The Spinach Scare

September 18, 2006

I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent scare involving bagged spinach that was contaminated with the E. coli bacteria.

Many people became seriously ill, health alerts were issued, and fresh spinach completely disappeared from grocery stores, restaurant menus, and salad bars across the United States.

While it’s unfortunate that the outbreak occurred and has been linked to an organic produce supplier, a part of the story that goes unnoticed is how an isolated contamination quickly mushroomed to the point of impacting the supply of spinach throughout the entire country.

Who’s Growing Your Fresh Fruits and Vegetables?

It’s mind boggling to think that a single spinach grower or produce distributor could be so large and have a hand in so many different brands of spinach that an event of this magnitude could affect our food supply.

It also illustrates how far we’ve gotten away from the concept of family farms and locally supported agriculture, and instead rely upon big corporate farms and businesses to grow and distribute the food that makes it to our tables.

In most cases these huge corporate farms and produce distributors are faceless, and located thousands of miles away, where consumers could never see the fields or have an opportunity to meet the individuals growing the fruits and vegetables that we eat on a daily basis.

In addition to the disconnection between us and our food, there is also a financial and nutritional expense created by the distance that exists between the public and the farms, gardens, and orchards that we depend on.

The Hidden Costs of Corporate Farming

Part of the expense is the result of energy that is expended in trucking huge amounts of produce from one coast to the other. As oil prices continue to rise, so will the cost of our food. Not just because of the oil products used in the production of food on the farm, but also because of the fuel used to transport fruits and vegetables long distances over the country’s Interstates.

It wasn’t always this way, even after the advent of modern farming techniques. We used to rely much more on seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables that were raised in our own yards, neighborhoods, and communities. Nowadays even some of the food sold at local farmer’s markets is grown elsewhere and shipped into the area.

Another hidden expense of cross country food production and distribution is the potential loss of nutrients in produce that must be transported over long distances. Fruits and vegetables that are picked unripe and subjected to journeys taking days or weeks, and covering hundreds of miles before reaching the intended market can’t help but suffer from some degree of nutrient loss.

Contrast that scenario with the idea of harvesting and consuming locally grown, or better yet home grown produce that can be eaten within days or hours of being plucked from the vine!

Locally Grown Fruits and Vegetables

Not only do you have access to fresher fruits and vegetables containing higher nutrient levels, you also enjoy better tasting produce that can be harvested as it naturally ripens right on the plants. As much as I advocate organic gardening and organically grown produce, I’m just as big of an advocate for supporting locally grown food production.

Unfortunately, the focus of attention from the recent spinach scare will center around guesses as to what caused the E. coli contamination and not much thought will be given to the vulnerability created by our dependence on a limited number of large farms and food distributors that have little if any connection to our local communities.

You probably can’t grow all of your own fruits and vegetables in your back yard, but you can support local growers in your area, and even a small home garden can provide your family with surprising amounts of delicious produce that’s safer, fresher, and tastier than anything sitting on the shelves of your local supermarket.

For ideas on starting your own organic vegetable garden browse the Beginner Gardening Category of this site and the various links to other gardening blogs and websites. You can also receive assistance by contacting the Master Gardener Program in your area, or by talking with your gardening neighbors, I’m sure they would be happy to help you get started with growing your very own vegetable plot.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Excellent post!

  • joanne daly

    We would like to start growing baby spinach. Living in Perth western australia we would like some advice into starting of. With suply of such things as baby spinach more and more becoming a “packaged product” the risk of such things as the spinach scare story has to increase. It realy is simple maths, you put a moist product into a closed environment, have poor or inturupted cold storage, or longer than “should be storage” and bingo you have a increased risk! Over the years I have had vegie gardens and even though I still cannot see a high advantage money wise; for the health of my family and myself the cost becomes less and less an issue a industry tries to control all!
    I am lucky in that Perth is so remote from the rest of the citys in the world we slip under the radar of many things. But most contamination of “fresh foods” is a result of human error and as quality becomes a continued reduced element of food production for the “normal” cost, we must take a good look at how big business see what “Mr and Mrs Normal” will accept as quality! My comments are not new or earth shattering, in fact show a hint of resignation to the “big Boys” and their products! Would just like a few good tips on growing spinach in my own back yard

  • i would have to say that organic gardening is a good way to spend your time and also it can keep you healthy.’,.

  • Organic gardening should be a great way to spend your time and get some fresh vegetables.-;-

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