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The Other Gail Green

Why Gail Simmons went green and why you should too!

By Gail Simmons

About a year ago, I made a very conscious choice to Eat Green. I have always felt strongly about preserving our planet. My father, a chemical engineer and avid nature lover, has spent most of his life actively trying to clean up the mess and waste we have created. He taught me from a young age that this planet is precious. Everyone must take responsibly for his or her actions, especially with regard to the impact we have on the world around us. But it was only recently that I decided to reexamine what I personally can do to tread more lightly on the Earth.

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It happened very shortly after the 2006 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Food & Wine decided we needed to do something BIG for the event's upcoming 25th anniversary, which we celebrated last June. We wanted to create a project that would cause a stir in the industry and, at the same time, make a difference. We realized that after so many years of eating and drinking so well, it was time to give back to those who nourish us. Our editor in chief, Dana Cowin, felt strongly about drawing more attention to the small and mid-size American farmer. After all, it is these hardworking and passionate people who are at risk of losing their livelihoods to industrialization, urban sprawl, and the global market. If we could figure out a way to save some of these farms, we could contribute to helping solve the larger problems that have befallen our planet, including the millions of people in this country who go hungry each day without access to fresh food. In the process we hoped to teach the food and wine community to do the same.

With all this in mind, Food & Wine launched Grow for Good, a campaign to raise $1 million dedicated to raising $1 million in support of local farms and sustainable agriculture. Did you know that the food choices you make every day take a major toll on the planet and the people who care for it? Until last year, I thought I knew the importance of buying food locally: Food tastes better, is of better quality, is healthier, and is better for the environment if eaten at its source. When we began developing Grow for Good, I was exposed to the broader implications of sustainable and locally grown foods. With the help of our friend and philanthropic consultant Dominique Love and her company, Corporate Community Outsourcing, Food & Wine probed a little deeper -- and what we uncovered was nothing short of astonishing!

Chew on this:

America loses two acres of farmland every minute to commercial and residential development and poor food production.

The majority of the money spent on grocery store food goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen, and marketers. Only 3.5 cents of each dollar actually goes to the farmers.

Fruits and vegetables shipped from other states or countries can spend between 7 and 14 days in transit to your local supermarket. And within a week of harvest, natural sugars in fruits and vegetables turn to starches, plant cells shrink and produce loses its vitality.

Many of our foods have been genetically modified or crossbred to withstand shipping. Food that has to be transported long distances is often preserved with waxes, irradiation, gases, and synthetic chemicals, such as fungicides and sprout inhibitors.

40% of our fruit is produced overseas, even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American's house. The broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average of 1,800 miles to get there!

9% of our red meat comes from foreign countries. Who wants meat that has traveled from so far away when America produces some of the best meat in the world?

The longer a product is required to travel, the more energy and fuel it requires, and therefore the higher volume of carbon emissions it releases into the already depleting atmosphere. Gross, right? So now what? Like me, you probably feel completely overwhelmed. Don't be. As Grow for Good has taught me, it's about evolution, not revolution -- and EVERY little bit counts. We cannot all be expected to become "Locavores" overnight. As my father always told me, if we know the facts and do our small part each day, it will add up to great change for the better.

Here are just a few of the things we can all do to Eat Green:

As often as you can, buy food from a farmer's market or farm stand. That way you can be sure most, if not all, of your money goes directly to the farmer.

Ask your local grocer to offer more locally grown ingredients. · Check the labels of the food you purchase to know where it comes from -- be it fruit, meat or cheese. For example, do you really need those Chilean apples? I bet New Jersey produces an apple just as good. When possible, buy items that support your local economy.

Seek out great chefs and restaurants in your area that use local ingredients and have relationships with local farmers. Frequent them.

Deepen your relationship with the ocean by learning what seafood is native to your area and least likely to be endangered by over fishing and pollution.

Invest in a few sturdy, environmentally friendly shopping bags and take them with you to the market. This will help reduce waste made by non-recyclable plastic bags that markets go through by the truckload.

Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) project, which connects consumers to local farms by delivering fresh produce to your door on a weekly or monthly basis.

Have an organic or biodynamic wine party. Get friends together and taste-test the growing number of wines produced in earth-friendly ways. Remember: Vineyard owners and winemakers are farmers too!

Lastly, know that we can all be part of the solution. What has struck me most in this incredibly educational process is that to raise $1 million for Grow for Good requires not just the big donations, but a lot of little gifts too. It's the $10, $20, $50 and $100 gifts that will ultimately allow us to reach our goal. To that end, the local food movement requires commitment from people across the county, in many different forms. Read about it, spread the word, make a donation, and help us save America's farmland to ensure the food you eat goes directly from the farm to your table.

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