Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Idaho should become self-reliant for food sources

Relocalizing our food system has been a passion of mine for many years.

I am currently the owner of Onsen Farm in the Hagerman Valley, growing food for Idahoans in geothermally heated greenhouses during the winter. In 2006 I helped found Idaho’s Bounty Cooperative, which at different times of the year represents some 79 farmers, ranchers, dairymen, aquaculturists and processors in Southern Idaho. Idaho’s Bounty is committed to linking local farmers with local consumers. My position as a small farmer and local food activist gives me a unique perspective on the state of local food in Southern Idaho.

With all of the buzz around eating local and sustainable, and the amazing farm ground and growing climate in Southern Idaho, local farmers still struggle to stay in business and local consumers still purchase only a small portion of their food from local producers. Older farmers are retiring or nearing the age of retirement, and access for young farmers is difficult due to the high cost of farm land, equipment and limited educational opportunities for young people to learn the business of sustainable farming. As farmers retire, their hard-won knowledge and experience retires with them. As a community we can change this, and we should.

With produce from California increasing in price due to the drought and a greater awareness of the value of fresh nutritious food, there is an amazing opportunity for Idaho’s citizens to take responsibility for their food and increase the production of local produce, meat, dairy, eggs and other products. Ken Meter, in his study titled “Highlights of greater Treasure Valley Farm and Food economy,” says that if we all spent 15 percent of the $1.87 billion annual food budget on locally produced products, we could see a gain of $165 million to new farm economy. That’s significant as much of this value would go to small family businesses and local farmers. Visit Organic/20150514/organic- farmers-processors-struggle-to-meet-demand for an update on demand for organics in Idaho.

There are a few simple things we can all do to help:

• Grow some of your own food so we as a culture begin to remember what it is all about to have beautiful food and a connection to the earth.

• Buy local by spending your food dollars at farmers markets, a local CSA, or markets that promote and sell locally produced food.

• Shop through

Idaho’s Bounty at

• Develop farmer training schools that teach everything from seed to store, including value adding. There are great models out there in other states.

• Invest a portion of your investment dollars in Idaho’s Bounty and other successful local food businesses. Businesses like Idaho’s Bounty and the farmers and consumers that support them have worked for years to support the growth of these businesses, but like all start ups, they require investment to grow and prosper.

• Finally, we need to invest in young farmers who want to farm at whatever scale they choose. This will require everyone, from existing farmers to bankers to investment professionals and consumers, to change the way they think about farming, farmland, investment and education.

Without this investment, we risk a world in which all of our food comes from large, impersonal industrial farms. This is not the world I want for my children. Food is too important. We depend on hardworking farmers and we should work to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed by supporting local farmers and businesses, and by buying local food wherever and whenever we can.