Who’s YOUR Farmer?

In a lot of social settings one might be asked the question, “Where’d you go to school?” (Where I live, that actually doesn’t mean, “Where’d you go to college?” it means “Where’d you go to high school?”) But now, increasingly, I am being asked a new question, one that I would like to challenge each and every consumer in America to consider. That is: “Who’s your farmer?”

In order to answer this question, you need to be involved in one of several activities. You could either be a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) coop, buy from a local farmers’ market, grow your own produce (in which case YOU are your farmer), or be lucky enough to have a local grocer who is committed to making locally grown products available to his or her customers. (According to the USDA, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.)

Why does it matter if you can name “your” farmer? A recent article in Time magazine highlighted the fact that “the organic-vs.-local debate has become one of the liveliest in the food world.” The key question, posed eloquently by ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan in his 2002 memoir, Coming Home to Eat is, "If you send it halfway around the world before it is eaten, an organic food still may be 'good' for the consumer, but is it 'good' for the food system?"

In an article in the June issue of Mother Jones, novelist, environmentalist, farmer-cum-lately, and fellow Kentuckian Barbara Kingsolver tells the tragic tale of local farmers who, thinking they had a “deal” with local grocers, “learned organic methods, put away the chemicals, and [did] everything right to grow a produce consumers claimed to want.” But when they took their harvests to the grocers, the buyers “backtracked.” As it turns out, “pallets of organic tomatoes from California had begun coming in just a few dollars cheaper. It’s hard to believe, given the amount of truck fuel involved, but transportation is tax-deductible for the corporations, so we taxpayers paid for the shipping.” Your tax dollars at work!

Want to spend your money buying delicious, healthy, nutritious food, instead of paying for fossil fuel? Want to find your own farmer? One place you might start to look for ways to accomplish both these goals is to visit www.eatlocalchallenge.com, where lots of tips are available, along with this simple algorithm for making choices: “If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic. If not ORGANIC, then Family farm. If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business. If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade.” So, who’s YOUR farmer? (Just for the record, my farmer is Kathleen Brocious of Tenacity Farm. Thanks, Kathleen.)

Caroline Heine

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 18, 2007 in Environment | Permalink | Comment