When Lori Stubbs noticed her young son was developing eczema and rashes on his skin, she set out to discover the cause. After learning that her son was having a reaction to pesticide residue on store-bought fruits and vegetables, Stubbs — who owns a family farm in Provo — decided the produce she grew would be healthier and free of chemicals.
“We never, ever use sprays or pesticides,” she declared.
Commercial farmers use pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to protect their crops from disease and destruction by insects. While ingesting large quantities of the chemicals prove harmful, the Food and Drug Administration website reported that “more than 99 percent of the residues were washed off at the packing house by the food processor.”
They do encourage consumers to thoroughly wash store-bought produce and discard the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage to lessen the likelihood of pesticide poisoning.
Despite FDA assurances, pesticides are still present at the time of food consumption. A study by the science journal “Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology,” published in December 2012, found a link between consumption of the chemical dichlorophenol, approved for use in pesticides, and the increase in food allergies in the United States (5.1 percent of children under 18 suffer from food allergies in 2011, compared to 3.4 percent in 1999).
The existence of organizations such as Slow Food USA prove that consumers are becoming dissatisfied with mass-produced, grocery store food. Various factors including pesticide use, long-distance transportation and different quality requirements in foreign countries cause concern for American shoppers. Slow Food encourages individuals to buy food from local farmers, or to create their own gardens. The mission statement of the organization is “good, clean and fair food for everyone.”
The Utah chapter of Slow Food, based in Salt Lake City, emphasizes the importance of buying from local growers. New gardeners can attend the monthly events and learn how to best preserve and cook with the produce from their backyard.
Encouraging people to grow their own food has become the life’s work of Spanish Fork resident Michelle Roberts. She, her husband and their 10 children have worked their own farm for eight years. Before that, they owned shares in a Community Supported Agricultural Farm. Owning part of the community farm meant they were in charge of a certain product, such as honey, fruit, vegetables, grain or meat, and then share the yield among themselves.
Roberts and her family started a business to help others become more self-sufficient by building Hoophouses. These are do-it-yourself greenhouse that allow people to grow gardens year-round, in any weather.
“We want everyone to have the knowledge to provide for themselves,” she said.
Roberts has noticed a definite increase in interest in local food since she began farming.
“We put up lots of ads in the beginning, but now we can’t meet the demand,” she said. “The trust of people has been violated by food companies.”
Stubbs is also 15-year veteran of local farmers markets. She noticed an increase in demand, but not necessarily an increase in business. While people are more interested in organic food, they are more likely to start their own gardens rather than visit farmers markets more frequently.
For students at BYU who are unable to start their own large gardens or Hoophouses, farmers markets offer one of the only alternatives to store-bought food. The Happy Valley Farmers Market, the LaVell Edward’s Farmers Market, and the Provo Farmers Market run from August to the end of October in Provo. For the past four years, Stubbs has seen faithful students come to the markets every week.
“As soon as school picks back up, the farmers market picks up,” Stubbs said.
BYU students come from all over the country and world, and those who are used to shopping at local food markets appreciate having a farmers market close to their apartment. Beyond a place to purchase spray-free produce or BYU dining concessions, farmers’ markets provide an environment where students can spend time with friends while interacting with local community members.
Three such freshmen students, Melinda Harper, Camille Andrus and Emily Capson, saw the signs publicizing the LaVell Farmers Market and went to investigate. They lounged on the grass and ate pizza while watching other customers come and go. Although used to larger farmers markets in California, Andrus expressed gratitude for the chance to buy inexpensive produce.
“You can’t really buy in bulk at the Creamery,” she said.
The increase in demand for local food has turned into a great business opportunity for first-time farmers like the Uchytil family, who recently bought a farm on West Mountain. Their three sons, Alex, 16, Daniel, 15, and David, 12, hope to sell enough produce over the next several years to pay for their missions.
Whether they turn to local farmers or build their own gardens, Utah residents are looking for alternatives to traditional grocery store produce. The choices are there, and even students have access to inexpensive food grown without pesticides.
“Local food just tastes better,” Roberts said.