Local Food Systems: Supporting Our Community in a Crisis

Lauren Langworthy |

Lauren Langworthy
Lauren Langworthy

We’ve all seen signs and memes on social media urging us to “shop local” or “eat local,” but in uncertain times like these, the reason behind the sentiment becomes clear. International trade, national transportation systems, and giant corporations don’t worry about their neighbors in the way that we worry about ours.

Think about all the hands that touched that toilet paper before it ended up in your shopping cart: hands that manufacture, package, transport it to a storage warehouse, inventory, transport it to a retail store, carry it out to stock the shelves, and the hands that check out from your cart. Now, compare that with the local vegetables, meats, flowers, or jar of preserves that you can pick up at the farmers market, in your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box, or at the food co-op.

If you know your farmer and can get your products directly from them, think about how few people are involved in that chain. 

If you know your farmer and can get your products directly from them, think about how few people are involved in that chain. Fewer people touched that product and fewer people needed to “get their cut” out of that sale. Even more, when you buy from a farmer like me, you get the added benefit of a personal relationship with someone else in your community. I can assure you, once you know your farmer, you know someone who will do their solemn best to make sure that you never go hungry. Right now, farmers across the Chippewa Valley are offering payment plans for CSA members laid off work and special home deliveries of farm-fresh food to people isolating to stem the spread of the coronavirus. A national box store chain will never care for you like that. If you can’t know your farmer, at least know the staff at your co-op. They have the same goals of building our local economy and have likely met the farmers who produce your food as they regularly drop off fresh deliveries in the back.

That’s not all! Beyond your personal benefit of local food security, nutritious and delicious meals, and robust regional relationships, our economy thrives when our local food system is flourishing. The dollars you spend at that big box store pay some local employees, but the focus of that company is really generating massive profits for CEOs and stockholders far away from the Chippewa Valley.

When you spend a dollar with a farmer or local business, those profits go to your neighbors. Those neighbors cycle that money back through our local economy: buying a cup of coffee, contributing toward the school fundraiser, tipping the wait staff after lunch or the musician at the bar, or putting it straight into running their business with local staff to meet specific neighborhood needs. Instead of enriching Wall Street, those dollars continue to cycle through the Chippewa Valley enriching our lives.

That’s why it’s so important to take this moment of awareness as an opportunity. It’s time to check our orientations: Are we supporting the neighbors who produce for us and provide us with tailored services to our community? This pandemic is our wake-up call. Every day in the headlines, we’re seeing the fragility and cracks in many of our systems – and it’s our neighbors who suffer. So, let’s focus on building resilient community systems that will always get us through the tough times. Buying direct from farmers benefits the whole community. Luckily, it’s getting easier all the time as more producers move their “farm stores” online, offer delivery or pick-up services, and try to meet the ever-changing needs of our community. After all, providing sustenance to their community is what farmers do, and we’re all in this together.

Lauren Langworthy and her husband, Caleb, run Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler, where they produce grass-fed lamb and beef. Lauren is also secretary for the Wisconsin Farmers Union and executive director of MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service), an educational nonprofit focused on helping farmers to thrive in sustainable systems of agriculture.