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A Sustainable Table

Posted Aug 22, 2014

by Kelly Lang

It is harvest time in Erie County, and we are fortunate to be surrounded by a diversity of local produce.

You can behold some of this delicious diversity at the local farm stands and stores that dot our roadsides. I can hardly wait to begin turning fall produce into pies, casseroles, sauces, soups and stews – the food, that to me, is the food of fall. Since I live in the city, I am only able to grow a little of my own food, and certainly not all the food that is necessary to sustain my family. I rely on a network of food systems that connect me to what I eat. From a desire to help lessen my impact on the environment, I am often left pondering which is best – local, organic, sustainable, GMO-free? The food choices are complex among a wilderness of ever-changing labels.

We are all connected to global, regional, and local food systems by the very food we eat. A food system is made up of all aspects of food production (the way the food is grown or raised; the way the food is harvested or slaughtered; and the way the food is processed, packaged, or otherwise prepared for consumer purchase) and food distribution (where and how the food is sold to consumers and how the food is transported). We can think of the global industrial food system, which includes all the food grown on Earth, and local or regional food systems, which are grown closer to where the consumer lives. As a result of the global food system, the seasonal pattern of food appearing in local grocery stores only at particular times of year is certainly changing. It seems that it is always citrus season somewhere on Earth, and that an orange can always find its way to a grocery store near you. Unfortunately, such convenience comes at a cost to the environment.

Local food systems bring us food which may offer environmental benefits and connects to our local producers in ways that the global food network cannot. Locally grown food is more likely to be fresher, more nutritious, and uses less energy to get to the consumer. However, just because food is labeled “grown locally” does not always mean it was produced using environmentally sustainable farm practices. Luckily, there are many farmers in our area that are part of the Northwest Pennsylvania Growers Cooperative. These farmers are committed to producing seasonal fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat with sustainable practices. And their produce is readily accessible right here in Erie. Many local grocers and markets carry produce from local farmers. 

Check out the Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local PA website for a listing of all the places within 50 miles of Erie that carry local produce. You can learn more about how you can support local agriculture from the NWPA Growers Cooperative website

The food landscape is filled with choices and it can be challenging to navigate. Sustainably grown food is one way to be good stewards of the planet’s precious resources.