Today my mom was talking to my former boss and friend, telling him about my attempt to green my life. She then mentioned that we’ve been driving to the next town over to purchase milk and eggs from a local farmer.

 His comment was, “They drive their earth-polluting vehicle twenty-five miles to get milk?”

It really made me stop and think when she told me this. Does this make sense? Should we just skip the farm and buy from the grocery store down the street?

But then I got to thinking about how the milk at the local grocery store got there. How far did that gallon of milk travel before the stock boy put it on the shelves in the dairy aisle? How was that plastic jug produced? What kind of conditions were the cows kept in while they were milked? What kinds of foods were they fed? What kinds of hormones were injected into them? How was the milk processed?

So surely my thirty minute drive to buy milk that was processed by a small family, and that prior to my purchase had only traveled from the udder to the barn across their driveway, isn’t nearly as environmentally harmful as buying milk from the grocery store, right?

After our visit to the farm, we went into town and ate at a cute little drive-in diner. We went inside to order, and while I was in there, I noticed a sign that read, “We buy our beef locally.” That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside as I ate my cheeseburger. (Which was mighty tasty, I might add.) On the drive home, I commented to Ryan, “Why DON’T more businesses buy locally?”

You can’t throw a rock in our area of the country without hitting a cow. There are tons of small-time farmers raising cattle and pigs, and growing crops. Where do they all end up? Why is it that the countryside is covered in crops but everything in the produce aisle was grown many miles away?

I’ll let this guy do the math from you, but he claims that a grocery cart full of food will have traveled 60,000 kilometers. Now, I don’t need to do the conversion (please, please don’t make me do the conversion!) to know that 60,000 kilometers is a long, long way.

I know that buying locally is a great way to cut down on environmental pollutants, but it’s not always possible, especially since it’s so hard to know what exactly IS grown locally. I found these links, here and here, very interesting. These facts made me especially sad:

– Farmers in 2002 earned their lowest real net cash income since 1940.3 Meanwhile corporate agribusiness profits have nearly doubled (increased 98%) since 1990.

– Large corporations increasingly dominate U.S. food production. Four large firms control over 80% of beef slaughter, 59% of pork packing, and 50% of broiler chicken production

Most fruit and vegetable varieties sold in supermarkets are chosen for their ability to withstand industrial harvesting equipment and extended travel not taste. This results in little variety in the plants grown.

This shows that there is hope, however. According to foodroutes.org, “A recent study in Maine shows that shifting just 1% of consumer expenditures to direct purchasing of local food products would increase farmers’ income by 5%. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association estimates that by encouraging Maine residents to spend just $10/week on local food, $100,000,000 will be invested back into farmers’ pockets and the Maine economy each growing season.”

Because of this, I’m going to double my efforts to buy locally grown foods. This doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my chocolate or orange juice, but when I have a choice, I’m taking the local option.

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