Shopping locally for produce benefits Earth, small farms

Alyssa Jingling

With colorful produce everywhere, farmers markets are perfect for buying healthy and fun ingredients. They’re more than a fun foodie experience, though. Farmers markets directly benefit small farmers. Students should buy produce from small, local farms to promote sustainability in the economy and the environment.

“Sustainability has three parts: environment, people and economy,” says Neil Kaufman, sustainability coordinator for University Housing and Dining. “Supporting small farmers supports all three, but small farms are especially directly influenced by economics. If we put all of our resources and capital into big farms, they get siphoned up to people who already have money and power.”

According to the Texas Farm Bureau, the predicted net farm income this year will be at a record low, meaning the expenses of maintaining a farm is greater than the earnings from produce. By putting money directly into small farms, we can help provide farmers the income they need to keep running.

One of the biggest challenges that small farmers face is the weather. When Texas doesn’t receive enough rain or has extreme temperatures or a wildfire, small farms don’t always have the resources they need to recover. With more revenue, they could expand or purchase new equipment. If they expand, these farms can provide more produce for farmers markets or start growing new crops. With more food being produced locally, it won’t have to travel as far to get to its consumers.

The typical American meal can travel thousands of miles to your plate. By shopping locally, or even just within Texas, you can greatly reduce the number of miles your food travels, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On campus, one of the easiest ways to support small farms is by shopping at the UT Farm Stand. Set up every other Wednesday at Jester Plaza, the Farm Stand grows about half of its food right on campus. The other half comes from small, local farms. This allows students to become more familiar with produce near Austin, and the food itself requires less fuel to ship.

When looking into buying from a farm, the Farm Stand evaluates its practices to make sure it’s growing crops sustainably. According to Kaufman, not all small farmers can afford organic certifications from a third party, so the Farm Stand also talks to the farmers and their colleagues to ensure all produce meets the Farm Stand’s fair-trade and organic standards. Campus dining halls also strive to serve organic foods.

“Within our dining halls, we support local farmers and sustainable farmers,” Kaufman says. “About 20 percent of our food budget goes to local, sustainable and fair-trade food.” It can be difficult to find time to buy and prepare produce from the Farm Stand, so it’s nice to know that eating in the dining halls also constitutes sustainable eating.

Buying local produce isn’t hard in Austin — there are numerous markets around the city and on campus. Local produce has numerous benefits, too, even if it’s a little pricier than conventional food from the grocery store. When you buy from a local farmer’s market, you are supporting a family business, keeping the earth clean and getting healthy, fresh food for yourself.

Jingling is an English junior from Georgetown.