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Editorial for Climate Week: Ag Experts Say "Eat Local" Maybe, Maybe Not- BUT HERE's WHY!

By Edie Johnson

North Carolina's Famed "Purple Honey"

The old adage that "You are what you eat" may be sound advice. But what are the main reasons, and do they hold true? The concept grew from the knowledge that a local farmer knows his/her own land, and has taken care of it along with the agricultural goods it produces. Native American tribes leaned heavily on this, and it's not surprising given the emphasis they put on taking good care of Mother Earth. So, the concept is basically sound. But what if in your area "Local" is a toxic dump, or an area strip mined (etc. etc.).

There are many factors in the potential benefits of eating locally. Kudos to our Orange County farmers, who have (if they weren't already), taken up the torch of earth friendly farming, and techniques of avoiding pesticides, planting cover crops, and adding swaths of native and flowering plants to replenish the soil as naturally as possible. One savy local farmer told me just last week, "It's no wonder most of the tomatoes in stores have no taste." That goes for home grown pork, beef, and just about any of the products we put in our bodies. But there is an entire other level of analysis. The pigs and cattle, tomatoes, lettuce, peaches and all our foods ARE what they eat as well (i.e. the specific nutrients in that soil, air, and water). And we are just beginnning to understand exactly what nutrients that each food thrives on (or fails to thrive on). Ag extension agencies have come up with good overall analysis and recommendations, but we are going into new territory in planting skills these days.

So here's the catch, for example: Beekeepers in France noticed that the honey their bees were producing had turned strange shades of dark blue and tan. They couldn't honestly sell it until they figured out what was up. Farmers in North Carolina, USA noticed that honey in certain historic areas of the mountains were a beautiful purple and burgundy-rose color. The beess in France were discovered to have been munching on discarded shells of M&M's, at a landfill, while the ones in North Carolina apparently found certain colored mountain flowers particularly tasty (Hey, they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains). I myself have witnessed moths in my back field. Some are white. But by the end of Summer others are faint replicas of the colors of the green clover and lavender of clover flowers they were munching on.

Coincidence? I think not, because, as we said "You are (and become) what you eat", and apparently that may well be both inside and out. And we already know on a basic level, but need to ingrain it more deeply that water knows no municipal bounderies. But guess what? Neither does air.or the billions of particles in the air that travel the entire earth, or the animals and birds that ingest fruits and seeds and then travel dozens and sometimes hundreds and thousads of miles, depositing the particulates along the way.

Along that line, Yesterday I was walking through the grove of well over 200-year old giant maple, walnut and oak trees in the fields between my home and my neighbors'. I was astounded by the number of nuts and nut shells and maple tree seeds (and actually 8 baby maple trees that have grown almost 2 ft. in 3 years). What came to mind is that this incredibly successful cluster of trees is not only making its own "bed" so to speak.....It is feeding itself a giant helping of the exact genetically based nutrients that form their successful growth molecules into leaves, nuts, berries. sap and trunks. And THIS is probably why old growth forests are so prolific and long-lasting, and why our historic Orange County Apple, Peach groves, and yes Pumpkin patches continue to thrive. They're "on a roll", so to speak with hundreds of years of just the right nutrients from their ancestral crops. With just a little extra help from the farmer (and maybe a little manure from the horse farm next door) they naturally have the optimum soil to thrive.

Providing Natural Immunities

1- Scientists have already proven that bees that sup on native flowers in the brush between homes and farms have been able to avoid Colony Collapse Disorder in MUCH greater numbers than those who don't. These hardy flowers (often considered weeds) have unusual antibiotic, antiseptic and autoimmune benefits. Do they pass them on to the humans who eat that honey? Many think so. Are different varieties offering different benefits? Of course! And what are the likely other immune boosting effects we get from an environment our body knows, vs. foods from distant lands?, as well as some benefits of those fro far off places. It's true but ot quite so simple as Mangoes are great for vitamin A, and "My body seems to know that these local tomatoes are the best for me." We knew that, but now we're learning it on a whole new level. The next step is to continue learning more precisely which nutrients benefit the things they grow in which ways, and therefore likely benefit us in similar ways. As I walk along the border between the maple and oak grove and the horse paddocks, the hazlenuts plonk to the ground nearly hitting me on the there might be a few diadvantages as well (sic.... the plonking of hazlenuts, walnuts and acorns is an awesome sound).

ALL of this points dramatically at the need for LEGACY FARMING.

When I compare what I have learned during the relatively short time I've lived on a historic farm (settled in 1810) and what it will take to keep this land healthy, I marvel at the other historic farms in our area, where generations from the same family have been able to pass on the knowledge of their land from generation to generation. It's precisely the reason for their great success and the tourists who come to visit. The black dirt that graces the valleys obviously must add special mineral qualities as well.

This is what the future of our historic farmlands AND the health of our our climate depends on. Generation upon generation of LEGACY FARMERS. And as each generation takes its turn, what could be more fun than watching white moths turn lavender, or hearing your neighbor's 2 1/2 year old son's pride in learning the naes of each variety of nut, carefully planting and watching a Hickory nut turn into a baby Hickory tree.

On Climate Week - Let us remember, just like WE are what we eat, and our soil and food are what they eat, so it goes with the air and water and indeed our infinite surroundings.

Note: Just for fun, puzzle me this. We have noticed that quite a number of natural growing flowers are the color we call "Purple". In one of his educational shorts, my favorite scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson explained that "There really is no natural color of Purple. It's what our brain fills in ... extrapolates...along the spectrum where there is no color" Now there's a concept pretty much beyond comprehension.

French Honey made by bees that went on an M&M shell eating binge

(Neil deGrasse Tyson's very funny short about how perception of color works)

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