September 29, 2014

What Gives You More Bang for Your Grocery Buck?


New Documentary Short Shows Healthy, Local Food is the Real Bargain in Michigan

Sept. 29, 2014  Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384, gail.philbin@sierraclub.org

Lansing, Mich.— A new documentary short released today by the Less=More sustainable agriculture coalition demonstrates how the purchase of food from local Michigan farmers who use healthy, sustainable practices has a greater benefit to local economies, the environment and public health than products from the conventional industrial agriculture system.

Local, Healthy Food: The Real Bargain, a nine-minute short directed by Traverse City resident Kirk Rasmussen, explores the economic, environmental and health effects of consumer shopping choices through interviews with farmers, academic researchers and other experts in Michigan. The film is available online at http://tinyurl.com/TheRealBargain.

“Say a dollar is spent in a certain community, 73 cents on that dollar stays in that community, as opposed to spending money at a non-locally owned business -- only 42 cents on a dollar stays in the community,” explains Hanna Schulze, program and events coordinator at Local First in Grand Rapids, a non-profit that supports local, sustainable economies. That translates to local jobs created, money circulated and more local investment, she says.

Jill Johnson of Crane Dance Farm, a Middleville livestock farmer interviewed in the film, proves Schulze’s point. “We try to buy everything we can as locally as possible because, just like our customers want to buy food from us because they know us and trust us, we buy things from people we know and we trust. All of our grain comes from farmers that grew it that we know.”

Schulze notes that consumers are accustomed to thinking food should be inexpensive because of its wide availability and a lack of understanding about what makes it is so cheap.

“Why should I spend $9/pound on ground beef when I can go to XYZ store and get it for $2/pound. We’re not asking ourselves why is it $2/pound,” she says.

Local, Healthy Food: The Real Bargain answers Schulze’s question—economies of scale give industrial agriculture and especially large-scale animal facilities known as factory farms a huge advantage over small-scale, local producers using earth-friendly farming practices. In addition, mega “farms” that confine livestock in warehouses often for their entire lives or in crowded, open feedlots get substantial taxpayer subsidies--often for handling animal waste-- their sustainable counterparts don’t receive. A 2013 report issued by Less=More offered evidence that even when poor disposal practices of the millions of gallons of chemical- and contaminant-filled wastes Michigan factory farms generate lead to pollution of water, land and air, and violations of state and federal environmental laws, they still receive taxpayer support.

Less=More defines sustainable agriculture as a system that emphasizes stewardship of natural and human resources and grounded in the principle that we must meet our present food needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Sustainable agriculture protects and improves the soil, conserves native biodiversity and habitats, and provides viable farm livelihoods as a consequence of food production. Sustainable farms are appropriate for the landscape and the local economy and produce safe, healthy food, treat workers with respect and animals humanely, and sustain communities.

In Local, Healthy Food: The Real Bargain, Catherine Badgley, a University of Michigan assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, points out that buying local, sustainable food is a growing movement in Michigan. “But it’s more expensive than the cheaply grown food produced by industrial food system. When you think about all the different things that [buying local is] supporting—you’re supporting the local economy, environmental quality, better health for us, higher animal welfare, it’s really a bargain.”

The film’s director, Kirk Rasmussen, is a student in Grand Valley State University’s film program, who served as an intern last summer for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, which is a member of Less=More. He says he learned a great deal from making the documentary.

"I found I really had started making the film for myself, regarding the struggles of being constantly bombarded by indecision when it came to purchasing food on a tight budget,” says Rasmussen. “Less=More’s mission to create change around livestock production and local economies brought me into contact with a group of truly inspiring people that helped me to answer these questions.” 

Less=More is a sustainable agriculture coalition tackling the inequity of Farm Bill subsidies in Michigan that favor polluting factory farms over safe, sustainable livestock farms at the expense of the environment and public health. In 2013, the coalition released a report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, that explores the relationship between Farm Bill subsidies and factory farm pollution in Michigan. To download Restoring the Balance, visit: http://tinyurl.com/L-Mreport. 

Less=More is comprised of national, state and local organizations and farmers, including: Beery Farms of Michigan, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, ELFCO Food Cooperative, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Small Farm Council, Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. 

Less=More is made possible in part by support from the Irwin Andrew Porter Foundation.

Less support for polluting factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan.  For more information, visit, www.MoreforMichigan.org.