Some of the first gardens were actually miniature farms. The importance of assuring a handy food source spurred humans to tame the wild fruits and grains that they had been previously spending wasteful time harvesting far and wide. A regional source of food led to an increasingly stable community. From the first agrarians in the heart of Sumeria, there arose villages whose citizens still continued to grow a large percentage of their own nutrition, but soon grew more than they could eat themselves. Isolated communities did not have any cash, but they had goods to trade, and those goods could be a few cabbages or an egg-laying hen.
The food industry has come a long way in the last 7,000 years, and now there are fewer and ever larger farms supplying an astonishing array of nutritional choices to the developed world. What may not be quite as evident is that there are also fewer and ever larger food stores. The consequences have not been felt by the general population, but those on the fringe — in inner cities and small towns — are feeling the pinch. Poverty alone was long seen as the major factor in food insecurity: “when all people, at all times, [no longer] have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Today, that loss of food security is looming for an increasing portion of the population.
The current food-distribution system relies heavily on the petroleum industry. The agricultural output has increased, but the cost to produce food has also increased with the extensive use of chemical fertilizers (that utilize petrochemicals in their production) and the need to transport goods over longer and longer distances. Will the transition to renewable energy sources happen seamlessly? Probably not. What happens to the price of a pound of wheat for those who live at the end of the distribution network? It will inevitably go up and supplies may be extremely limited as those who can afford to pay the premium will corner the market.
Locally grown food, even if it doesn’t come from just outside the kitchen door, should be the first choice anywhere in the world. Freshness counts in terms of healthful benefits from vitamins, antioxidants, and proteins that have their maximum nutritional value. Santa Barbara is blessed with a lively and committed locavore mentality. From the farmers who labor to supply the freshest fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats at the Farmers Market to a few retail centers like Tri-County Produce and the chefs and restaurant owners who buy from them to serve high-quality prepared meals, Santa Barbarans are ahead of the curve.
In support of this movement toward more regional food production and awareness, the SOL Food Festival will bring together a host of area farmers, vendors, and educators for a food feast on Saturday, October 1. Cota Street will be closed between Santa Barbara and Anacapa streets to connect the Farmers Market in the city commuter lot to the west and the Plaza de Vera Cruz park to the east. Farmers, chefs, and foodies will gather to explore regionally grown and produced food at its finest. Admission is free, but come hungry and sample everything from salad to beer, all sourced and produced by Santa Barbara residents. The festival runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m. For more info and inspiration, go to solfoodfestival.com.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.