Buy Fresh, Buy Local: Director of Sustainable Living Systems in Corvallis Says Bitterroot’s Ready for New and Sustainable Food System

“Buy Fresh, Buy Local”: Director of Sustainable Living Systems in Corvallis says Bitterroot’s ready for new and sustainable food system

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Jill Davies is the director of Sustainable Living Systems, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching environmentally favorable approaches to food production. She hopes to increase enthusiasm for the building of a new and vibrant local food system. Creating a secure community food system, capable of supporting sustainable agriculture right here in the Bitterroot, is something she aims to achieve through a mixture of education and persuasiveness.

Generally speaking, “local food” is a principle of sustainability relying upon the consumption of locally grown food products. Local food initiatives are part and parcel of local purchasing concepts; they are based upon preferences to buy locally generated goods and services.

The concept is often related to the slogan “Think globally, Act locally,” prevalent in green politics. Those in favor of developing a local food economy, like Davies and the folks at Corvallis-based Sustainable Living Systems, believe that since food is essential for everyone, everywhere, every single day, then a slight change in the way it is produced and advertised will have a tremendous result on individual health and the overall ecosystem.

Local food is also often interpreted as being organic, or produced by farmers who adopt sustainable and lenient practices. Many local food advocates tend to equate local food with material produced by independent farmers in the community, while equating “non-local food” with food produced and transformed by large agribusiness.

“Fresh, organically grown food is more nutritious,” says Davies. “Healthy food from a healthy soil creates healthy bodies and minds.”

Proponents like Davies say shopping decisions favoring local food consumption directly influence the well-being of people because local food is unprocessed and tastes better than food shipped long distances from other states or countries.

“When you have a local food system you get exceptional taste and freshness,” says Davies.

Furthermore, she says, a local food system will improve the local economy, strengthen the alternative food network and may be ecologically more sustainable.

Strengthening the local economy, says Davies, means buying local produce as a method of keeping your dollars circulating in the community. Forming dependable, sincere and cognizant relationships with the farmers growing your groceries is also a part of that development process.

Institutions, including schools, restaurants, nursing homes, and hospitals, will play a key role in the creation and advancement of a local food system. Getting these institutions to commit to buying at least some local products, even if it’s only carrots or lettuce, is a pretty solid starting point. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” signs are a unique part of the information campaign, too.

“Help from these institutions is most important,” Davies says. “We want to educate the public to look for our signs, and know that places displaying these signs are carrying fresh, local products,” she says.

Davies grew up around the time of the transformation from organic agriculture to industrial agriculture, and speaks about a vanished time when the Bitterroot Valley was the former breadbasket of Montana.

“Up until the 1950s, the Bitterroot produced the majority of the state’s food,” she says.

“Now, all the food eaten here comes from far away – from Albertson’s, Safeway and Super One. There are few organic food producers here. Only a small percentage of the food eaten actually originates here. Most of it comes from industrial agriculture sources from far away.”

Davies studied biodynamics in England in the early 1970s. Based on a series of lectures given in the early 1920s by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics merges the practices of organic agriculture. But it goes a bit deeper by trying to harmonize the grower’s work with other subject matters, such as gravity, magnetism, and lunar phases.

After working in the gardens of a commune in France, and then on a biodynamic truck farm in Switzerland, she returned to the United States. Davies again traveled to England in 1999, attending a course at Schumacher College on biotechnology in agriculture, and has been immersed in this issue ever since. Her agricultural and organic knowledge has been advanced by agro-ecology guru Helen Atthowe, whose certified organic vegetable and fruit farm is east of Stevensville.

Davies hopes that our geographic region will once again serve as a principal source of grain and produce supply, and that a food co-op site will be found or built by next spring. “Hopefully, we’ll have a store opened by then. The co-op will be a gigantic component of the local food system”

In order for this consumer food outlet to materialize, more grants need to be written, more meetings held, additional subscribers signed up, and further loans obtained. The Bozeman Food Co-op, boasting 14,000 members and an interrelated network of community cooperative consumers and farmers, small businesses and local producers, remains the model worthy of replication.

Part of building a sustainable, local food system that fosters the economic health of the Bitterroot’s communities and farms, includes, said Davies, prohibiting the proliferation of big box stores like Wal-Mart. The world’s largest retailer and largest private employer (1.3 million employees), Wal-Mart, raked in over $312 billion in sales last year.

But recently, the company has drawn intense scrutiny, from the Bitterroot Good Neighbors Coalition, for its negative economic impact, its poor wages, lack of affordable health coverage for its employees, and its stiff resistance to unionization. “These Wal-Mart super centers are the number one food retailers in the country. One of the first steps to building and nurturing a local economy is keeping out such places. Box stores don’t purchase locally produced products to be sold in their stores. This leads to a decrease in the amount of local cash flow that changes hands.”

Another objective Davies touts is the development of local food storage, processing and distribution facilities. Consumers subscribing to this reasoning may be able to buy food directly from local family farms or through other direct channels such as farmers’ markets, food cooperatives, like the planned Co-op and retail outlet, and community-supported agricultural programs.

“The Bitterroot Valley is definitely ready for a good co-op program, self-sufficient food planning, and a healthier food system.”

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