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Saturday, October 9, 2010

How far is too far?

One week from today I take my local foods show on the road. I love to talk about local food, local food systems and the need for sustainability in our food network.

Did you know that if trucks couldn't get into North Dakota, most grocery stores would only have enough food for three days?

I'll be on my soapbox on Saturday at the Women's Showcase in Fargo. As my colleague and I were discussing our talk, we knew we didn't want to pull any punches. But at the same time..."How far is too far?" Should we show them the video of chicken nugget production? Should we talk about high fructose corn syrup?

I hate the fact that the USDA and their cohorts have painted the local foods picture as "cute". "Come, everybody, let's buy a tomato at the farmers market this week!" Local food sustainability isn't cute, it's vital. But it's a wonder of modern science that we can buy tomatoes in the grocery store in January! Right? WRONG. On so many levels.

So I'm torn, what do I say? How much do I say? And, most importantly, will they listen before it's too late?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A New Form of Slavery?

A couple of weeks ago, I drove into a yard to make a delivery. One of our regular customers was out of town and wanted to share that week's produce with her neighbor. As I drove in my jaw dropped at all the new farm equipment, new machinery, new buildings and new house. I was staring at roughly millions of dollars. Now, this neighbor is younger than my husband. I'm willing to bet every bit of it was financed.

I can almost guarantee that I would choke if I had to look at that much debt every single day of my life. How is a farmer supposed to make a living, and I'll even add a life, when they start out in debt to the tune of millions of dollars? Lending institutions are making loans based on recent production trends and prices. Which, history will substantiate, are the best we've had for quite some time. What happens when we get a drought? What happens if the prices drop? What do those farmers do then? Will the government bail them out? Is there enough price support and insurance built into today's production models that the farmers are insulated?

Could the farmer leave or change production models? I don't think so. Agri-business is making money, lots of money, based on conventional production models. Chemical agriculture at its finest. But the farmers are basically indentured to those models because of the debt load they carry. I can tell you from experience that if a farmer went in to his (or her) lender and said, "I'd like to plant 100 acres of organic raspberries. Will you back me?" The answer, after the laughter had died down, would be no. A farmer who wants to break free of the bondage has a long and difficult road to climb. How can agri-business keep the farmers buying from them? Make it near impossible to do anything else.

I just don't know the answer. I don't know if they know. All I know is it would scare the living daylights out of me to have signed my name.