14, 2006: Word of mouth is still the most effective
promotion—even for changing big, complex things like food
systems. If you can help lead one person into the richly textured
web of local, well-farmed food contacts in your community, they’ll
most likely lead someone else into the beauty and the bounty.
With the current blitz of media attention on the benefits
of eating closer to home and fresher from the farm, more people
than ever are saying, “So just tell me how to plug in.”
If you have the heart for public speaking, you can be an
effective advocate. Simply articulate the generalized “why
to” and the local “how to” of buying food
more directly from farmers with real names in real places.
Tailor your benefits pitch to the audience, choosing from
the broad array of good reasons to seek out local, organic
food, from energy savings to local economics to food varieties
and vitality. See Looking
for a Bargin? for a distilled essence of these arguments.
What can one person do? You can do a lot to help farmers
by preparing new buy-local fans for a bit of an adventure.
Help them get excited about adjusting their buying habits
to food that is authentic, full of flavor, seasonal and known
by the people who grow it. Let them see that convenience—for
all our craving for it—is really an expensive and alienating
aspect of our food system.
Do enough homework to give them several farm directories
in several formats that let them—and their cousins five
states away who they will call this weekend—locate farmers
and venues with food truly worth buying. Describe the farmers’
markets, farmstands, on-farm meat and dairy options, local-food
restaurants and even the independent and regional chain groceries
where they can already find food with a story that impacts
To get you started, here’s a version of a presentation
I made recently in the Ag Expo Building at the Allentown Fair.
Use it as a place to start, altering whatever you must to
make it fit where you are. I’ve left in some of the
regionally-specific foods and places to provoke you to think
of what will sound more natural where you live.
Gather the visual props that make sense for your time and
place. Tomatoes work so well I can’t really imagine
using anything else, but apples, sweet corn and plums might
be as visually successful in comparing a food variety engineered
for shelf life with a variety selected for flavor, color and
Let me know if anything in here works with your audiences,
and how you made the presentation better. I’ll be happy
to share your choicest “good food sound bites”
with everybody else. If you put any of these words to music,
or find they make a good rap with the right delivery, let
me know that, too.
I left in my prompts, in bold type, that
help me with emphasis and inflection. They are just to remind
you that you need to think about how you sound, not just what
you want to say. Words [in brackets] remind me what to do
at the right moment.
Note: I’m a journalist, not a speechifier. You’re
much better off with just an outline so you aren’t tempted
to just read what’s on the page. You don’t need
to write out nearly this many words. In fact, look at this
presentation in chunks and just use the ones you like.
Jot down just enough to get you through whatever might distract
you. Like tomatoes that are a little too juicy and that the
guy who insists that all food is local to somewhere, so what’s
the big deal?
Buy local, buy organic, by all
[Place the two tomatoes on the podium so everybody
can see them.]
What a great time, and great place, to be talking about great
I eat. I buy food. I think. Therefore I’m part of the
If you eat, you are part of the food system, too—a
system that touches people in our neighborhood, region, state,
across the United States and around the world. We’re
in this together, and there’s a lot of good to be done.
“Food system” means everything
connected to food—cornfields, pizza, McDonalds snack
wraps, milk, soup companies, Slim-Fast, tractors, cows, whole
wheat, supermarkets, school lunch, funnelcakes, and pumpkin
pie. It’s all those things and what everybody does with
all that stuff.
While we’re the most fed nation in
the history of the world, we’re far from the best
fed. Food that is fast, fried and
from factories is not meant for your health—but
we’re buying it because it’s handy and affordable
when we’re hungry.
The food system we have now is good at producing lots of
food at a fairly low price—we like that. Our food system
is not so good at producing healthy people,
healthy rural communities or healthy connections between eaters
and growers. If we stop to think about it, we don’t
We have a food system that works in some ways—but we
can do so much better.
We can have a food system that fixes
problems instead of making our problems worse.
We can have a food system that works. Local and organic
sources are two positive changes.
Here’s why you are important. Every food dollar
you spend is a vote. Your food vote rewards the people
at each step in the food chain that brings you what you put
into your mouth, from the farm to the processor (or not) to
the place where you buy it.
Your votes elect food winners and losers a little
at a time. Unlike politics, you have lots of options.
Your can even vote for things that don’t yet
exist once you find farmers who care enough about
what you eat to try to grow it for you.
Here’s the campaign themes I want to explain today:
Buy local. Buy organic. By all means.
Local and organic are two
great ways to get to a food system that works. They can move
our food system toward harmony and balance with Nature and
her processes where we live.
They are two key ingredients of a recipe
for cooking up the Good Food Movement.
I will define each term, then talk about the benefits.
Local is the WHERE and WHO part. For a
surprising amount of food, closer to home can be better.
In Vermont, state law defines local as being within 30 miles
of the place of sale. It also allows the term “local
to someplace,” say local to the Lehigh Valley, so
that the specific place is given equal billing.
The WHERE is the important part, not the
number. When a food is clearly tied to a place, each of
us can make our choice of how local is local enough.
Organic is the HOW. For almost all of
the food that we eat, the organic way of farming can produce
high-quality products grown in cooperation with natural
In general, around the world, organic farming means farming
in cooperation with nature, rather than trying to change
nature by force. It requires a decision by the farmer that
she will do everything she can to grow healthy and productive
crops and livestock within the limits of the land, water,
weather and biological resources that come with the land—and
that she can create using natural means.
In the United States, we’ve had a national set of guidelines
since 2002. These spell out the natural and allowed man-made
products a farmer may use. The regulations call for a careful
farm plan showing how soil will be cared
for, how crops will receive fertility
and protection from pests, and how manure
and compost will be used.
Some parts of the regulations are still in process. Some
will be challenged in the years ahead. But there is a clear
foundation for all farmers who put the green USDA ORGANIC
circle on their label.
I believe organic farming is better for the health of farm
families, better for the land and
water and biological life
around farms, and better for consumers who
want to understand how their food is grown.
Local and organic are two ways of thinking more carefully
about food. Both have great strengths and some limitations
compared to the mainstream way of eating. Either one is good—combined
you get more than the sum of the parts.
How well they will work for you and for farmers depends what
you decide is most important.
- These approaches can deliver great-tasting food—particularly
fresh produce raised close to home.
- Local and place-based organic
food give you better connections
with farmers and with specific locations.
- Local food can restore our appreciation
of the yearly cycle of food offerings where
we live. This is the part of local eating where we need
to embrace lots of change in what we expect to eat, and
tie it more carefully to the season in which we are eating.
I’m talking about what you can do today
to change the way you eat and the choices you and everyone
else has. I’m talking about creating
and demanding new choices that are better
for you, your health, your
environment and the whole region
where you live.
Plus, local food is more fun. My assistant is passing around
heirloom tomatoes from local farmers. See if you can guess
which are the Green Zebra, Zig-Zag Striped Roma and
the Blushing Hugh. Think about how different these
are from what your supermarket offers. These represent the
food freedom you have when farmers are free to raise great-tasting
crops that their customers want.
And handle them gently. These tomatoes are meant for eating,
Simply put, we know too much to keep doing what we are doing
now. We have too many manufactured food products, too many
family farms dying and sold for houses, and too many low-income
urban communities with virtually no fresh food to buy.
Big food is big business
causing us big trouble. We are losing topsoil,
suffering from water pollution from legal
agricultural chemicals and fertilizers, and losing forever
some of the best farmland around our cities
that we need for national food security. That’s only
some of the bad news, but it should be more than enough to
get us working for something much, much better.
We need change. The good news is we can eat our way
to a new place.
I say farming that really works is always growing more native
to the place where it is. Farmers are working more
to harness better what is there,
and less to change a place to do something that isn’t.
[HOLD UP Looking for a bargain? CARD]
This is a “truth in packaging”
While two round, red tomatoes may look the same on the outside,
a local tomato and an industrial food system tomato shipped
across the country are not much at all alike once you look
under the hood to learn about their histories—or just
The staff at NewFarm.org created the card to explain some
of the ways these round, red packages bring you very different
products. I’ll list seven of them.
[Hold up supermarket super-shelf life tomato.] Compared
to a typical tomato produced for lots of travel to a state
far away—[hold up local tomato] local, organic
1. FEWER MILES – MORE SMILES
“Food miles” is a measurement of how far food
travels to get from field to plate, from the farm to your
arms. Fewer miles means less gasoline
used up, more gasoline left for school buses
and less exhaust to cause global warming.
2. MORE TASTE, LESS WASTE
Instead of tomato varieties bred to be solid enough to bounce
from coast to coast, [Drop store tomato 12-18
inches on visible flat surface] for the glorious
summer season you can enjoy honest tomatoes grown
for flavor, color, shape and story. Just handle them gently.
[Drop local tomato 1 inch, pick up, inspect, and furrow
your eyebrows at the damage.]
3. MORE HARMONY WITH NATURE
These crops and livestock are grown in cooperation
with natural cycles, using biodiversity to
reduce damage from pests.
4. MORE POWER TO SAVE FARMERS you care the most about.
Buying local is a true economic vote that
really matters for local farmers. These are the farmers who
farm your watershed, who determine the rural landscape of
your region AND who in turn spend their dollars in your community.
5. MORE COMFORT
Organic farming significantly reduces the risk of
pesticide exposure to everybody involved—farmers,
farm workers, handlers, you and your children, who are the
6. MORE SECURITY
Food produced closer to home, with much less
dependence on purchased chemicals, provides a more secure
7. More ability to BUILD SOMETHING NEW
As you add your vote, the volume, quality and reliability
of local, seasonal and organic food increases
and becomes more mainstream. This makes it easier for schools,
hospitals, retirement centers and restaurants to add their
big votes to the Good Food Movement.
Here are five good ways to help grow organic and local farmers.
NUMBER ONE is finding farmers ready to sell you things you
Start with The
New Farm Locator on our website.
• From The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa.
• Search for farms by ZIP Code, farm name, food, place
of sale, city or county.
If a farm you know about is not on The Farm Locator, talk
to farmers about signing up. It’s free, they control
it, and they can change it whenever they want to keep customers
Others directories include:
Buy Fresh, Buy Local – Pennsylvania www.buylocalpa.org
• From PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable
Agriculture, covering its farm and business members by region.
Pennsylvania Ag Map http://agmap.psu.edu/
• Farms and ag businesses in a listing supported by
The Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Extension
and the PA Department of Agriculture.
Local Harvest www.localharvest.org
• A national listing with thousands of farms and businesses.
NUMBER TWO, learn what’s available
when by eating seasonally. Talk to farmers
about what they have now, and will have the rest of the season.
When a farmer has a moment—when they aren’t
busily collecting money at the farmers’ market or
picking the last tomatoes before the coming frost—ask
how you can learn more about their farm. Inquire about how
they farm and why they farm.
NUMBER THREE, explore intensive local eating with
This can be as challenging as you want to make it. Some
folks are trying to eat only from within a 100-mile food
shed for a month or a season. They eat only what grows within
the geographical radius they choose, forcing them to find
You could do this for all meals, some meals, or a meal
a week. Or just commit to two recipes of local-only food
per season—just eight a year, for a start.
Make this as much of an adventure as you can, looking to
discover the good things in your neighborhood—going
to a farm, naming varieties, counting food miles not
traveled or learning how to prepare whole vegetables
in new ways. Think of something that will interest the people
in your family, especially your kids.
NUMBER FOUR, check out seasonal cooking.
This means finding recipes designed to use several crops
ready at the same time of year. Seasonal cookbooks
are a tremendous help because they arrange recipes to follow
the annual cycle. You can see at a glance the crops that
are likely to be ready at about the same time, and several
ways to use each one.
My favorites are Simply
in Season and Asparagus
NUMBER FIVE, look for organically produced food.
Keep asking “How was this raised?” In this
day and age, that question instantly alerts your produce
manager or farmstand clerk that you are shopping for health,
hope, taste or valuessomething beyond the lowest price.
Farms that are open about their processes—to customers
and organic inspectors—are farms interested about
more than lowest-cost production.
These are your allies in building a new food system.
It will take time to straighten things out between farmers,
eaters, stores and policy, but now is the time to start. This
a movement based on good things with great taste for a better