Many books address local and seasonal foods with an emphasis on quality and freshness. Few offer insight into why supporting local farmers and fishermen is vital to our existence, including the history of where we have been and what lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, we are blessed with historic and teaching farms, roadside stands, one of the most beautiful fishing villages in New England, and easy access to fish caught in nearby waters. With such abundance in our own surroundings, it can be hard to imagine that our purchases actually make a difference to the world and that global issues do affect our community. Here are two books I’ve recently read that bring awareness to these issues.

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg (Penguin Press, 2010)

This quick read helps enlighten anyone who visits a fish market and wonders which fish is farmed versus which is wild or local, as well as those who’ve never even considered where fish comes from. Filled with historical relevance for us New Englanders, Four Fish is about how our relationship with food is evolving. All of us will recognize the four fish: cod, salmon, sea bass, and tuna. What I did not know is these are the four most sought-after fish throughout the world, and all of them were once abundant off the shores of Martha’s Vineyard.

The statistics that Greenberg provides throughout the book are staggering to consider, such as: “We now remove more wild seafood from the oceans every year than the weight of the entire human population of China.”

Greenberg leaves the reader with an appreciation for the preciousness of wild fish, and encourages us to consider farmed fish for our plates. He travels the globe exploring fishing operations and shares his discoveries. Greenberg’s advice: “It’s worth getting to know the fish you eat, the actual animals, not just the flesh. Take some time to understand their lives, their abundance in the world.”

I walked away from this book with a new set of rules about my approach to fish and fishing, chiefly that some farmed fish are a smart option when choosing our food.

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012)

I treasure the taste of tomatoes off the vine in August, with their perfect balance of acid, sugar, salt, and texture. But let’s face it: You can only experience this taste for a few weeks each year. Estabrook takes us on a culinary history tour of the tomato, including current migrant worker job conditions and the real costs associated with cheap tomatoes.

Fifty years ago, breeders began to put their energies toward high yields, uniform size, and perfect appearance – but they left out taste! We learn of commercial growers today in Canada who engage in water-and-fertilizer hydroponic practices and those in Florida who apply more than a hundred different chemical fertilizers and pesticides to their crops. “A distressing number of the chemicals are still on the tomatoes when they reach supermarket produce sections,” Estabrook writes.

We will recognize these tomatoes in our grocery stores and what we read forces us to reconsider our purchase of them. “Almost everything a tomato farmer buys to raise a crop is petroleum-based – chemical plastic bins – and prices rise in lockstep with a barrel of oil.”

Most of our Island tomato growers are dedicated to making their soils healthy, avoiding chemicals, picking when the tomatoes are ripe, and saving their seeds for the next season. By the time I finished the book, I wondered how our Island farmers could possibly make a living charging a mere $5 a pound when so much time, effort, and energy goes into growing just one perfect plate of tomatoes.