May 30 2006 12:00 AM

Today, the food that we buy in the supermarket travels an average of 1,500 miles to reach our plates. These are not the bucolic farms of our grandfathers and grandmothers.{mosimage}

These large, industrial vegetable farms are petroleum and chemical intensive and rely on low-wage laborers to harvest their crops. This results in a food system that is both socially and environmentally unsustainable. When we buy all our food from these farms, we are not supporting local farmers, rural communities or our local economy.

With rising fuel prices, it is a food system that is also increasingly economically unsustainable.

Directing at least part of our purchasing power away from this food system and towards local farmers will enable us to build a more sustainable food system that ultimately benefits everyone in our community.

When we buy food from local farmers at the farmers market, we invest our purchasing power in a food system that supports family farms and rural communities in Michigan. With increasing pressures on the farm sector, it is more important now than ever before that we support Michigan farmers.

Part of building a more sustainable food system means decreasing the environmental footprint of the food we eat. The single best way to accomplish this is by buying more food from local sources. By slashing the distance that your food travels from farm to plate you are helping to significantly reduce the petroleum consumed by our food systems. In addition, locally produced food often uses less or even no synthetic chemical inputs. 

Of course, food from local farmers is also fresher, better tasting and healthier. Local food is fresher because it does not have to be shipped long distances, and it tastes better because it is fresher. When you buy food directly from the farmer you can also make healthier choices by asking questions about the farmer's chemical, pesticide, hormone and antibiotic use.

Visit farmers markets often this season. When you do you will be putting your money to work building a better, more sustainable food system for today and for the future. Your personal choices can make a difference.

 (Brian Depew is a sociology graduate student at MSU.) 

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