EarthTalk: I know that local food has health
and environmental benefits, but my local grocer only carries
a few items. Is there a push for bigger supermarkets to
carry locally produced food?
-- Maria Fine, Somerville, MA
foods are now more widely available than ever. To
find local food near you, visit localharvest.org,
which lists organic food sources by zip code. Pictured:
the Kootenay Country Store Co-op in Nelson, British
© Donkeycart, courtesy Flickr
eating locally sourced foods, we strengthen the bond between
local farmers and our communities, stay connected to the
seasons in our part of the world, promote crop diversity,
and minimize the energy intensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting
transportation of food from one part of the world to another.
Also, since local crops are usually harvested at their peak
of freshness and typically delivered to stores within a
day, customers can be sure they are getting the tastiest
and most nutritious forms of the foods they like.
for consumers and the environment, local produce and other
foods are now more widely available than they have been
for decades. The first national grocery chain to prioritize
local producers, perhaps not surprisingly, was natural foods
retailer Whole Foods, which was buying from local farmers
and ranchers since it opened its first store in 1980 in
Austin, Texas. Today each of the company‘s 270-plus
stores in 38 U.S. states prioritizes local sourcing—so
much so that its customers take it for granted. Whole Foods‘
relationships and distribution arrangements with local producers
serve as models for the leading national grocery chains,
many of which are beginning to source some produce locally
when the season is right.
are taking more initiative than others. Perhaps most notable
is Walmart. Back in 2008 the company committed to sourcing
more local fruits and vegetables to keep produce prices
down and provide affordable, fresh and healthy choices.
Today more than 2,800 Walmart Supercenters and Neighborhood
Markets across the country rely on a diverse network of
small local growers to provide produce—making Sam
Walton‘s company the nation’s largest purchaser
of local produce. During summer months, at least one-fifth
of the produce available in Walmart stores is grown within
the same state as the given store.
company‘s Heritage Agriculture program encourages
farms within a day‘s drive of one of its warehouses
to grow crops that the company would otherwise have to source
from so far away that freshness would be jeopardized and
the fuel burned and greenhouse gases emitted in the process
would be substantial. While the Heritage program currently
accounts for only four to six percent of the company‘s
total domestic produce sales, the company is aiming for
20 percent within the next few years.
big grocery chains aren‘t far behind. Safeway, one
of the top three grocery chains in the country, prides themselves
on local sourcing, getting nearly a third of its produce
nationwide from local/regional growers. In heavy agricultural
regions like California, the figure can be as high as 45
percent. The company has also made a big push into organic
products, just like its biggest competitor, Walmart.
the chain grocer near you doesn‘t do a good job stocking
locally sourced food, there are alternatives. Community
Supported Agriculture programs, in which consumers “subscribe”
to the produce of a given farm by paying monthly dues that
entitles them to a box of fresh produce every week, are
more popular than ever, as are local farmers‘ markets,
food co-ops and independent natural foods markets. To find
local food near you, visit the Local Harvest, which lists
organic food sources by zip code and offers a wealth of
resources for those looking to learn more about where their
food comes from and how it is produced.
EarthTalk: How are wild turkeys faring in the
U.S.? Occasionally I‘ll see some crossing the road,
but how well could they be doing with all the development
going on around them?
-- Harley Barton, Hingham, MA
the early 1900s, only 30,000 wild turkeys roamed the
continental U.S., having been exterminated across
almost half their former range. Today, as many as
seven million roam the countryside across every U.S.
state except Alaska . Pictured: Wild turkeys photographed
near Little River, Georgia.
© Vicki DeLoach, courtesy Flickr
No one can be
sure how many tens of millions of wild turkeys roamed what
was to become the continental United States when the Puritans
dined on them at the first Thanksgiving in 1621 near Plymouth
Rock, but there were obviously enough of the birds to make
them easy prey. By the late 1700s turkeys across the frontier
were being harvested with reckless abandon. The food shortages
that accompanied the Civil War accelerated demand for wild
turkeys, and their numbers started to dwindle to startlingly
low levels. By the early 1900s, only some 30,000 wild turkeys
remained; the birds had been extirpated across almost half
of their former range.
But things started
to turn around for wild turkeys in the 1920s. For starters,
millions of acres cleared by the pioneers began to regenerate
into the type of woodland habitat where the birds could
thrive. But the real boost for wild turkeys came in the
form of legislation. At the urging of hunters, state wildlife
agencies, and the firearms industry, Congress passed the
landmark Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson
Act) in 1937, which placed an excise tax on guns, ammo and
other hunting gear. A portion of the billions of dollars
raised from the law have been and continue to be allocated
toward restoring wildlife habitat across the country.
By 1959, wild
turkey numbers jumped sixteen fold, topping half a million
birds across the U.S. A 1973 wild turkey census by the then
newly formed National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) turned
up something like 1.3 million birds. NWTF, which was founded
by hunters to aid in turkey conservation efforts, would
turn out to be instrumental in shepherding the wild turkey‘s
recovery by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in
charitable donations and grants into habitat recovery and
bird relocation projects. Although the birds will likely
never return to the population levels pre-dating white settlement,
they haven‘t been healthier in 300+ years. These days
as many as seven million wild turkeys roam the countryside
and can be found in every U.S. state besides Alaska.
Of course, our
success in restoring habitat for wild turkeys has also been
beneficial for a wide range of wild animals. Conservations
credit the visionary Pittman-Robertson Act (along with the
hard work of dedicated wildlife managers) as instrumental
in the recovery of not only wild turkeys but also once struggling
populations of white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, wood
duck, beaver, black bear, Canada goose, American elk, desert
bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion, and several species
of predatory birds.
Besides the animals
and biodiversity benefitting from species recovery, hunters
can also rejoice, especially given that it has been their
money that has funded many of the projects to restore habitat
where they hunt. Turkey hunting is traditionally an autumn
pursuit, culminating at Thanksgiving, of course, but each
state has its own laws regarding when and where turkey hunting
is allowed. NWTF provides a free online state-by-state “Fall
Turkey Hunting Guide” with hunting season dates and
other pertinent information to help hunters plan their next
trip wherever it may take them in the continental U.S. The
website also serves as an invaluable resource for information
and resources pertaining to conservation, hunting and other
topics related to wild turkeys.
Wild Turkey Federation.
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