Our Food System

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, November 8, 1996

As recently as the 1950s, Connecticut's gardeners and farmers produced about half of the food its citizens ate. Now, just a tiny fraction of what we eat is raised here. This shift has caused many changes in our environment, our health and in the distribution of food.

A food system involves all the necessary steps to get food onto people's plates: growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, packaging, wholesaling, retailing and cooking. On a diverse organic farm, the food system can be as simple and local as few vegetables, grains and animal products carried into the kitchen from the fields and barns. Increasingly, however, Connecticut's food system is global and very complex. Many foods are in fact a combination of ingredients assembled from all over the world, industrially processed, and elaborately packaged. Americans purchase more and more of their food, ready-to eat, after a drive in their cars. Aside from the negative effects of increased energy-use, the loss of knowledge about how to grow and cook food, and the disappearing farms in our communities, there are other issues this recently evolved long-distance food system raises. The USDA notes, "... a breakdown anywhere in the system directly affects the lives of anyone interested in eating."

When that system includes third-world plantations, Swiss boardrooms, tobacco companies, dangerous chemicals, Kuwaiti oil, genetically-engineered plants and animals, increasingly unpredictable weather and animal confinement on a scale beyond belief, we have reason to be concerned about the possibility of a breakdown.

As our food comes from farther away, the issue of distribution becomes increasingly important. Although food is abundant and often free in suburban supermarkets, for many in our cities, food is expensive, hard-to-find and/or increasingly fast, fatty and fake. The trend toward efficient distribution of large quantities of processed foods through mass merchandisers often limits the amount of food that goes to soup kitchens and homeless shelters, which find their demand for food increasing. It takes the whole food system to feed people, and increasingly, each part (the growing, the processing and the marketing) is controlled by a shrinking number of very large global corporations. Their single goal is to make more money for their stockholders from their piece of the food system.

Most of our agricultural research has focused on increasing production to provide very low-priced raw materials for the processed-food system. This has devastated small farms everywhere.

Fortunately, for more than a decade, the Hartford Food System has been working to create a local food production and distribution system which supports both Connecticut farmers and Hartford's hungry. Under the able leadership of Mark Winne, this non-profit organization has created a number of successful and innovative programs which contribute to a more ecologically-sound and socially-just society.

The Hartford Food System has started farmers markets and community farm stands, including the year-round Main Street Market. It operates a community-supported-agriculture farm in Granby. This CSA supplies food to suburban families and to non-profit organizations which serve Hartford's needy. For the second year, its Farm Fresh Start program brings Connecticut produce into Hartford school lunches, and brings farmers and chefs into the classroom to teach children about the value of local and healthy eating.

The annual meeting of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (NOFA/CT) is proud to feature Mark Winne as keynote speaker tomorrow afternoon at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station's Jones Auditorium in New Haven. His talk, entitled "The Connecticut Food System: It's time to fix it," is scheduled for 1:30. Mark is an entertaining and inspiring speaker and everyone is welcome. Mark's talk will be preceded by NOFA's organic farmers market at 11:30 and a pot luck lunch which features the freshest and best food in Connecticut at 12:30. Join us at no cost. It's a great opportunity to buy vegetables from certified organic farmers, and to become an active part of a more just and sensible food system here in Connecticut.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

NOTES:

The Experiment Station is located at 123 Huntington Street, in New Haven, between Whitney Avenue and Prospect Street not far from East Rock. (203) 789-7272. Bring a place setting for the pot luck. Beverages will be provided.

NOFA/CT can be contacted through Box 386, Northford, CT 06472, (203) 484-2445.

The Hartford Food System can be reached at 509 Wethersfield Avenue, Hartford, CT 06114, (860) 296-9325.


This page and its contents are copyright © 1996-1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.