Eat Local Week hopes to increase awareness of local agriculture

Saturday, September 12th marked the start of the annual Eat Local Week, a week long state-wide program that promotes local food and agriculture.  The event is intended to celebrate Utah’s agricultural heritage while increasing the connection Utahns feel towards the local agriculture community. 

The desire for locally grown produce is growing in Utah according to a recent survey from Envision Utah. The survey was part of Envision Utah’s Your Utah Your Future, a two month online survey that was cross-checked with a Dan Jones random sample survey.  The study focused on key issues related to Utah’s projected population growth, including agriculture.  

Of the 53,000 Utahns that participated in the survey, 98 percent of them indicated support “to increase food self-sufficiency” by growing more fruits and vegetables locally while preserving and increasing disappearing agriculture land.

“The interest in locally-grown food has skyrocketed in the last decade,” said Robert Grow, President and CEO of Envision Utah in a press release.  “Utahns want to protect agricultural land and water for food production. That’s not what we’ve been doing historically. Much of our best land for growing fruits and vegetables is being developed for homes and businesses.”

The Eat Local Week seeks to increase Utah’s awareness of local produce.  The key component of the event is the Eat Local Challenge, a pledge to eat locally produced food for one week.  According to event organizers the Challenge offers three levels of intensity to encourage more people to participate.  

While the recent increase in local farmers markets helps in making local produce more accessible, according to the findings published by Envision Utah, Utah’s food production has declined sharply.   Currently Utah farmers now produce just 2 percent of vegetables, 3 percent of fruit and 25 percent of the dairy required to meet the state’s dietary needs.

Utahns appear more willing to make changes need to encourage farming.  Those surveyed indicated that they would be willing to reduce individual water consumption, support building restrictions on quality farmland and spend more money to transport water to urban areas to accommodate farming.

Many active farms will need to consider new crops as well. According to Ryan Beck, a senior planner at Envision Utah, alfalfa is the dominate crop produced in Utah and the majority of that goes to China.

Apart from encouraging farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables, Beck suggests that active planning, new technology and financial incentives may be needed to protect local agriculture.

“We want to make it more convenient to keep agriculture in Utah,” said Beck.

According to Adrienne Tuerpe, a program manager for Eat Local Week, the program began in 2007 after a Salt Lake couple attempted to only eat food produced within a 250 mile radius of their home.   Since that couple’s initial challenge to eat local, the campaign has evolved into a statewide non-profit program. 

Eat Local Week runs through the week with a documentary film screening of On Her Own on Monday, Sept. 14, and local cooking and pickling classes on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Other events include the Real Food Rising Fall Celebration, Wasatch Cooperative Market’s Local Food and Art Show, and the Liberty Heights Fresh Anniversary Party. Eat Local Week will close with a celebration held on Saturday, September 19 at 6pm on the rooftop of Harmons City Creek.

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