Why eating local matters

by Deanna Chevas
Reprinted from Food Conspiracy Co-op News

Up to 98% of what Arizonans eat comes from outside the state. At the same time, Arizona exports about 98% of food grown or produced here. This requires an elaborate transport system with storage facilities, middlemen and trucks and heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

You might guess that farming could be more profitable if Arizona farmers sold to Arizona consumers. It’s true.

Tucson residents find fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmers market (credit: Arizona Daily Star)

Food system analyst Ken Meter calculates that if everyone in Southern Arizona spent just $5 more a week buying directly from local farmers, average farm sales would nearly double, jumping from $300 million to $587 million. Since regional farmer-to-consumer sales currently constitute only $2 million of the $3.3 billion total consumer food sales – a mere .006% --- the growth potential is enormous.

The Arizona Farm Bureau reports that Arizona agriculture is a $10.3 billion industry and it’s growing. Southern Arizona now enjoys an expanding number of farms. Among local food cultivators are the Desert Treasures Citrus & Date Groves, English Fruit Farm, Forever Young Farm, Grassroots Company, San Xavier Cooperative Farm, Sleeping Frog Farms and Walking J Farm.

Local food, like local business, is a critical economic driver for Tucson. Buying from a local farmer, not only supports that farmer, it supports local jobs. For example, Walking J Farm in Amado uses a Tucson hatchery for its turkeys; sources feed containing non-GMO corn grown in Cochise County from Chiracahua Pasture Raised Meats; purchases pet supplies from a local store; and will soon hire a garden foreman to support an expansion of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Like local business owners, local farmers create second tier jobs by hiring local graphic designers, accountants, sign makers and other professionals and by making purchases of feed and supplies from other local proprietors. In other words, farmers are rooted in their community economically as well as agronomically.

You don’t have to give up foods you love that don’t grow in Arizona. And you don’t have to spend any additional money. Within your existing budget, try to shift $5 a week to produce, meat or foods, like jam or honey, which are grown, raised or produced in Arizona. If you can, join a CSA, where you pay in advance to a farmer for a fixed period. This gives the farmer a steady income stream, while you receive a share of fresh produce each week.

Buying more local food strengthens farms and improves food quality, while keeping more money in our community. By buying local we keep our money where our home is and that’s good for all of us.

Look for local food producers and growers on the Local First Arizona online directory on the Local Food and Agriculture page at www.LocalFirstAZ.com.

Stay connected to the local movement and learn how you can shift the way you shop by signing up for the weekly Local First Arizona e-newsletter.