Monday, February 06, 2012

You Can Drill for Oil, But where do you Dig for Carrots?

In North Dakota, we hear a lot about the effects of the oil boom on the eastern part of our state.  We hear about the condition of roads, the burden on schools and social services.  We hear about the lack of housing and the burden on local infrastructure.  We hear about the shortage of workers.  One thing we don't often hear about is what it is doing to our food systems. 

With my work through the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture at Dakota College at Bottineau, the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association and as a member of many local foods committees and associations across the state and a producer myself, I hear a lot about local foods and our access to fresh produce as North Dakotan's. 

This past weekend I attended the Local Foods and North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association annual conference.  It was energizing, empowering, and optimistic as many producers and local food proponents from all across our great state got together to increase the availability of local foods.  Then, yesterday, I attended a Super Bowl party.  I met a young gal from Dickinson.  She sent me the photo above.  She told me her story.  It went something like this...
"I dropped into our local WalMart on Friday to quickly pick up some baby carrots, some lettuce and some pre-cut apples.  I got to the store and couldn't believe what I was seeing.  I took the photo to send to my Mom as the produce shelves at WalMart were mostly bare."

Keep in mind folks, the shelves were not bare because WalMart was cleaning, changing shelving or otherwise doing maintenance.  They were bare because demand is outpacing supply.  Demand is outpacing supply because of the influx of additional people into our communities with the oil boom. 

What does that say about our food system when a mass distributor like WalMart can't keep up?  What does that mean for our home town groceries?

We talk a lot about food desserts and how a food desert is a place without easy access to fresh produce.  In the past, we have not included Dickinson in this desert.  But I think we have re-draw the map.  This sure looks like a food desert to me. 

This is a call to action to all local producers in the western part of the state and a wake up call for all of us.  We need to grow more of our own produce, extend our seasons and make sure we can feed our own - the young, the old, the newcomers, and the oil workers.  It's just as important as making sure we have roads.

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