Column: Local food is fresh and better for you

Apr. 27, 2014 @ 01:31 AM

Growing up on a farm in northern Illinois meant plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh eggs and chickens, and fresh beef and pork. It meant lots of hours weeding, or my absolute favorite, baling hay when it was about 90 degrees with plenty of humidity. It meant picking apples in the fall. It meant helping my mom prepare the jars for canning.

We never really discussed the merits of all that fresh food. It’s just the way things were, but a great deal has changed. We eat far less fresh food and instead dine on more and more processed food, and with that has come myriad health issues, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Today much is being discussed throughout the country when it comes to increasing access to healthier foods, and Caldwell County is no exception. Some refer to this as the “from the fields to the table movement,” which would seek to grow more food locally and increase access to healthier foods for everyone. Some counties, like Caldwell County, are trying to develop a Farm and Food Council.

Our Cooperative Extension Service office has been working to bring together farmers and others interested in growing, purchasing and promoting fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats. Ultimately it would create a local food economy and long-term stable agriculture production in Caldwell County.

A organizing meeting was held earlier this month that was an excellent opportunity to share concerns and examine resources. It was an opportunity to focus not only on the benefits of improved health but an improved environment and economy if we can expand food grown locally.

The group is also trying to find ways that low-income families can access local food. Ongoing projects like the community gardens and the farmers markets are excellent ways that everyone could access local foods.

Finally, preserving farmland is another goal of the council. Interestingly only 10 percent of Caldwell County is dedicated to farmland, while 25 percent is state and national forest.

One way to help is purchase locally grown and prepared foods at the farmers markets in Lenoir, Sawmills and Collettesville during the upcoming months. The outdoors markets open the first week of May, and the downtown Lenoir market's storefront location on West Avenue is open year-round.