by Margaret Wente for The Globe and Mail
Published Saturday, Jul. 07 2012, 2:00 AM EDT
Nothing beats the taste of a homegrown tomato. I should know. I’ve been growing them for years. My idea of heaven is a ripe, fresh-picked tomato still warm from the sun, eaten plain with a little salt.
Mind you, tomato-growing has its challenges. Drought , damp and blight are constant problems. Some years it’s too rainy and some years it’s too cold. Sometimes everything goes great until August, when the tomato leaves suddenly turn brown and shrivel up. And no matter how we try to stagger our harvest, we always have too few tomatoes (11 months a year) or too many (the other month). Every fall I wind up making eleventeen quarts of tomato sauce from our surplus harvest. I call it our special hundred-foot sauce. I now have frozen sauce dating back to 2007.
And that’s what’s wrong with locavorism. It’s the most wasteful, inefficient way to feed the human race you can possibly imagine. It’s also bad for the environment.
Case in point: Our own idyllic countryside, an hour and a half’s drive from Toronto. In the mid-1800s it was settled by hard-working farmers who all, by necessity, had 100-mile diets. I pity the poor wretches who tried to eke a living from our stony, hilly, clayey soil, whose only good feature is the views.
Subsistence farming was backbreaking and unprofitable work. It was also terrible for the environment. The land wasn’t very productive, so farmers needed a lot of it to grow stuff. Soon most of the forests had been chopped down and serious erosion had set in. The area turned into a giant dust bowl.
Today, vastly more efficient methods allow farmers to grow a lot more food on a lot less land. Now they can specialize. Some of our local land is ideal for potatoes, so farmers grow trainloads of them and sell them all over Canada. They do very well. Not only does long-distance trade maximize output and lower prices, it’s also good for the environment. Today much of the crummy, unproductive farmland (such as ours) has reverted back to forest. The area is greener and more hospitable to wildlife than it’s been for 150 years.