Our Last True Vote

by Cari Levison, AFM Public Outreach Intern

This weekend, after returning home from the Saturday Athens' Farmers Market, canvas bags packed with my week's supply of produce and eggs, a roommate of mine asked me a very valid question that I have been pondering ever since. 

“Money is so tight, how can you afford to spend extra money at the market?” 

It’s a question I've considered many times myself when I’m shelling out money for farmers' market eggs that I know would be cheaper at Kroger. Let's face it; we are living in a time of penny pinching and dollar stretching. We are all scrambling to save at every corner and making sacrifices in the name of a seemingly endless recession. So, as a student who can barely afford to purchase all my texts books, why am I bearing the financial burden of a local based diet?

There is a wide array of answers to this question that locavores have been known to rattle off when asked about their shopping habits. Here is a list of the top 5 reasons (in a very particular order) that I use to refocus myself whenever I’m tempted to head to Wal-Mart for my salad fixin’s.

5. It’s the Only Body I Got.

Imagine you were given a beautiful brand new car the day you turned 16. The only catch is, this is going to be the only car you will be able to drive for your entire life, no matter what happens to it. My guess is, most of us would keep that baby in pristine condition, feeding it only premium gas to try and preserve that engine for as long as possible: forget the price, this car has to last me forever!

For some reason, most of us treat our bodies as if they’re replaceable. We justify trips to the drive-through because the dollar menu can hold us over all day with just the change in the cup holder, and simply cross our fingers that our arteries don’t give up.

In 2010 I made a promise to myself that I would begin to treat my body as if it were the only one I would ever have, and eating locally was an obvious first step. Local farmers tend their own crops responsibly and pick the produce right before selling it at the market. In a store, produce is often picked before it ripens, so by the time it reaches its destination thousands of miles away, it will be ripe. Locally grown food, on the other hand, is at its peak of freshness, still with rich flavor and all of its nutrients and enzymes intact.

4. It Makes Sense!

Eating a seasonal diet undoubtedly feels better. Not only is an item at its peak nutritional value when it is in season, but you're living in harmony with the environment. As the temperature changes, so does the fuel on which our bodies run best.  

3. Go Ahead, Call Me a Treehugger If You Want.

I care about the effect that my decisions have on the earth, and eating locally drastically reduces my carbon footprint. In the U.S. much of the food found in the supermarket travels an average of 1,500 miles before making it to your kitchen table. According to locavores.com, about 1/5 of all petroleum in the United States is used in the field of agriculture. By eliminating the voyage, we reduce the release of carbon emissions into the air, not to mention the food is many miles fresher.

In later blogs, I’ll delve into more about the environmental impact of conventional produce tied with a faceless, broken food system.

2. I Love My Town; I Want to Support It.

Choosing to shop locally when big box prices attempt to lure me at every purchase has been a constant struggle for me in my early twenties. Making the conscious decision to spend more, when you could spend less, is no easy task. This dilemma is not restricted to produce and eggs, it encompasses basically all of my shopping.

It is estimated that when you spend a dollar on goods in a corporate system, about fifteen cents remains in your local community. When you spend a dollar at a local business, on the other hand, almost half of it remains in the community, thereby reinvested in the local economy. I am constantly reminding myself that spending money locally is an investment in my community. 

1. I Vote With My Dollar

A professor once told me that I am casting a vote every single time I spend a dollar. Whether we like it or not, by choosing to buy a certain product, we are definitively stating our support for each and every link of the process that produced it. With each purchase comes a profound statement about who I am and what I stand for. When I shop at the Athens Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, I feel confident that I am making purchases that represent me how I want. The local economy, the importance of nutrition and the treatment of the earth are issues that are important to me, so why would I spend my money in a way that contradicts my beliefs?

In short, I will answer my inquisitive roommate with the following: the question isn’t ‘how can I afford to shop at the farmers market’, it’s ‘how can I afford not to?’