Setting a sustainable table

How can we have a more meaningful holiday this year?

Sound Consumer | November 2005

by Christa Gardner

Holiday turkey dinner

(November 2005) — You can feel it in the air this time of year — as the days darken, we turn inward, slow our pace, and preparation for the holiday season begins.

The season invites a myriad of emotions, from delight and appreciation to apprehension and overwhelm. But no matter how we approach the season, we’re likely to share in asking, “How can we have a more meaningful holiday this year?”

The concept of sustainability, and its application to our food choices, provides direction for meaning in every delicious bite at this year’s holiday table. A sustainable food system, by definition, would be economically viable, environmentally sound and socially just over the long term. A sustainable economy would embrace farming and smaller, more locally based food systems, for both the short- and long-term benefits.

Unfortunately, there’s cause for concern. Between 1997 and 2002, we lost 4,000 farms in this state. Every year, roughly 23,000 acres of farmland — about the size of Lake Washington — are “developed,” or in more stark terms, paved and built upon. Benjamin Gisin, a former banker and publisher/chief editor of the journal, “Touch the Soil,” observes that the whole American economy is based upon paving and building over the nation’s soil.

In Washington state, agriculture still is the single largest employer and its economic contribution is no small potatoes. Organic farming alone is a $6 billion annual business in Washington, based on just 34,000 acres of organic farmland. With no offense to the techies, these numbers beg the question of why we aren’t as concerned about the success and future of our agricultural producers as we are about the latest developments at Microsoft.

Thankfully, we have good organizations here in Washington working not just to preserve but also to advance organic and sustainable agriculture systems across the state.

Sustainable partners
One organization we can give thanks for is the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network (WSFFN), a grassroots, statewide advocacy organization dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture and family farms in Washington state. Executive Director Maryon Atwood believes that the critical issue of food and farming requires a much larger conversation than is possible when advocacy and legislation are confined to the county level.

Washington’s county government structure may have been adequate to manage agricultural issues early in the state’s development, but the new global market economy demands more statewide support if we are to realize the great value of our land and our hardworking people.

WSFFN is unique in bringing together various stakeholders from across the state — farmers, educators and retailers, as well as faith-based, environmental and social organizations. PCC has been at the table with WSFFN for years, helping to provide a voice for farmers and consumers.

We also can give thanks to the spirit of cooperation between WSFFN and Washington State University, our land grant institution since 1890. WSU has long been at the center of land use issues and, recently, the promotion of organic and biologically intensive agriculture in the state. WSU soon will be the first university in the country to offer an organic major.

WSU’s leadership is working with WSFFN to generate funding for a comprehensive research and education BIOAg program that will expand support for organic growers. According to Atwood, this program could “provide real infrastructure that will systematically change the face of agriculture in Washington state.”

A new framework is in order. A recent study by the Worldwatch Institute says the average American meal travels 2,000 miles from farm to plate. This grossly inefficient food supply system has created unsustainable expectations that any food should be available year round.

Christa Gardner holds a master’s degree in integral health education and is a certified nutrition consultant. She is also an instructor for PCC Cooks.

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