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In the USDA’s first-ever market report about the local foods economy in the U.S., the story that emerges is of two distinct farming cultures. Small farms, defined as those generating $50 grand or less in gross yearly sales, account for the vast majority of farms selling local fruits and vegetables, mostly to the actual consumer. Yet — no surprise here — a few much larger farms took in half of all dollars spent on local food, to the tune of $2.7 billion, through more traditional distribution channels.
Especially striking was how much time small-farm farmers devote to selling, as compared to the bigger guys. And yet these small-farm folks bring in an average of just $7800 per farm per year — and they don’t tend to work off farm, to boot. What that means is they take home less dough than just about anybody else in America including the unemployed.
This is worrying if you like eating locally. You wonder how many farmers will eventually decide they require more than sub-poverty level wages, no matter how obsessed and passionate they are about growing good things to feed people.
It’s also cause for soul-searching as a consumer. I know it’s heresy to suggest as much, but are farmers markets really the best way to ensure a strong future for local foods if they generate little income for farmers? Can retail markets evolve so that local foods are increasingly available, while paying small farmers a living wage? Will consumers continue to buy local produce if there isn’t a face and story to accompany it? Do the smallest craft farms deserve special support, or is the bigger-is-better model simply more sustainable?
What do you think?
While on hiatus from the food blog life — a hiatus I’m enjoying quite a bit, thank you, because this gig can really suck you in — things evolved on the Interwebs. The whole food-cart phenomenon caught on, enabled by Twitter, a happy development for those traveling with bambino in tow. People are opening brick and mortar restaurants. One favorite blogger, Langdon Cook, published his first book, the fabulous Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager. Another favorite blogger, Hank Shaw, is at work on a book about honestly gotten food.
Then there’s this new trend of blogging farmers, which includes the Stokesberry chicken people from Olympia, Local Roots Farm in Carnation, the Foraged and Found folks, and Shelley at Whistling Train Farm, all purveyors of some of the best local things to eat. Seriously, how do they find the time?
In any case, I was psyched to read that the Stokesberrys are raising their first flock of ducks for market. Could I be any more excited about the prospect? No, I don’t think I could, even if the gratification isn’t quite as instant as, say, Twitter to Skillet street food in 30 minutes. But knowing the Stokesberrys, this is going to be some seriously good fowl.
Alaska’s long summer days in all their cruciferous glory: Steve Hubacek won last night’s giant cabbage weigh-off at the Alaska State Fair with a world record 127-pound entry (Anchorage Daily News story).
If your dedication to local food ever wavers, San Fransisco-based food journalist Eric Burkett is following food industry product recalls on his blog Industrial Omelet. His latest post covers Plainview Milk Products, JBS Swift Beef Co and an update on the Nestlé Toll House cookie dough saga.
Eric was a reporter at the Anchorage Daily News before moving to California to become a chef.
Last week President Obama released his fiscal 2010 budget for the Food & Drug Administration, and we here at Eat Local Northwest were extremely pleased to learn that he’s proposing to increase food safety dollars from $508 million last year to $649 million in ’09 — and then $783 million in 2010. I knew there was something I liked about that guy! That’s a 47% increase over three years, the largest in FDA history. Looks like we might finally get serious about the food we eat, and soon.
You sort of already knew this, but according to the latest issue of Organic Gardening, reducing your red meat consumption by just 15% decreases greenhouse gas emissions as much as eating a totally local diet. That’s because of all the greenhouse gases that are generated when grain is transported to feedlots. But even 100% pastured cows generate greenhouse gases. Point taken.
Great opinion piece today by Marcella Hazan on the slow demise of the home cook.
Most of the time I’m merely trying to keep up, trying to write just enough on a two or three day count that I don’t forget how to do it. Call it a hazard of the day job. I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that I won’t be inspired every time I fire up the laptop, that some posts will simply be serviceable. That’s why it’s so exciting when a post comes out just so. I can feel it in the rhythm of the language, in the bones of the story.
Sometimes I’ll read something on one of my favorite blogs and likewise think, ‘Hey, that’s right on.’ These posts always tell a good story. They’re typically pretty short. They’re often a fresh spin on the season but really about the larger drama of reclaiming our food and where it comes from. In all, they’re good inspiration for a writer’s soul. Here are a few of them:
Hunter Angler Gardener Cook’s tale of found morels
Herbwife’s Kitchen’s ode to wild onions
Green Bean Dreams’ slipping slugs a mickey
And Cincy Locavore’s great post, evolution of oats into non-food.
Here at Eat Local Northwest we generally leave the politics of food to others, because doing it right requires more complexity than we can offer in a short space and so many are already doing an excellent job. But sometimes a single story captures intersecting forces so well, magnifies what’s really at stake, that it’s hard not to call attention to it. An article in today’s NY Times, Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories, describes how escalating fuel prices are causing food shortages in the poorest and hungriest places on earth, particularly through the rising price of cooking oils. Check it out.
And if you like, read our previous post about local hunger right here in cosmopolitan, literate Seattle.