a devastating fire destroyed 13 businesses.

At the time of the fire, Mi Tierra’s owner, Jorge Sosa, had just purchased a machine to make fresh corn tortillas. Although the machine was destroyed, Jorge quickly replaced it, to honor his commitment to Allen Zuchowski of Lazy Acres Farm, supplier of local corn, and to keep some staff on until he could re-open the restaurant.

Several local individuals and organizations helped Mi Tierra launch the tortilla business, including Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots Farm, and Common Capital, which has helped with financing.

Individual actions of local residents have ensured the business’ success, not only by buying tortillas but by recommending new market outlets and spreading the word about the delicious tortillas across the state.

Last year, CISA released a local food calculator on that shows the collective impact of these kinds of individual decisions. It reveals that if you shift just $5 per week to local fruits and vegetables you contribute almost twice as much income to the local economy as purchasing non-local fruits and vegetables.

If all households in our area made this change, the result would be an increase of over 500 new jobs and an additional $24 million per year to our local economy.

In addition to these individual steps, we can also come together statewide.

Massachusetts, for the first time in 40 years, is creating a statewide strategic food plan. It will examine our capacity to increase the amount of local food we grow and our ability to ensure that more people have access to fresh local food.

In addition, the campaign season provides an opportunity to ask candidates for public office to share their positions regarding local farms, local agriculture and how best to provide access to local food for all in our communities and then allows you to make a more meaningful decision when you go to vote.

Every day, our daily habits impact the world around us. How do we grow our food? What do we buy, cook, and eat with our families? Can other families in our communities find and afford good food?

On this Food Day, visit your favorite apple orchard, farmers’ market, farm stand, or eat at a Local Hero food market or restaurant. Invite a family or friend to join you for a locally sourced meal and ask yourselves, have I done well today for my community and my children’s children?

Philip Korman is executive director and Margaret Christie is special projects director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.