Consumers flock to farms to buy food

Posted: July 19, 2007

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Shannon Ward and Elaine Pruitt went out to buy milk two weeks ago. So they cleared a day on their calendars. They lined up a baby sitter for four of their combined six children.

Then they drove more than four hours - about 250 miles round trip - to Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, S.C.

All for milk? Not really. Or at least, not just for milk.

A small earthquake is shaking up food in America. Fueled by books like Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," local food is propelling people out to the farms.

Some are forming buying clubs and co-ops to bring food back. Others are pooling with friends to share rides and ideals.

"It's not so much about food as it is about forming an intentional community," said Elaine Pruitt. "And trying to make an individual voice heard in the marketplace in an intentional way."

A few years ago, it was enough that a food sported the organic label. But when small organic companies grew big enough to enter the national market, they grew too big for their fans.

"If I know the farmer, I could care less for organic labels," said Thomas. "You can pay a lot for organic and you're still getting mass-produced."

Ward and Pruitt go to Happy Cow to load up on milk because the cows are raised humanely, on grass grown without chemical fertilizers, and aren't given bovine growth hormones to increase their milk.

But they also want food produced by a person they can talk to, on land they can see.

"I figure it's local because I can lay my eyes on it," Ward said of the 128-mile trip.

Best friends since college, both are active Presbyterians. "I'm making choices that are in line with my Christian values," Ward explained.

Pruitt is a longtime co-op member who also is a CSA member - it means Community Supported Agriculture, and it's like subscribing to a farm's harvest - at New Town Farms in Waxhaw, N.C.

She's a vegetarian for a long list of reasons. But what she also wants is connection to the people who produce her food.

"If you don't go and meet them, you don't learn about what their story is, that they're doing things you want to support. "The more you support, the more the system gives you what you want." *

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