Monday, October 1, 2012

The Real Cost of Cheap Food My family and I watched a DVD recently from the library about a small French town that changed the meals to all Organic (grown locally when possible) in the Schools, Hospitals and Care Homes under the Mayors jurisdiction. It was quite controversial to begin with as it upset many of the local farmers who still used chemicals and also those involved with supplying them the means of so called modern agribusiness. The area known as ‘The Guard’ was in southern France with many orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms, all very specialized with monoculture crops (only one or two things grown on large acreages). Cancer rates were 3 and 4 times the national average and sometimes higher in children, all seemed to have lost or had family members with cancer, many families with several victims. The frustrated Mayor stuck his neck out, put his political life on the line and said we will do this for six months, and see if we have an improvement, if not, I will be wrong and resign, pity we don’t have more politicians like that in this country. The chef in the school kitchen got on board and did a great job, after several weeks kids were eating veggies they had never tasted before, and enjoying them, telling their parents they liked organic food and wanted it at home. They also grew organic food in the school garden and then ate it for snacks or in their school dinner. Teachers noticed the children were more attentive and interested in lessons, marks improved. The nurses and doctors in the hospital noted clean dinner plates and quicker recovery times, so freeing up beds. Less depression and easier going patients in the care home as well as less sleep less nights were recorded. These are all social costs that are not covered by cheap food and yet that same cheap, stale, long travelled, chemically grown food appeared to be causing these costs according to this small towns experiment. The full social costs are huge, additional medical care, topsoil loss, polluted water tables, rivers and streams, lower grades at school, larger carbon footprints due to more mileage on the food and all that money leaving the community instead of staying there and circulating to improve the economy for all. The parents came on board as they noticed a difference in their children; many started buying organic food for the home, some even switching to organic cleaners. Yes they admitted it cost 10- 15% more for groceries but there was less waste and it tasted so much better. They also felt they ate less as it was more satisfying. The same was said by the chefs at the school and hospital, they felt that less waste balanced out the extra cost. After a town hall meeting they decided to extend the program for a year as they could all see benefits. Although the cancer rates had not dropped in such a short time they felt with the example they had set more farmers were considering going organic. After talking with organic farmers and seeing the benefits on soil fertility other farmers were looking in to changing their farming practices. The community realizes it will be a slow process but the results to date were worth changing their diets for and they are looking forward to a cleaner environment with healthier, happier, smarter children and with less visits to the doctor and hospital. This story is heading for a happy ending and when I get time this winter I want to follow up on the web and see how they are doing. So what are you going to do to improve you and your family’s health in this era of cheap chemically grown food? How about making a point of buying from a local producer at a Farmers Market and asking questions about how they grow your food. Better yet visit a farm where the vegetables, fruits and meats are grown. Admittedly this time of year most of us farmers are running with our hair strait back (if we are lucky to have any left) so are some what busy and not to keen to stop and chat. But I know one fellow at Harmonious Homestead and ewe just 5 minutes from town who is open Fridays 3-6pm and Saturday’s 9- noon. He is in his farm shop selling Certified Organic vegetables and Grass-fed/Pasture raised meats and is willing to talk to you and answer all your questions about local and organic food. He even has tea and coffee on Saturdays with Fresh baked goodies to help the conversation along. That was a terrible plug, but its true we are there to help you and inform you and are willing to show you how we grow the food for you. Take the challenge and learn more about organic locally produced food, make positive choices for your family and taste the difference. See you Saturday for coffee! Rob Fensom produces local organic food at Harmonious Homestead and ewe and can be reached at

No comments: