Why Local Food Is Fair Food
Local food is more fair—for growers, for consumers and for communities. When we started our farm six years ago, our goal was to sell as much of our food to the local community as possible. Only once we’d exhausted local demand would we consider selling at wholesale prices to far away places. To this day, we sell most of our food to customers who live within 15 minutes of our farm. We rely on local markets because we can’t compete with larger farms selling to national and international markets. Many small farms do not qualify for farm subsidies that benefit the owners of corporate farms. Agriculture is one of the most heavily subsidized industries in the United States, and food (from tomatoes to junk food) that shows up on grocery store shelves is deceptively cheap, oftentimes sold at prices lower than the cost of production
At the same time, large-scale farmers are getting richer and richer through government programs that in recent years have heavily benefited millionaire farmers and large landowners. On the other hand, the support smaller farmers receive often comes from local customers who pay a fair price for the difference in quality and freshness.
BY: BEN HARTMAN PHOTO BY: DAVID JOHNSON
Selling locally gives us non-monetary rewards, too. One time a customer sent us a picture of her newborn gnawing one of our green beans. She told us her son was addicted to our beans and thanked us for the unusual infant snack. Local food is fair for consumers, too. Buyers of local food can form a relationship with their farmer and know that the food they eat was grown in ways they agree with.
We call ourselves an artisan farm. To me, “artisan” means the grower is intimately involved in the growing process, and so food off the farm will reflect the grower’s unique personality and passions. This is similar to how pottery from a local artist will embody a totally different feel compared to a cheap vase from a big-box store. One of my passions is peppers. We use a vertical growing method on our greenhouse peppers that I learned about by watching a YouTube video about pepper growers in Holland. The method, which requires a lot of compost and precise pruning, lets us maximize space in our greenhouse (the peppers sometimes grow taller than me) while producing better peppers.
I also love unusual crops that surprise our customers. For example, this year we are growing a northern-hardy variety of fresh ginger, called pink ginger. We still have a lot to learn about growing this new cultivar but we are excited about bringing it to the local table. When a customer has access to these behind-the-scenes stories, it builds trust between buyers and growers in an era when trust in the quality (and origin!) of grocery store food is at an all-time low.To know your food you must know your farmer.
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