There are a lot of reasons to eat locally grown, seasonal produce. I’m sure you have already heard most of them but let me refresh your memory. Buying local keeps money in our local economy. We can better support small farms and know the farmers who are growing our food (thanks, Aaron!). And, of course, the fresh vegetables taste so much better than those that were picked unripe and shipped to us from thousands of miles away. All of these are great reasons for supporting local agriculture, but as Michiganders, we have yet another important reason: our abundance of fresh water.
I am sure that most of you have heard about California’s historic drought. Even though the California is thousands of miles away from us, low water supplies there still have effects on us here because California is one of the top producing agricultural states. (Fun Fact: Michigan has the second most agricultural diversity after California). There have been a lot of doom and gloom stories about the drought, and a lot of countering claims that focus on future rain and snow fall. In fact, it looks like this winter could be especially wet for California. But one thing we know about the California’s climate is that while this particular drought won’t last forever, water shortages in the state will be a recurring problem. The facts of the matter are that there just is not a steady and reliable supply of water in the southwestern United States, and the population there is booming, which means that California and its surrounding states will need more and more water for its own population. Nearly all the southwestern states struggle with droughts and water depletion.
More surprisingly, the Great Plains states, the breadbasket of America where we grow our wheat and corn and soy, also struggles with water shortages (or maybe not surprisingly since the Great Plains were originally called the Great American Desert). Example par excellence, the Ogalla Aquifer, a massive water source that exists underneath 8 states in the Great Plains, is being drawn down at a rate that is much faster than water levels can be restored. Already in many places that rely on the aquifer, surface water (lakes and rivers) levels are falling because ground water (aquifer) levels are so low. At the current rate of use, experts believe the aquifer could be unusable in 50 years.
As water shortages become more common in the United States and around the world, we also need to remember that despite our amazing Great Lakes resources, we aren’t immune from water problems. Taking steps to protect our water sources from pollution and overuse are more important than ever. We need to maintain our water quality before we are the crisis point that our western states are facing. Scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and local governments are working very hard to solve all these problems, and hopefully they will be able to, but there are no fast or easy answers to water depletion. The realities for fixing these problems will be costly to both governments and the farmers and citizens who rely on these endangered water sources.
Meanwhile, our Michigan water levels are healthy and we can help conserve western water by placing less demand for goods produced with it. In short, when you have the choice of buying a Michigan product instead of a western one, buy it. What are your “must buy local” faves? Let me know below.
About the author: Rachel Anderson is a seasoned CSA veteran going into her 8th year of vegetable onslaught (4th year at Blandford). She’d like you to think that means she’s figured out how to use the weekly vegetables in an efficient way, but that would probably be a lie. She has a two year old daughter and another baby girl due to be born smack dab in the middle of the growing season. When she is not corralling vegetables and toddlers, you can find Rachel moonlighting as an adjunct at a local university.