Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The direct farmer-to-eater economy

When we sow, transplant, water, weed, feed and harvest, we think about who is going to enjoy the fresh produce and what they might do with it. Sometimes that means we think of ourselves. And most of the time that means we think of our family, friends and neighbors: I know my sister is going to love these Brussels sprouts... I wonder if the kids down the road actually like receiving this much broccoli... everyone's going to want more of these heirloom tomatoes. That's a nice connection we have as small-scale farmers who use the CSA model to share produce with the community: we actually know our customer base. There are a lot of small farms here in the Hudson Valley and around the U.S. who have the same experience selling directly to people.

The direct farmer-to-eater relationship is an important one in farming. To me, it provides a feeling of simplicity and community.

However, the economy that has been dominant in farming (and in all other industries, for that matter), which relies on middlemen to package, process or distribute goods, has changed our relationship with food and each other. The loss in knowledge and interest in how food gets into our kitchens and onto our plates seems to have created a culture of thinking that packaged goods with non-food ingredients or additives are normal. We have become alienated from the nourishment we feed our bodies. Similarly, we don't think of the farmers or farm-workers who are actually producing basic food ingredients.** The average farmer now makes 10-19 cents per dollar on the food they produce - and the remainder goes to middlemen. And the majority of the time, the money we spend on our food is being distributed across the country rather than going back into our local community.

Changing the way we, as a society, purchase our food is no easy task. But I can't think of anything more important that we buy than the food we feed ourselves and our families. So starting by encouraging the direct farmer-to-eater economy might help us better appreciate the health of our bodies and our community.

** This alienation from the raw ingredients/materials and producers/manufacturers goes beyond food products, obviously. It is rare to consider this when we buy our gas, our clothes, our pens and pencils, our tools, or anything else.

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