Farmer John: Farmers and consumers reap benefits from local food systems

J.D. “Farmer John” Wilson
“‘Ere long, the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art can ever be the victim of oppression in any of its forms.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1859 


SIGMA — Food is cheap. In fact, food prices are at an all time low as a percentage of household income. 

It’s available at every street corner, with tons of choices. Restaurants serve Mexican, Italian, Indian and other cuisines.

You name it. You can have it. Want to live on exotic fruits full time flown in from around the world? Go ahead. Have it your way.

But there are benefits to a local food system, meaning food grown within 100 miles of consumption. Developing and promoting a local or regional food system is practical and necessary. It helps farmers and consumers alike.

Some would say, “What’s the fuss?”

Here are some of the benefits:

Freshness. Research has shown that there is a significant loss of nutrients from the time of picking, such as a loss of nutrients after three days travel from California to the East Coast. The Chicago Tribune, citing University of California research, reported that some produce loses up to 55 percent of vitamin C within a week and spinach can lose 90 percent within a day of harvest. Local foods are more nutrient dense. You get more vitamins when you buy food near where it is grown.

Support local farmers. We need our local farmers. Along with nutrient loss, we have farmer loss. From USDA census data, we know that there was a 4.3 percent loss in active farmers from between 2007 and 2012. There was a rise in the average age of farmers from 50.5 to 58.3 years old between 1982 and 2012, as well as a decrease in new farmers entering the field. Farmers need to be able to retire, too. We need to encourage the next generations to put their hands in the soil. We need to pay farmers more, to do what we can to keep them and their deep knowledge base. 

Food Security. If global issues arise, a local food system can still provide. In France, the average person had food throughout World War II because of a robust village by village, town by town food system with a butcher, a baker, gardens, wine makers and lots of farmers. While they also suffered, there was a black market and some better fare if they were careful, depending on location.

It will take some effort to create a local food system, but we would be well served doing so. It would require a new mind set for us all – more support for existing farm stands, more commitment for local farmers’ markets, and a few more around town for convenience.

We should make a practice of sending our local farmers home from markets with an empty truck and a full wallet. 

There need to be food hubs for distribution and transfer for extra foods to restaurants, institutions and for canning. We need to make sure all the produce gets used. We waste up to 40 percent of food in this country.

When I grew up in Indiana, our community celebrated the Fayette County Free Fair every summer. There was as much interest in 4-H clubs, Future Farmers of America and related activities as there was in the carnival rides. I especially liked the food contests where I could test the best chocolate cakes. 

Now I live in Virginia Beach, an agriculturally rich community as much as a tourist destination. At one time, this area supplied food up and down the East Coast, like no other region on the Atlantic Ocean’s shores. 

We need to celebrate agriculture, and create a truly engaging local food system in which many farms and farm families can be successful for generations to come.

Citizens will benefit, too, because we can eat healthier food.    

Wilson, a farmer and consultant who lives in Sigma, writes about sustainable agriculture for The Independent News. Reach him via

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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