About Local Food Systems
- What is a food system?
- Why buy local food?
- What is community-supported agriculture (CSA)?
- Where can I find local farms?
- What is community food security?
- Where can I learn more about community food security and the local food system?
- Where can I learn more about food and farm policy?
- What is biodynamic agriculture?
- Where can I learn more about organic and biodynamic agriculture and pesticides?
What is a food system?
A food system is the path that food travels from field to fork. It includes the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposing of food. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each step. A food system operates within and is influenced by social, economic, and natural environments. Each step is also dependent on human resources.
At the turn of the 20th century, food systems operated primarily on a local and regional level. Since World War II, the growth of large-scale, vertically integrated food production businesses has been encouraged by US agriculture policy and the globalization of trade, labor, and market competition. This development of a global, industrialized food system has significantly changed the way we eat and our relationship to where food comes from. It has also negatively impacted our environment and local economies.
Today, our challenge is to build and support food systems that provide for the long-term health of our environment, our families, and our communities. (Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension – Agriculture, Food & Communities)
Why buy local food?
We can enhance the regional economy, improve food and environmental quality, and foster community food security by buying food from local farms and producers. Consumers can encourage farmers in their area to practice excellent environmental stewardship by becoming knowledgeable about diverse farming approaches—from conventional to organic, biodynamic, and permaculture. We can encourage development of farm systems that protect our land and water—improving topsoil and groundwater quality, enhancing biodiversity, and creating healthy soils. We can ensure more food to be grown without using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, growth hormones, and growth regulators. We can lower the impacts—to energy use, climate change, and air quality—of transporting food over long distances.
By knowing our food and knowing our farmers, we can improve livelihoods and quality of life for farmers and farm workers who grow the food in our communities. According to the USDA, American farmers currently receive only 19 cents for every dollar we spend on food. We can enjoy fresher and healthier foods when we buy them directly from a farmers market or CSA, a buyers club or a produce stand, while farmers earn a greater share of the dollars spent. We must all work to conserve land for growing food in and around our population centers over the long term, providing farmers with job security and retirement income without having to sell their land. (Source: World Hunger Year)
What is community-supported agriculture (CSA)?
Community-supported agriculture is a relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. This guarantees the farmer a livelihood and enables many small to moderate scale sustainable, organic farms to remain in business. In turn, community members receive a weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season, from someone they know, who produces food using methods they want to support.
The farm feeds the CSA members; the members support the farm and share the inherent risks and potential bounty. Ultimately, CSA creates “agriculture-supported communities” where members receive a wide variety of foods harvested at their peak of ripeness, flavor, and nutrient content, sustaining a regional food economy with farmers as essential stewards of local environmental quality and food security. (Sources: The Robyn Van En Center and World Hunger Year)
Where can I find local farms?
- Angelic Organics - www.angelicorganics.com
- Family Farmed – www.familyfarmed.org
- The Local Beet - www.thelocalbeet.com
- Local Harvest - www.localharvest.org
What is community food security?
Community food security considers all the factors within a region or community's food system that influence the availability, cost, and quality of food to area households, particularly those in lower income communities. Community food security is defined as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound diet through an economically and environmentally sustainable food system that promotes community self-reliance and social justice.” (Based on a definition by Mike Hamm and Anne Bellows, 2002)
Community food security places the concept of individual or household food security directly in a community context, including:
- Making healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food accessible and affordable
- Supporting local, regional, family-scale, and sustainable food production
- Building and revitalizing local communities and economies
- Providing fair wages and decent working conditions for farmers and food system workers
- Empowering diverse people to work together to create positive changes in the food system and their communities
Democratic decision-making, a key principle of the community food security movement, means that all participants in the food system have the right to participate in decisions that affect the availability, cost, price, quality, and attributes of their food. (Sources: World Hunger Year and Mark Winne, 2004 - Community Food Security Coalition)
How can I support community food security and the local food system?
- Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council – Facebook Page
- Community Food Security Coalition - www.foodsecurity.org
- World Hunger Year Food Security Learning Center – www.worldhungeryear.org/fslc
Where can I learn more about food and farm policy?
- Farm & Food Policy Project – www.farmandfoodproject.org
- Food First Institute - www.foodfirst.org
- Illinois Stewardship Alliance – http://www.ilstewards.org/
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy – www.iatp.org
- Oxfam International - www.oxfam.org
What is biodynamic agriculture?
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of farming based on the idea of a farm as a whole system or organism. The concept was introduced by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist and philosopher, in 1924. In a series of lectures, he introduced an idea for a farming system based upon on-farm biological cycling through mixing crops and livestock. While the mixed-farming approach predates Steiner’s ideas, it was his idea of the farm as an organism that helped to create a new system of agriculture. The information presented in these lectures, while new in its recommendations for agriculture, contained cosmological underpinnings, which were part of a philosophy he referred to as Anthroposophy, or spiritual science. Steiner’s philosophy is also connected to ideas practiced in education, art, economics, medicine, dance therapy, and work with the disabled and mentally ill.
Biodynamic agriculture views humans, animals, plants, minerals, and the cosmos—including the tides and the movement of the stars—as a whole system, or organism, uniting human and natural systems. The foundation of the biodynamic system is the relationship of the farmer and his or her practices to the local ecosystem, which is influenced by the cosmos and subtle fields or life forces.
Tilling the soil or harvesting a crop breaks down organic substances and removes minerals. Both organic and biodynamic agriculture are continually rebuilding the soil to correct this problem. However, what is more important and often overlooked is the depletion of the subtle life forces that are also needed to sustain biological functioning. These forces need to be replenished in the soil and in the air above the earth’s surface.
There are several ways to strengthen these forces. In biodynamic agriculture, preparations are made from herbs, mineral substances, and animal manures. These preparations are applied to soil and plants at very small concentrations, measured in parts per million. Timely applications revitalize the weakened life forces and stimulate root growth, soil microorganism production, and humus formation.
Biodynamic agriculture blends prescriptive, holistic practices with the farmer’s own experimental methods. However, Steiner placed critical importance on the fact that nature could be understood only through studying and integrating natural, cyclical rhythms. He was deeply critical of reductionism and agricultural science’s emphasis on inputs from outside the farm. While he acknowledged the contribution of empirical science, Steiner emphasized from the beginning the necessity of farmer’s further participation in the development of this method of farming. His suggestions on the qualitative importance of observing natural rhythms and patterns in nature, rather than relying solely upon quantified data, is an important holistic contribution to the field of sustainable agriculture.
For a hands-on experience, check out our Introduction to Biodynamic Agriculture workshop offered at the farm.
Where can I learn more about organic and biodynamic agriculture and pesticides?
- ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – www.attra.org
- Beyond Pesticides - www.beyondpesticides.org
- Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association - www.biodynamics.com
- Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service - www.mosesorganic.org
- Organic Consumers' Association - www.organicconsumers.org
- Safer Pest Control Project - www.spcpweb.org