Every month a pretty big pile of money leaves Cumberland County, never to return, when people drive away to buy groceries at big-box stores. Do those stores buy from our local farms to fill their shelves? No they do not. What do we get for that money? A few trips out of town; and lotta bags of boxes, cans, plastic wrapped this or that and processed bread with a list of chemical ingredients as long as your arm. Don't forget the soda. So we eat, throw away the trash, and start over again on the first of next month.
According to USDA statistics, in a family of four in the U.S., the average food spending per person per month is $301.00. The number is higher for people living alone or in a family of two. The 2010 census estimates that the population of our county is 6,745. Multiply this by 301 and we get: $ 2,030,245.00. Two million thirty thousand of Cumberland County dollars each month is spent on food that is grown somewhere else, not here in the county; most of the time, not even in this country. It is brought in from overseas.
Some money does get spent here in the county, at our two grocery stores, the various lunch options, the BBQs, a few restaurants... do those establishments buy from our local farms? Some do, a little bit. And some people buy local eggs and meat. Some even venture to the Farmers Market during the summer to buy vegetables. So lets round the number down to an even two million.
Two million dollars a month is a reasonable estimate for how much money leaves the county every month to pay for food. Consider, what would happen if we made the decision to keep just part of that money here in the county? What if we decided, on purpose, to redirect our routine, and buy food locally when those items are produced here?
Ten percent of our spending could be a place to start. That would be two hundred thousand dollars a month. Do you think that might make an impact on the income potential for farmers and gardeners in this county?
What would we get for that chunk of money? We'd get: Potatoes, green beans, corn and cornmeal. Onions and garlic, all kinds of greens, lettuce and chard, salad all year long from high tunnel greenhouses. Beef and pork. Peppers and squash. Beets. Melons. Raspberries, blueberries, fresh milk and eggs. Raw milk cheese and roast chicken. Tomatoes and sauce, pickles, salsa, maple syrup, honey and authentic baked goods, made from five ingredients all of which you recognize. Real Food.
We'd eat a lot better. And we'd get something else along with that fresh authentic food.
We'd get the experience of mattering. Shoppers would know that we matter to the people who produce food in this county. Farmers and gardeners would also know that we matter to the people who buy and eat what we produce! Imagine the tremendous boost to our local economy, to invest that much money into products and services... into people right here at home. There is room in that money for quite a few farmers to make a living, and there is room for the hobbyists to get a weekly boost in their income too.
When you buy local food, you get more than the food. You get community. You get connection and stronger relationships with people, the real foundation of plenty we all need in our lives. You get to be part of a network of food security and shared value that plays out as people caring about each other.
We can decide to make a difference in Cumberland County. We can celebrate and value the art of growing food. Spending money is a creative act. We create the kind of world we want to live in, by paying people to do what they do. We get to choose.
We can be the county who decides to feed ourselves in every way that we can. We've got the land and the equipment. We've got the sunshine and water. We've got people with time and the desire to create value, and fairly get paid. We've got the heritage and know how; everybody's grandparents still remember how. And we've got the money too. All in all, we've got two million dollars a month. The only thing we lack is the decision.
Does it really make sense to let large corporations feed us highly processed products from other parts of the world? Can we trust them to provide what is healthy and good?
Real food comes from farmers. Think about it. How would you like to use our two million dollars, this month, Cumberland County?
Kathy (Kay) Williams wrote the grant on behalf of the County and continues in the role of Farmers Market Coordinator to accomplish the tasks funded by the grant. She moved to Cumberland County in 1985 to be part of the back-to-the-land movement. Click this link to see the presentation she gave at the Local Food, Healthy Farms conference in Louisville in 2005, charting the beginning of her local food story.