Eat Local has become a well-known term that Pacific Northwesterners wear like a badge of honor all throughout our sweet little salty town of Bellingham. At least many people I know, both in and out of the food industry, live by this slogan. These dedicated friends and family shop at farmers markets to access the best of local, seasonal, organic and non-GMO produce available. Gardening is so awesome here that local dirt, containing the perfect pH balance for our climate’s needs, is a big seller. The seeds used in many local “victory gardens” come from local crops and are planted seasonally to provide best outcomes. Flours and grains are also grown, processed and purchased locally, thanks to the Fairhaven Flour Mill.
Organic U-pick farms by the dozens in Whatcom County are a family favorite summertime activity. Even whiskey distilleries are built on apple farms here, such as the lovely Bellewood Acres. World-class breweries are often hops-local, like Boundary Bay and others, ad infinitum. I am going to say this once and say it slow, with great pride: Public schools are eating local too. Plus, while it sounds straightforward to eat local, it does require a little knowledge, accessibility, dedication, and of course, a reusable bag.
An eat-local lifestyle is a symbol of a renewed food culture, where the community understands the benefits of a well-tuned, local food machine. Benefits are many and none should be taken for granted. Below are a few of the perks that we get to enjoy here in Bellingham without much effort:
Making local food purchases supports our local economy by investing in farmers and food processors that live here and, in turn, invest those same funds back into the community via property taxes, schools, and other purchases. Less pricey when you don’t have to pay somebody to ship it. It’s a win-win.
Health benefits are also tops, since you often have a product that has ample time in the ripening process and needs fewer crop sprays and little to no shipping time. Food that is picked and eaten soon after offers a more favorable and fresher product. The nutrition factor is rich.
This small town is full of farms and streams near where we actually live. This creates an accountability structure that you don’t find when purchasing product outside of your region. Curators, chefs and farmers are the hands that create, grow and process your foods. These business owners will be known locally and compete for your favor.
Other benefits include the privilege of having your business under a larger umbrella or locally funded marketing campaign like Whatcom County’s own Sustainable Connections. Sustainable Connections can provide event participation for your business, free advertising and marketing. Professional and social networking are the cherry-on-top when you get aboard the eat-local train.
Connection to Natural Resources
Being connected to the natural earth around you is perhaps one of the greatest perks that I have come to appreciate. There is no shortage of natural beauty in Whatcom County. Streams and rivers abound, from the Salish Sea, providing the best salmon, oysters and marine life available, to the snow-capped North Cascades, which provides nutrient-rich soil with the necessary hydration that is needed to nurture plant life and produce jewel-like berries that are irresistible to the most disciplined palate.
A Welcome Change
What once was a nich-ey little cliché has turned into a national re-vamp of an outdated food system that had let down its clients long ago. Welcome to the new world of food sourcing. Together we are creating a sustainable farm-to-table industry, thanks to a local non-profit group called NW Washington’s Chefs Collective, a founding group composed of chefs, farmers and producers. Chefs Collaborative is a group of local farmers and chefs who are changing the food system in a tangible way. There once was an understanding that food was ordered and then shipped as needed from a large company. These days, groups like the CC are changing the narrative between farmers and restaurateurs, changing business practices completely. Now, when a chef knows in advance that he or she will need a certain product, the chef contacts a local farmer, who grows that item or is able to grow it. Thus, the farmer plants specifically for that event, knowing that the menu was decided in-season and leaving the farmers with virtually no waste and an increased ability to profit.
I cannot confirm that our own Sustainable Connections plugged the term “eat local” or just did a very good job with the campaign when it started more than a decade ago. But one thing I can be sure of is that I am proud to be a small part of this great community that values, protects, and continually grows the sustainability of its own natural resources, people and local food businesses.