Friday, July 12, 2013


     So what's the big deal about buying our food from the USA, or even from the farm stand down the road?  What difference does it make?  Why not buy the cheapest tomato, even though it's been grown in Mexico or Chile?
     I'm so glad you asked! There are a number of important reasons, let me list them:

1)  Economics:
     We all are trying to help our wonderful country, the United States of America, get back up on its feet economically, right?  By ensuring that your produce has the "Grown in the USA" label on it helps that effort.  When you buy your tomato grown in the USA, you are not only supporting our own American farmers, but all of the other industries that go into bringing that tomato to you.  Seed, soil amendment and fertilizer companies, equipment manufacturers and dealers who make and sell the equipment which the farmer uses to plant, irrigate and harvest, trucking and fuel companies that do the hauling, companies which do the packaging, the wholesale and retail grocers.  All of these businesses employ many, many people who each benefit financially when you buy "Grown in the USA."  If your tomato comes from Mexico, none of the cost of growing, harvesting nor farm-to-packing-shed hauling of the tomato stays in our country;  those dollars are sent out of the USA.

Harvesting produce in the USA
     If that tomato which was grown in the USA costs a bit more than one grown in Mexico, here are the reasons why:  We The People all want our farmers to pay their employees a fair wage; we have minimum wage laws, which foreign countries may not have.  Also, our farmers provide Workers' Compensation insurance for their employees, which foreign countries may not demand.  We have fair worker laws, which foreign countries may not have.  These items add to the cost of production.  If you purchase a tomato grown in Mexico, the employees there may not have been paid a fair wage at all, and may not have safe or humane working conditions.

2)  Food Safety:
     When you buy a tomato that says "Hecho en Mexico" or "Grown in Chile," you do not know what the inputs are that went into that tomato.  Our government has rigorous inspections and regulations for all food grown in our country; our food is truly the safest in the entire world.

Certified Organic from USA?  Great, safe, low carbon footprint.
Certified organic from Mexico or Chile?  Hmmm, not-so-sure, very large carbon footprint!
PLUS, you can buy crenshaw melons and pink lady apples that are grown in the US.

     Our governmental food and farm agency, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has inspections for imported foods, especially fresh produce, but they have no way to track that tomato to the farm where it was grown, not really.  They can't determine exactly what chemicals were put into that tomato; the cost is too high to do enough testing to be comprehensive.  It is not economically feasible for U.S. agencies to outreach into other countries.  There is no way to know if those other countries have the same standards that we Americans demand.  We can't control what goes into the soil or what is sprayed onto the crop that is shipped in  from another country.

California Oranges!
3)  Carbon Footprint: 
     Just think of what it takes to get that tomato from Chile or Mexico to your table.  The fuel, gas, trucking emissions!  The labor, the electricity to cool the storage building in Tijuana or Nogales!  By buying in the USA, you reduce that carbon footprint drastically.

     Now, of course, there are some items that simply don't grow here in America, for example bananas, tea, Swedish lutefisk and French champagne.  But how about coffee?  We hear of espresso shops supporting Honduran or Vietnamese coffee producers by buying "fair trade."  What about the coffee producers in our own country, in the state of HAWAII?  Next time you go to the grocery store, look for Hawaiian coffee.  You won't find it.  Ask Starbucks why they don't sell it - they'll tell you it costs too much (see items #1 and #2).  If you want, you could order your coffee online direct from Hawaiian coffee growers - they'll be delighted to ship to you, and you'll be supporting American agriculture.  You could even ask your grocer to bring in Hawaiian coffee to the supermarket shelves. Usually they'll do a test run if they have inquiries from customers.  Keep the money in our own country to help our own economy!

Tomatoes at a farmers' market
     Now let's take this whole concept a step further.  Let's buy that tomato LOCALLY.  Not only are you supporting the economy of the USA, but now you are supporting the farmers in your own community.  And the seed dealer.  And the fertilizer guy.  And the packaging supplier.  Their kids play with your kids on the soccer team.  You get the picture.

     Our Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) has a special program for highlighting Idaho grown foods.  It is called Idaho Preferred.  Consumers can look for the Idaho Preferred label in our grocery stores and in restaurants.  Check out your own state, do you have a special label, a special designation for foods grown right there?  By buying preferred you know you are buying from and supporting the farmers and ranchers in your own state.
     You may live in a region that has large tomato farms (think Salinas Valley and Imperial Valley, California).  If this is the case, most likely the tomatoes in your grocery store would then be local.  But what if you live in Maine or Tennessee?  During the "farm season" you would be able to buy a locally produced tomato at the farmstand down the road or at the Saturday farmer's market.  Then, you would be able to actually meet the farmer who grew the tomato!  How awesome would that be?  The same might be said of any number of vegetable and meat items.   

     So how about this.  Try to put the origination of your food on your radar.  Take a look around, ask your grocer for American, regionally and locally grown produce and whole foods.  Check the menu at your favorite locally-owned restaurants; many carry domestic conventionally and naturally raised produce and meats in their shops and on their menus.  You would be a LOCAVORE.

     Just think of the reduction of the carbon footprint for your tomato now, it would be nearly nil!  The tomato would be super fresh, too, would have been harvested the day before or even that morning, and would be vine ripened, instead of having been harvested 3 weeks ago in Mexico, while it was still half green.  Additionally, it would have been bred for flavor, texture and it's beautiful color instead of for a long shelf life.

     What about buying out-of-season produce, like tomatoes in December?  Well, that's another topic entirely.  There's new thinking with regard to this question - the thinking is this:  to eat produce that is in season.  Most of the produce we eat all year - that which we have become accustomed to in mid-winter - doesn't come from the USA.  In order to get lettuce and tomatoes in January, it most likely comes from Mexico or Central America.  Sometimes you might see produce from the Imperial Valley, California, but usually it's imported from south of the border.

     Any American grown and locally grown foods you might be able to find in December, would be those which are harvested at that time of year (citrus and avocados).   But, the good news is that there are more  innovative farmers growing winter greens and veges in hot-houses all across the country.  As you might imagine, the cost is high to heat these greenhouses, which might drive up the retail price.  But look for them, ask your grocer, he may be able to find off-season-hot-house-grown local produce.

     An interesting exercise would be to try to "eat in season."  It might be shocking.  It might take some getting used to.  It might be a challenge.

     So how about this - to try to pay attention to where your food comes from.  You could take advantage of the local producers' bounty at the farm stand or farmers' markets in our town.  You won't find little sticky-labels on the produce sold there!  If you shop at your regular grocery store, inspect the little labels on each piece of produce.  If it says "Grown in the USA," say "thank you!" to the vegetable manager of your market for standing up for America, and let him know you appreciate it.

     BUY AMERICAN GROWN FOOD, the safest, most abundant and best food in the whole world!


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