Consider buying local produce when possible while acknowledging change in agriculture

There’s a reason they stack bags of potatoes near the ordering counter at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. They’re making the point that food with fresh ingredients is being served. 

Things that are blatantly real are oft scarce in the modern world. Media surrounds us with virtual reality, which helps make us more tolerant of processed foods that are shadows of the meat, grains, vegetables and fruits that inspired them. Yet as scarce as real is, so is time, and so for many of us is money. 

Thus fresh potatoes in an eatery are a novelty.

A buddy and I made a trip to Five Guys on Sunday just because we’d heard they served French fries made from freshly peeled and cut up potatoes. Five Guys is a relatively new franchise eatery in Platte County in the Tiffany Springs area. That fries alone would be a motivator to make a drive to dine says something about the modern food world. 

Once upon a time potatoes were always relatively fresh at diners whether mashed, baked or fried. Now, in most places, only the baked potato doesn’t seem processed; the fries often taste like greasy cardboard made palatable by the grease and lots of salt.

Arthur Bryant’s BBQ has long been one of the few purveyors for fresh potato fries in the Kansas City area. Now and then I’ll come across the real thing elsewhere, but it’s rare.
Spring is a good season to note these things. 

Farmers are putting crops in the ground. Gardeners have the early spring vegetables planted and business is picking up at the seed shops. Our choices help shape their planting. 

Food does not magically appear on grocery shelves. It is grown, planted or nurtured, butchered or harvested, and sometimes processed. 

All this before we eat. And we’re so used to eating well we rarely think about where the food is coming from.  

A conflict is ongoing in the food world, both among those who grow food and those who seek to influence consumer choices. I listened last week to a two-hour panel session about food that highlighted conventional food farming versus alternatives such as organic, locally grown food.

A video archive of the panel was on Michele Martin’s “Going There” website. It was recorded last week at an event hosted by KCUR radio, the Kansas City area National Public Radio affiliate.

A farmer who represents standard agriculture with big fields, giant tractors and genetically modified seed stated his case. So did some folks who choose to consume or raise organic produce. 

A few people on the panel were in-betweeners, utilizing both styles. 

At times the discussion between the two camps got testy. The organic camp claimed to support better human health and the wellness of agriculture communities. Standard ag supporters claimed they sustainably provide food that’s both healthy and affordable. 
Who’s right? 

Both have a place in the current era of change. We need movement towards wholesome, flavorful food produced locally. Also we need farming methods that take good care of soil and water, and that leave strips of native plant cover here and there for the pollinating insects. 

But at the same time, not everyone can afford the sometimes higher prices on locally-sourced or organic foods. The sun that provides the energy for all food production keeps rising and setting, seasons roll past, and all people need to eat. 

Somehow we have to keep affordable food rolling to the store while looking for ways to make adjustments in how food is provided.

Platte County is at the center of this process. We have farmable ground close to the city and the rapidly expanding suburbs, so producers have plenty of customers close to farm. 

Keep an eye out for a chance to buy tomatoes and potatoes at the farmer’s markets this summer in places such as Parkville and Platte City. But at the same time, we need to realize that modern production agriculture is still a part of our Platte County economy. 

That means making room for cattle and combines. We are blessed to have farmers as neighbors to our homes and towns. 

Support local small farmers when you can by seeking out their products, whether it’s cheese, squash or pasture-to-freezer beef. Take some time, too, to think about food and study the issues surrounding agriculture. 

Just like sunlight striking the Earth, food production and consumption is basically energy in constant motion. The future is going to depend on thoughtful consumers supporting progressive producers, and hopefully farms will still be growing food close to homes in Platte County a century from now.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at