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5 Ridiculous Myths People Use to Trash Local Food -- And Why They're Wrong

Articles "debunking" the local food movement are stale, shallow and often incorrect.

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Hopefully, the Alabama farmers forgo the costly inputs, so that the money earned from the potatoes after their harvest is their own. Potatoes, after all, require little soil fertility. In the Andes, where potatoes were first domesticated, a farmer named Juan Cayo grows potatoes at the end of a four year rotation on his fields near Lake Titicaca. First, he grow fava beans, which infuse the soil with nitrogen. For the next two years, he grows grains (barley and oats), which use up most of the nitrogen in the soil. Last, he grows potatoes, which are happy enough to grow using whatever fertility is leftover.

Crop rotation also serves to deal with the nematodes and insects that the Idaho farmer sprayed for. If any pests find the potato crop and begin to breed, they will have a bad surprise when, the next year, a different crop is sown in that field and they suddenly have no food. Some of them might find where the farmer is now growing this year's potatoes, but it will take them time to get there. For the bugs that do arrive, there are a number of organic strategies. Least efficient, but always an option, is picking the bugs off by hand. Better yet, a farmer can provide habitat for predatory insects or birds that prey on the pest or spray Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that naturally kills insects.

Weeds can be suppressed by a heavy layer of mulch, removed via tilling, or pulled by hand if necessary. A common strategy is to allow the weed seeds in the field to germinate before planting your crop, then kill the weeds via tilling, and subsequently plant the crop. You might even be able to convince your chickens to kill the weeds for you. Additionally, some weeds in your field are actually a good thing. Not so many that they choke out your crop, of course, but there are edible weeds, weeds that can be used as medicinal plants, and even weeds that, when allowed to grow sparingly in your field, can boost production of your crop. For example, garden guru John Jeavons recommends dandelion, purslane, stinging nettle and lamb's quarters as edible (and nutritious!) weeds that will help your crops, too.

Last, an organic farmer growing for a local market will plant a number of potato varieties, not just one. The reasons for growing several varieties are many. Some varieties may be best for baking, others for mashed potatoes, and still others for frying. One variety might taste the best or yield the most but lacks natural resistance to a fungal disease, whereas another variety with mediocre yields does naturally resist the disease. Some varieties mature faster than others, allowing the farmer to harvest and sell potatoes all season long. And if all of the potatoes fail, the farmer is also growing a number of other crops in addition to potatoes. In short, agrobiodiversity -- growing diverse varieties and diverse species -- provides insurance.

Myth #4: We can't feed a growing population on local (organic) food.

This is the biggest whopper of all. The recent Freakonomics article says it as follows:

"From roughly 1940 to 1990, the world's farmers doubled their output to accommodate a doubling of the world population. And they did it on a shrinking base of cropland. Agricultural productivity can continue to grow, but not by turning back the clock. Local foods may have a place in the market. But they should stand on their own, and local food consumers should understand that they aren't necessarily buying something that helps the planet, and it may hurt the poor."

 
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