When most people first hear the word "locavore," their response is apt to be, "What?" But it will most certainly be used more frequently now that Oxford University Press, publisher of the New Oxford American Dictionary, announced that "locavore" is the word of the year.
The term was coined in 2005 by a group of women in San Francisco who challenged residents to eat locally for the month of August. They defined "local" as foods grown and harvested within a 100-mile radius of the city. They also encouraged people to can and preserve food bought by local growers for the winter months.
It's estimated that most produce in grocery stores travels an average of 1,500 miles before reaching the table. Locavores are trying to increase awareness of the damage this transportation costs, not only in terms of higher prices but also in increased air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. Additionally, instead of supporting local farmers in the community, money is sent to food conglomerates across the country and even around the globe.
While the word "locavore" is new for many, the movement to eat locally is not.
"It's nothing new," says Steve Lubin, owner of Good Life and Honeysuckle, a local health-food and supplement store. "This has been preached for years: Eat fresh, eat local, eat as organically as you can, which means eating seasonally."
In today's global marketplace, consumers can purchase fruits and vegetables year-round regardless of season. For instance, it's not hard to find melons in most major grocery stores this time of year, but while the fruit is there, what's missing is quality and flavor.
John Charles Wilson is president of Agricenter International, which houses a farmers' market that recently closed for the winter season and will reopen next spring. He says many, though not all, of the vendors are local growers. He believes eating local means eating healthier.
"When you know it comes straight from the farm, it hasn't been handled by 40 different hands, so it's a safer product," he says. "It's picked at the peak of flavor."
The effects of supporting local farmers and buying locally grown products are much more far-reaching in Memphis than people may realize, says Jeanice Blancett, owner of Square Foods.
"The impact of not having to use trucks going from California to Memphis — the gasoline, the pollution, the cost — is tremendous," she says.
Jill and Keith Forrester own Whitton Flowers & Produce in Tyronza, Arkansas, about 35 miles north of Memphis. They are committed to raising and selling only the freshest products.
"People don't realize what resources they have right here. It's really important to buy from and support your local farmers," she says.
Both of the Forresters were educators and gave up teaching when they started their farming operation, something they've never regretted. Jill tries to make people aware of the importance of supporting local growers.
"When produce isn't being shipped from California or from out of the country, it keeps your money local. And just think about what all that shipping does to the environment," she says.
Benefits to consumers are obvious when the freshest fruits and vegetables go directly from the field to the table. "If you know your farmer, you know your food," says Jill, who is currently selling Whitton's flowers, vegetables, and herbs outside Square Foods on Saturdays.
One of her fellow vendors, Tim Smith (known to many in the community as "the arugula guy"), and his partner run a small farm in Holly Springs, Mississippi, called Gracious Gardens. Smith picks his produce the day before it's sold.
"People are waking up to the idea that there are ways to get something fresh," Smith says. "They are tired of going to the grocery store and seeing shriveled vegetables. Think about when you get something from California. It's been picked, boxed, and trucked. Think about how many days it spends in transit. If it's from California, it's not fresh."
The fact is, Blancett says, the minute something is picked from the vine, it starts to die.
She concedes that eating locally is more challenging during the fall and winter months, when fewer vegetables are in season. But supporting local farmers has other advantages, Blancett says: "There's a sense of community — everyone taking care of one another."
Blancett remembers one time when Smith was getting ready to leave after a day of selling his vegetables in front of Square Foods.
"At the end of the day, when he was packing up, he [stopped to] show me how to change the alternator in my truck," Blancett recalls. "Somebody on the West Coast isn't around to do that, but my local farmer will give me some turnip greens and then turn around and help me fix my alternator."
Whitton Flowers & Produce and Gracious Gardens sell produce at Square Foods (937 S. Cooper, 274-4222) on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ask the produce manager of your neighborhood grocery store about the availability of locally grown produce. Fayette Packing Co. (16620 Hwy. 196, 867-3826) sells locally raised pork and can get locally raised beef by request.