Monday, December 29, 2008

The Economic Crisis and Small Farms

I've written many times about the importance of supporting small farms and local food. I have also written about how, local food being more expensive, it can be difficult to do this. I know there's been a lot of local food hype, which is good. But I have mixed feelings about it. For one, this movement has been touted in such a way that it has become elitist and "fashionable" to eat local. I despise that idea because this alienates not only the people who would love to eat local, healthy food but cannot because our society is rigged to favor a healthier upper class and an unhealthy lower class, but it also alienates the farmers who produce the food. Lest ye forget, most farmers can only eat local because they're the ones producing the food. As for the family I have been working for, we eat local cheese and milk (because that's what we produce), but as for local veggies it's a lot spottier. In other words, what we can trade for we get locally, but everything else comes from the supermarket.

I am still going to talk about how important it is to buy local because it is important. Buying local is important because it supports small farmers, the local economy, and usually organic or sustainable practices. Farmers who grow or produce for a local market are heavily invested in the community and so will usually try to hold themselves to a higher standard than conventional farmers who are not at all transparent to their buyers. In other words, local farmers have glass walls, and if something funky is going on, the community is going to know about it.

Another advantage of the local system is that it supports community in a social sense. Humans are social, even though I know many people who think it's cool to sit in front of their tele for hours on end without exercising their social muscles. Farmers markets allow us to interact with all sorts of people, see friends, talk about everything from politics to potatoes, and ask important questions of our farmers that we should be asking of our government and agribiz as well but cannot because those organizations aren't social ones. Thus, a move from the antisocial to the social is a needed change.

I still think local is better even as the economy worsens, and I think we should try to make room in our tightening budgets for some local food, even if we have to cut back overall. I will be traveling to France in only a couple of weeks (aahhh!) and I plan to shop the heck out of the local market there. I realize it is much easier to buy local for one as opposed to a family of hungry children. Even so, it's important. Prioritize. For me this has meant I don't buy fruit--I have learned, much to my chagrin, that fruit is more expensive than most other things at the store. It is also problematic, as many fruits are not grown or harvested sustainably or with regard to the workers who cultivate it. I just go without. In spite of the ever-helpful USDA recommendations to eat such-and-such number of servings of fruit per day, I personally believe that you can get all your nutrients from veggies, whole grains,and whatever source of protein you prefer. As much as I love bananas I decided to give them up. Don't need 'em.

Another money-waster is most boxed cereals. No nutrients, waaay too much sugar, and super-expensive. Most store-bought granolas are pretty worthless too. Make some homemade granola, which can be tailored to your tastes and budget, or try muesli--a mixture of oats and dried fruit that you don't bake at all. In general, I would advise you to lose all the processed foods altogether. You don't need them, trust me. Your poor little tummy and dulled tastebuds will thank you.

I will end with a shout-out to my fellow coffee, tea, and chocolate-lovers. If you live in the states, you probably can't get local coffee or tea or chocolate. This is unfortunate. I would suggest not giving them up altogether but cutting back and purchasing fair trade, organic varieties. This is more expensive, but in my mind there is no justification for the mistreatment and underpayment of laborers on these plantations as well as the destruction of the planet. Again, less is more. It really is. Promise.


Able Oaks Dairy Goats said...

don't forget your local milk producers, many of whom provide milk share programs and farm fresh cheeses.

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