food for thought...

Hey guys - thanks a lot for the constructive feedback on my first post. Comments/questions are always appreciated and will only help me to better inform and interest my readers!

I've been thinking a lot about what it would be like to strictly eat local foods after visiting the market several times and speaking more with manager Sarah Conley. Is it possible? Yes. Would I enjoy it? Unfortunately, probably not.

The many Athens-area residents and handful of OU students that attend the market each week can count on buying most basics there - the basics being milk, eggs, bread, meats (with the exception of fish) and all kinds of fruits and veggies (depending on the season and excluding citrus fruits). (For a full list of products available at the Athens Farmers Market, check out their vendor directory.) However - while southeastern Ohio is a rich, biodiverse growing region, it does lack a variety of flavorful herbs and spices as well as many bulk products such as flour, sugar, oats, rice and beans. So, depending on how varied one's dietary tastes and/or needs are, eating strictly local foods may or may not be agreeable for you.

Conley did point out, though, that in many communities - Athens included - it would not be feasible for the entire community to strictly eat local, because there is not enough land or producers to support that many people. Many shoppers buy what they can at the farmers market and then rely on larger supermarkets for other products like celery and carrots that aren't successfully grown in Ohio. While consumers can still find fresh, organic produce at supermarkets, the main difference is that supermarkets' produce is almost never locally grown - therefore, not supporting the local economy.

But what if there was a sustainable community that could support all residents with locally grown food? How much would be saved on food shipping energy costs? What kind of detrimental environmental costs would be averted?

Freelance writer Chad Heeter wrote a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle titled "The oil in your oatmeal / A lot of fossil fuel goes into producing, packaging and shipping our breakfast." In the article, Heeter traces his seemingly modest breakfast of oatmeal, frozen raspberries and coffee through the growing, packing, shipping, consuming and disposal processes to calculate the amount of energy consumed. After some shocking revelations, Heeter offers a crude menu of his breakfast:

-- Bowl of oatmeal porridge: 4 ounces of crude oil.

-- Serving of red raspberries: 1 ounce of crude oil.

-- Butter, milk and salt: 1 ounce of crude oil.

-- That cup of java: 2 ounces of crude oil.

-- Energy required to produce 1 pound of coffee: a quart of crude oil, 30 cubic feet of natural gas, or about 2 1/2 pounds of coal.

-- Energy required to produce one week's worth of breakfast for one person: More than 2 quarts of crude oil.

I also stumbled upon an interesting article by The New York Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal titled "Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World." The article discusses the pollution (especially carbon dioxide - the main global warming gas) caused as a result from transporting food around the world. However, the article reports that pressure is mounting to make food distributors pay for products' carbon footprints:

"Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Now, many economists, environmental advocates and politicians say it is time to make shippers and shoppers pay for the pollution, through taxes or other measures."

To be honest, I hadn't given much thought to eating strictly local products or food shipping energy costs before this blog project. But I have to admit - it really makes you take a step back and examine your daily eating habits. Just some food for thought...


the workings of a farmers market

First things first, welcome to my pioneer blogging endeavor!

As part of my Fundamentals in Online Journalism course here at Ohio University, each student has been charged with creating a journalistic blog about an inspired topic. I've chosen to write about the Athens Farmers Market, or more specifically, what it means to the Athens community and the interdependence between vendors and consumers.

I'm always searching for new tips on how to "go green" and modify daily behavior to promote sustainability, so in continuing with a personal interest of mine, I was eager to learn more about the local farmers market. While many people are drawn to shop at farmers markets because the food is local and fresher, produce is also often organically-grown. According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, organic farming focuses on:
"renewable resources, soil and water conservation, and management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological balance."
Now, some insight into the Athens Farmers Market...

About the Farmers Market

Located in the University Mall parking lot on East State Street, the Athens Farmers Market offers a variety of locally-produced produce, meat, baked goods, flowers and bedding plants. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and on Wednesdays from April to December; however, the market's busiest season is from May through October with around 40-60 participating vendors each Saturday and about half the amount on Wednesdays, market manager Sarah Conley said.

The market is currently in its 36th year of operation and while it is still used only for selling by the producers themselves, it has grown substantially since its humble beginnings in 1972 when there were only a handful of vendors. In 2001, the market became an official non-for-profit organization and members drafted the following purpose statement:

"The Athens Farmers Market shall operate on a not for profit basis. It shall serve its members and the public through education on the benefits to the community that result from supporting a locally based food economy and by providing a public market allowing direct connections between producers and consumers of local food and agricultural products."

(Anyone interested in the detailed history should check out the market's extensive history web page by Dave Gutknecht and John Millar.)

Currently, market manager Conley is the only paid staff person. Her on-site job duties include setting up and tearing down vendors' stalls in addition to parking vendors. She also works off-site coordinating membership, advertising for the market and maintaining the markets' various social service programs.

The market has been located at the University Mall site since 1999. The agreement was rent-free until this year - now the market leases the space from University Mall owners in exchange for month-to-month rental payment. Conley said the market is presently looking for a permanent site such as a pavilion or similar sort of structure.