LOCAL and SUSTAINABLE
I'm just siting down to a small plate of smoked sockeye (salmon) with a glass of 'Captain's Reserve - Bittersweet' hard cider and my thoughts are turning to the subject of eating locally and/or sustainably. We all have a sense that LOCAL is important, but I think that we perhaps don't actually give the topic as much thought/attention as it deserves.
The recent shortages of certain items on grocery store shelves is just our first taste of complicated/fragile supply lines breaking down. In the interest of not being personally dependent on extended, non-locally controlled systems for critical supplies, I sometimes spend MORE to purchase goods and services than I potentially might if I ordered online or bought 'Made in China' or 'Grown in Mexico'. By supporting local producers, I help insure that those producers stay operational and that I am seen as a loyal customer, so that when the inevitable occurs and those global supply lines break down or simply become uneconomical for intermediators to continue, my supply of those critical goods or services are still available to me.
The goal of eating seasonally and locally (as much as economically possible) means that I don't get to eat asparagus in January, despite the fact that "organic - grown in Mexico" asparagus is on the shelf at the grocery store. This saves me from spending $9.99 per pound and makes me more appreciative of local asparagus when it arrives in the spring!
I have come to think of "Local" as more of a continuum rather than a hard and fast definition - The salmon fillets in my freezer are from SE Alaska, more than a thousand miles away. Yet because I know the family that caught, cleaned, filleted and froze the fish, AND sailed it to our local dock in their own boat, I consider it more "local" than anything available in the grocery store. SE Alaska is also part of the same general biome as maritime Washington, so while it's many miles away, it's still local in the sense of a shared environment and in the low energy transportation.
More problematic are the storable, staple foods that are simply not produced locally: dry beans, corn, lentils, and rice. Ideally, I would learn to grow all those myself; first identifying which varieties will actually do well, or at least survive, here, and then learning the techniques and practices that are necessary to produce and store these basic caloric staples. Realistically, each of those is a lifetime of study and trial with significant expenses in time, energy and attention. Which is hard to justify economically when I can buy perfectly fine pinto beans for less than a dollar per pound! Nevertheless, this is information that the community will need if we hope to keep eating those staples in the coming years.
So, along with the raised bed/container kitchen garden and small orchard, I raise corn. Of all the small grains, it is my favorite and not just because it is the easiest to grow and harvest using only hand tools. Many people on the island try to raise a little sweet corn for eating as corn-on-the-cob, but as far as I know, I'm the only one serious about corn as a staple grain. There is another plant breeder that is working on dryland rice and wheat. Also some gardeners raise modest amounts of dry beans of a variety of types. Scaling up is a challenge with small grains and legumes but one that will have to be figured out if we truly want to be sustainable and resilient here. I've committed to learning to grow corn effectively here and hope to be able to share that knowledge with my neighbors when it becomes more economically necessary for them to do the same.
As transportation starts to reflect it's true costs (I just paid $4.89/gallon for gas yesterday) moving agricultural produce that is mostly water weight and spoils easily (and tastes best when freshest) will become increasingly absurd. Which is more energetically efficient; shipping a truckload of dry beans in sacks, or a load of cucumbers in a refrigerated container? And yet which is more valuable in the marketplace? THAT is the kind of insanity that will have to end as corporate/industrial/chemical agriculture grinds to it's inevitable end.
conclusion: Learn to grow your own fresh vegetables. Learn how to preserve them and prepare them. And think about learning to grow storable, staple grains and legumes in your unique micro-climate. It won't make any sense financially right now and the learning curve is long, but if you don't, who will? And I think we all agree that eventually that knowledge is going to be desperately needed. And isn't knowledge the stock and trade of a Green Wizard?