Friday, October 30, 2015

Local food and food prices

A guest blog entry today from Dan Kent, quoted from his Kent Family Growers CSA newsletter:

"I have been getting a steady drip of shocking pricing information from farmers markets around the country this Fall. From the already mentioned $1.50/lb. watermelons at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and $7/lb. tomatoes in Rochester, to $3.50/lb. potatoes at the Saranac Lake Farmers Market and just this weekend, from my mother who is visiting a friend in Seattle, $7 each for Romanesco Cauliflower.  From the vantage point of Lisbon, NY, we hear of these prices and swoon to think of how different things must be in these places for customers to pay such prices. (We also look aghast in the direction of the Amish roadside stands around St. Lawrence County where a quart of strawberries or a dozen ears of sweet corn sells for $2.50.)

"This issue of pricing has a big role to play in the nationwide conversation on the future of the local food movement. A report released recently by Food and Water Watch, a D.C. based non-profit, claims that while local foods of all types appear to be gaining popularity every year, this has not served to reduce demand for industrially produced food one bit. In fact, American industrial Ag has grown tremendously. "The number of dairy cows being raised on factory farms doubled between 1997 and 2012; broiler chickens in CAFOs rose by 80 percent; and industrial hogs swelled by a third.", writes James McWilliams in his article "Our Failed Food Movement" from last week's Pacific Standard. McWilliams observes that the local food folks have been trying to play the game of providing a higher quality version of industrially produced foods at a higher price, but that the number of consumers who decide that the higher price is justified by the higher quality remains a small number. Local food will likely never be able to compete with big ag on price, and maybe remaining niche is a prudent strategy. As I see it, maintaining a (relatively) small number of small scale, quality and service oriented farm businesses (with the help of folks like you) seems like the only possibility until the variables in the global equation of economy and fashion are changed by unforeseen events.  McWilliams however, says that we can change the equation now if we begin to dis-incentivize the production and consumption of meat. We'll have to pick that topic up in another newsletter . . . maybe."