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Events aim to focus attention on locally grown foods

Buying local produce saves fuel, stimulates the regional economy and helps maintain a sustainable food supply, but growers say there is one other benefit for consumers.

It just tastes better.

"The main thing is, our stuff is picked that day for the market, so it's vine-ripened," said Larry Nedeau of Budwood Organic Farm in Fallbrook. "The taste of that tomato is going to be that much more significant."


Nedeau said organic tomatoes that are grown locally tend to be firmer, have less water and more complex flavors.

"Generally, a tomato you buy in a grocery market was picked green," Nedeau said. "By the time it gets to the market, it's usually seven days old."

To prove his point, Nedeau is asking consumers to try his tomatoes alongside ones that are trucked in from far-away farms and sold at major grocery stores.

The taste challenge will be 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. July 31 at Horton Plaza in San Diego and is one of several activities that week associated with the national event Eat In, Act Out from July 31 to Aug. 6.

During the week, people across the nation are asked to eat local foods prepared at home and to speak up and take action to change the food system and support local growers.

The event, which also includes street theater and a film festival, is organized by the Massachusett-based Food Project. Founded in 1991, the Food Project promotes sustainable food systems and works with communities to address hunger, pollution, pesticide poisoning, obesity and other food-related problems facing consumers and growers.

Through ongoing programs and special events such as Eat In, Act Out, national and local groups tie food with social consciousness by asking consumers to be mindful of such issues as where their food is grown, the conditions of workers harvesting crops and whether the food is organic.

The local Eat In, Act Out events are organized by the International Rescue Committee and Food Not Lawns, a San Diego group that promotes local growers and community gardens and encourages people to grow their own vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

"San Diego has the second largest concentration of family farms in the United States," said Kate Hughes of Food Not Lawns. "We want to keep them on their land."

In San Diego County, skyrocketing property values have cost some growers their farms. In Jamul, the two growers who operated Good Faith Farm lost their lease when the land owners decided to develop the property.

"The land became so valuable that the best use of the property wasn't farming anymore," said grower Barry Logan. "Little farms are always under that pressure of appreciating real-estate values."

The farmers bought a farm in Northern California and hired Logan to take over their other farm, La Milpa Organica, five miles north of Escondido.

Although he has only five usable acres, Logan said he is certified to grow 150 different vegetables at the organic farm, including broccoli, cauliflower, celery, kale, cilantro, parsley, onions, leeks, carrots, corn, garlic, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and brussels sprouts. The farm also has a salad mix of 30 different greens at one time.

The produce is sold at farmers markets in Oceanside, Poway, La Mesa, University Towne Center, Hillcrest and Coronado and served at the restaurants Cavaillon in Rancho Bernardo, Tapenade in La Jolla, Nine-Ten in San Diego, George's at the Cove in La Jolla and the Lodge at Torrey Pines.

Logan said he will be participating Eat In, Act Out activities, but was not sure what he will be doing. Most likely he will be promoting the values of local farming, a passion he is eager to discuss.

"Produce that comes from industrial agriculture is old food that comes from far away," he said.

Logan said industrial farms can produce cheaper produce, but that may change as transportation costs increase because of the price of gasoline.

"It's kind of important that the community starts thinking about food security," he said. "Let's say there is some kind of supply disruption in petroleum, and oil becomes short. The supply chain could be interrupted."

If out-of-state produce trucks suddenly could not reach local markets, Logan said, produce bins at grocery stores could go unstocked.

"On the other hand, I can always load my produce in a little red wagon and pull it to market," he said.

Even without a fuel crisis, consumers have good reason to buy from local farms, Logan said.

"The money that people spend at the supermarket gets exported, whereas money that people spend on my food gets re-spent in the local community," he said.

The idea of growing local produce is particularly relevant in San Diego because the county has such potential for food production, said Julia Dashe, co-founder of San Diego Sustainable Roots, an organization seeking to strengthen ties between farmers and consumers.

"We have such a marvelous climate for growing, we really could grow most of our produce here," Dashe said. "Yet so much is imported. "

San Diego Sustainable Roots is helping promote Eat In, Act Out on its Web site, which defines the group as a network of citizens, farmers, chefs, gardeners, teachers and students working to encourage the growth and consumption of regional food.

"From farm to table, we focus awareness and work toward a more ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just food system in San Diego," the Web site reads.

Dashe defined sustainable food as "any action that doesn't jeopardize future generations." That includes having a food system that does not damage soil, protecting and preserving local farmland and encouraging people to grow their own food through their own property or community gardens.