By Brittni Henderson
Whether it’s to bite into a crisp apple straight off the limb of the tree down the street or to crack an egg from a neighbor’s hen into a skillet for a morning omelet, ensuring that the food on the kitchen table is fresh is especially important to many people. With the emergence of Farmers Markets—like the one held at Seven Cedars Farm right here in Smithfield—many individuals have the option to purchase farm fresh and locally grown food to feed their families. For many, the taste is the least important reasoning behind their decision to shop locally.
For Meredyth Whitty, 38, of Harmony, her preference to purchase goods from local vendors and farms stems as far back as her childhood. Her environmentalist mother had some influence on the choices she made when it came to what she ate, but ultimately the decision was her own. It’s also a strong moral choice for her.
“I feel more confident that the whole supply chain is moral when I buy locally,” Whitty says. “I know food harvested in Rhode Island doesn’t rely on abused labor, and you don’t have that assurance when your food is grown, harvested, and shipped from another country.”
As a vegetarian, she doesn’t include meat in her diet, but still makes sure that the meat she does buy for her husband, who eats it on a limited basis, is from farmers around here. The farmers treat their animals with care, making sure that they actually interact with these creatures and that they aren’t sick or suffering. She is always strongly against buying eggs from factory farms because the maltreatment of the hens.
“They’re a nightmare to me,” she comments. “The conditions that chickens in factory farms endure are unconscionable. I buy [eggs] from my neighbors. Bonus: we can visit the hens anytime we want!”
As much as she enjoys utilizing her local farms and businesses, Whitty admits that it isn’t the most convenient errand to run, especially since her daughter was born. She has less time to stop at farmer’s markets that have limited hours and one of her favorites might not be opening again this year. When she does find the time, she loves to visit Baffoni’s chicken farm in Johnston, Lightning Ridge Farm in Harmony, and the Armory or Blackstone Boulevard farmer’s markets in Providence on her way home from work.
“I wish there were a few more convenient options locally,” she says. “I’d love to see something like Providence’s Fertile Underground in a place like Smithfield. That’d be like a farmer’s market that is open every day like a supermarket. That would be a dream come true for a mom like me.”
Prices aren’t always compatible with the budgets of busy families, and Whitty confesses that it does affect her life sometimes. Luckily, there are local supermarkets like Dave’s Marketplace and Dino’s that she trusts when she can’t stop at her favorite farms.
“It does cost more to shop locally because labor and property costs are expensive here,” she shares. “It also costs more to raise food in the ethical ways that are usually used here rather than on factory farms. But my husband and I discussed this, and we would both rather pay more to support the things we believe in than save money at the cost of the environmental harm and the human and animal suffering.”
Whitty also suggests looking into CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture farms, which are farms where you buy a “share” at the beginning of the season and get a proportional share of what the farm raises. She belonged to many of these over the years and says she enjoyed some great harvests.
Eunice Yang, 24, of Dartmouth, Mass. started supporting a CSA near her home just a few years ago and has been reaping the fresh benefits ever since. Like Whitty, Yang feels that buying food locally is very important for not only her health, but the ecosystem as well.
“I’ve always loved animals and some time during college I decided that I would stop eating them,” she shares. “Thanks to the internet, going meatless was easy to do, but gathering information was a bit of a double-edge sword. I learned about factory farming (blegh!) and how horribly animals were treated. That made me very sad and very angry. The bright side to all of this was that it prompted me to try to go local and read labels to try to avoid poor animal husbandry and poor farming practices.”
Yang tries to shop local as much as she can, but finds that she can’t always afford it. With her involvement at the CSA, though, she is able to get many fresh veggies in the summer and fall months.
“Shopping locally is definitely a bit more expensive so I have to balance what I want and what I can afford,” she says. “I do keep in mind that the reason most grocery stores are cheaper is because corporate farms probably don’t pay their workers very well and they run on a much, much larger scale. [For this reason] I don’t mind paying a little more to buy from my local farmers who are people I know and trust.”
As much as Yang feels strongly about the moral components that go into going local/organic, she hopes that others who do the same don’t pressure or put down others who may not share the same views.
“It’s easy for those of us trying to live local, organic, or “earthy-crunchy,” to get a little self-righteous and feel holier than thou because we got a bag (reusable, of course) from our local farmer rather than the grocery store. Conversely, it’s easy for us to feel guilty for not doing so. Either way, just stop it! It doesn’t help the cause to make others feel badly for the food-buying choices they make. On the other side, don’t let the guilt stop you from doing what you can. If you can only afford to buy local once a year, then so be it. At least it’s something!”
Whitty agrees with Yang’s stance.
“Eggs from a local farmer are a good place to start because they’re pretty easy to find and even if you commit to just that, you’re making a difference by supporting a farm, as well as more human farming practices,” she says. “Talk to the farmers and ask them questions. Bring your family and enjoy yourself!”
For more information on where to shop to support your local farms, visit farmfreshri.org.