Is There an Intersection Between Farms, Nutrition & Community Resilience?
Christi Hansen, RDN and co-owner of of Hungry Heart Farm, a small-scale certified-organic farm just outside of Atlanta, dishes out her thoughts on how agriculture affects our physical health and the health of a community.
PeachDish recently asked me this question, and who am I to answer?
Within the PeachDish community, I’m one of the local growers. My partner Matthew and I own and operate Hungry Heart Farm, which is certified organic, just six miles from their distribution center. You’ve most likely shared our recent harvest of parsley, cilantro, purple daikon radishes and of course, our carrots, in your meal kits. In addition to growing food, I’m also a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, which means it’s my job to assist individual patients and my community to eat nutritious food that helps them prevent or manage illness and disease. And what better time than March, National Nutrition Month and the official start of spring, to ponder the question?
Farms are at the center of what and how we eat because they are literally where all non-foraged or wild-caught food comes from. Even the most processed, shelf-stable food started out from a seed or spore - a seed that someone planted to grow your future food. But what kind of food? Who will help it grow and with what soil and water? Will the farming practices damage the land to grow it, or replace what was extracted from the environment? How many people will resell or repackage that food? And finally, who will eat it and how will they be fed? Will the food bring them energy and nutrition, or bring them closer to succumbing to preventable disease?
Like anyone else, farmers have to make a living by growing food that sells and/or is insurable by the government in case of crop loss or a market crash. A quick look through the supermarket or most restaurants will give you an idea of what appears to make the most economical sense to grow. Simple carbohydrates from cereal grains, corn, and sugar, along with meat and dairy products are abundant on menus and grocery aisles. Fruits, vegetables, and fish are typically less represented. This reality is precisely the opposite of what most nutrition and health experts recommend to maintain good health, and yet our food economy and federal agricultural protections and investment appear to support crops that are consistently linked to poor health when consumed in excess. Passively eating what’s grown and then cooked en masse often makes us ill, throwing us into the arms of a very expensive medical industry based on treatment rather than prevention.
But is it enough to eat meals balanced with lots of produce, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates? In an unhealthy food system (one based on dependence and outsourcing meal-prep using ingredients grown unsustainably), increased autonomy sows the seeds of resilience. Investing in the local economy is one of the best ways to invest in a resilient community that can withstand an economic shock or catastrophe. Investing in local growers helps farmers steward the land in your community so it can continue to grow your food. Their livelihood depends on it and so do all of us if we want a robust food supply, especially in the case of emergency that could lead to shortages and food riots.
What can you do!?
- Cook at home and pack your lunch. Avoid getting lured into industrial food by making sure you’re satisfied with your meals whether you’re out or getting home late. You don’t have to be Seth Freedman or Cynthia Graubart or Chef Zu every time you eat (though it's worth noting that PeachDish makes it easy to cook chef-quality meals written by the aforementioned experts at home!). Plan to use whole food ingredients to create nourishing but simple meals rather than self-sabotaging your mood and energy with low-quality calories.
- Commit to eating more seasonal, locally-grown foods and pasture-raised animal products. Don’t necessarily feel pressure to make a 100% switch. Pick a few items that really look and taste better or give yourself a budget every week to spend only on local food. It could be $5, $20, $50 or whatever works for you.
- Grow something yourself and eat it! Even just a quick garnish of chives from a pot near your front door will liven up your grits or salad and give you some autonomy. You can’t get more local than your backyard or windowsill.
- Lastly, if your work schedule or commute makes it impossible for you to take care of yourself or the people around you, then… Well, take some time to just think about that and if it has to be that way forever.
PeachDish works hard to partner with local and regional farmers to provide the freshest seasonal produce at the peak of flavor and nutrient density along with humanely-raised meats and sustainably-caught seafood. Be sure to check out this week's President's Letter to meet the wonderful farmers, growers and artisans responsible for the ingredients on our Menu!