Extension Educator, Horticulture
I like spinach. I was late to like it. My "spinach is a vile weed" period originated and was weekly reinforced in the school cafeteria. The green slimy heap referred to as spinach appeared on my lunch tray complete with an angry egg eyeball. The mere thought of ingesting the green goo would induce my best impersonation of a cat dislodging a hairball. Instead I would pronounce it DOA and quickly pull my napkin over its one menacing eye. Once I became an adult I discovered spinach's many other forms.
I miss spinach. I've been going through spinach withdrawal ever since the E. coli concerns were reported. I never thought spinach would make the national news. Attack of the killer spinach sounds more appropriate for the tabloids.
The spinach problem does remind us of how connected our food supply is and how out of sink we are with the seasonality of produce. We blissfully shop in October for the normally spring crops of strawberries and asparagus. Stuff grown in Florida ends up on a plate in Montana. A problem with a field in California effects people across the United States.
What can we do to protect our food supply and maintain its nutrition and taste?
Buy local. Locally produced food is fresher and more nutritious. Food that ends up in grocery stores is often picked before it's ripe, and then shipped long distances. Did you know that head of lettuce in your refrigerator probably saw more of the world than you did this year? In addition to the increased freshness, local farmers can offer varieties chosen for their flavor, not just how well they ship.
Buying local keeps your dollars local. When you buy directly from the farmer, they get 100% of what you spend. In the grocery store the farmer gets approximately 7 to 25 cents of the dollar. Buying local means the farmer has money to spend locally and the cycle strengthens our community and local economy.
Buying local means supporting small scale and diversified farms. According to "Farm Direct", Illinois has lost more than 30 percent of its small farms in the last 15 years.
Buying local also means less air pollution and wasteful packaging since it's not shipped long distances.
We are lucky to have many farmers' markets and produce farms in the area. I just like the look and feel of farmers' markets. You get to talk to the people who grew the food. You can get to know them and their kids. Smaller farms often have very different production practices than large farms.
Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or check out Farm Direct – The Illinois Farmer to Consumer Directory of Locally Produced and Locally Sold Foods. Farm Direct helps you find farms and farmers' markets with locally grown Illinois food of all kinds including vegetables, fruit, eggs, poultry and even maple syrup. http://www.illinoisfarmdirect.org We also have copies here in our office.
Sign up to be a member of Community-Supported Agriculture or Community-Shared Agriculture (CSA) also known as "subscription farming." You buy a subscription from a local farmer and regularly receive a "share" of fresh, locally grown or raised fruit and/or vegetables.
Encourage your favorite restaurants and supermarkets to buy local.
Grow your own. Many vegetables such as spinach and lettuce are easy to grow and can be grown in containers. The book Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest (available online at https://pubsplus.uiuc.edu/ or phone 1-800-345-6087) and the website http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/veggies/ are great local resources. If you don't have a place to garden, check with Urbana Park District and Champaign Park District about renting a garden plot. Prepare now for your own victory garden.