Thursday, August 20, 2020

Local Foods Reality Check

editor's note: I started this post in January.  I am finishing it in August.  That tells you three things:
1. The post was going to require a great deal of energy to complete.
2. I felt it was worthwhile to find the energy to complete it.
3. While I may not have found the energy to complete it, I am going to do my best anyway!


'Tis the season (January) that small farms, such as ours, begin to feel the pressure that is building for the coming year.  Seeds really do need to be ordered and supplies need to be acquired if we are actually going to 'enter the abyss' one more time.  Organic certification packets need to be completed, decisions need to be made regarding advertising.  At the same time, taxes and reporting for the prior year need completion. 

Meanwhile, the various local food and farming organizations fight for some of our attention before our season really gets going and we have none to spare.  There will be 'local foods' dinners and 'local foods' fairs/promotions.  Nice things will be said and implied promises will be made.

I don't get as excited about these events and all of the promise of a new season as I did at one point in time.  There really is no secret to it.  This is simply what happens over time when the good words are not followed by good action.  Or, when the good actions just don't line up and all of the positive feelings you had evaporate in the reality of what the current day brings.

Caveats for the Current Reality?
Here is where I give a nod to the current situation where we are facing a pandemic and (finally) facing up to the fact that we do not treat all segments in our population equitably.  These are both REALLY big deals and are deserving of our energy to make things better on all fronts for all people.

But, maybe we need to stop hiding behind the excuses that there is so much going on right now and seize the opportunity that is now - a time to become better in so many ways. 

The main theme?  Being and doing better for each other - despite our differences.  And, being and doing better for the earth's environment and the communities that live on it.

Questionable Priorities on all Sides
Small farms and businesses pursue the almighty dollar most effectively when they manage to hit the current convenience, entertainment or pleasure item.  In states where it is legal, food growers are looking to cannabis because the money looks like it will pay out for them better than if they grow the nutritious food they had previously grown.  Other growers chased the winery trend and still others chased or are chasing the hops phase.  In some ways, I have a hard time arguing with this because it is true - you can make more money with those crops (at the moment) than you can with produce and people ARE more likely to patronize you if you make things more convenient.  But, these things all shift and change - and it's not always so easy to completely overhaul a farm each time that happens.

We (the royal we) sell cookies, chocolate, sweet breads, pies and other pre-made, non-local and not necessarily all that good for us or our world items to raise money so our children can be involved in various activities.  Some of these activities make one wonder about what we value as well - especially when we opt not to fund so many worthwhile school activities that could benefit all students.  Instead, we fund-raise and support many who already have the means and opportunity to participate.

People will shell out money for a decorative, non-edible pumpkin, little haybales, shocks of corn stalks, but they question the price of a cucumber (or two).  All while holding a $5.75 latte' purchased at the chain coffee place down the street.

We put together and host 'local foods dinners or events' and seek out local foods for those events... once or twice a year.  Schools can be counted as part of a "successful" Farm to School program if they purchase local once a year.  A big deal is made by a grocery that they purchased cucumbers from a local farm after they pick up a fifty pound crate and sell it all quickly - but never order from that farm again.  In each case, everyone looks good to the general public.  Promotion accomplished.  On the other hand, the farmer begins to wonder why they even bother chasing these accounts for the once a year feel good fest.

Small, local farms, orchards, vinyards, etc. keep looking for agri-tourism ideas to put themselves in front of the public and hopefully have a successful face that drives people to continue to patronize them and buy their product.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with these events, there is something not quite right about a farm that is working very hard to produce high quality food having to ADD entertainment value to get you to buy their product.

We Do Not Value Food

Apparently, "food" is too easy for us and we do not value it - and I speak to us all individually and as a community and society.  And before you tell me that I am only saying this because our farm sells food and we want to be grumpy, allow me to point out that we have been scaling back and we have less of a personal stake in this game than we once did.  We will not return to the CSA program that our farm provided from 2005 to 2019.  We might continue to do the farm credit program that we're trialing this season.

And I STILL believe we do not value our food.  

We ALMOST started to value our food as the pandemic started putting some bumps in the misguided and poorly designed food supply chain that we have allowed to be developed over the past century.  I will admit that some people who were already paying some attention to where their food came from are re-dedicating themselves to that particular task - and I applaud them whole-heartedly.  This post should only be a re-affirmation for them.

Unfortunately, what I have written here is directed to those who won't read this post.  This is for the person who jumped on the CSA bandwagon this Spring, filling up my farmer peers' subscription lists and raising their hopes that maybe things will really get moving for local foods.  I have seen this before - this zeal and excitement.  And, I have watched it fade rapidly.  If past history is any indication, I predict that 75% of the new CSA subscribers that jumped on getting a share this year will not return for 2021.

Prove me wrong.  Prove me wrong without needing a pandemic or other disaster to encourage you.


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