ERROL CASTENS: Salad days are here again

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

In shameless self-service and public service, I present my occasional recitation of reasons to eat local. One way to do that is to attend a local farmers’ market – say, the season opener at Mid-Town Farmers’ Market in Oxford this Saturday from 7 to 11 a.m., with lots of North Mississippi vegetables, fruits, flowers, plants and live music.
Tupelo, New Albany and other towns also have (or will have later in the season) markets that you’d do well to patronize.
Building on an essay first printed in “Growing for Market,” here are some reasons to consider local food first:
* Locally grown food tastes and looks better. The crops are picked at their peak, and plant varieties are chosen for flavor and quality rather than their ability to withstand large amounts of handling and shipping.
* Local food is better for you. The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the more nutritious each bite is.
* Local food preserves genetic diversity and regional flavors. At local markets you may find such Southern favorites as Marion tomatoes, lady peas, cowhorn okra, rattlesnake beans and crookneck squash.
* Local food is safe. There’s a unique kind of assurance that comes from looking a grower in the eye and knowing just how your food was raised.
* Local food supports local families. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers get full retail price for their food, which helps farm families stay on the land.
* Local food builds community. When you buy direct from a farmer, you’re engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower. Knowing farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the land, and your food.
* Local food preserves open space. When farmers get paid more by marketing locally, they’re less likely to sell farmland for development. When you buy local food, you’re doing something proactive to preserve our working landscape.
* Local food keeps taxes down. Several studies by the American Farmland Trust show farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services. Cows don’t go to school, collards don’t commit crimes and tomatoes don’t dial 911.
* Local food also benefits the environment. Well-managed farms conserve fertile soil, protect water sources and maintain a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings that provide habitat for wildlife.
* Local food is an investment in the future. Supporting local farmers today helps ensure there will be farms in your community tomorrow. That is a matter of importance for food security.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at errol.castens@journalinc.com.