The True Cost of Farmer's Markets.

I live in an area where there are many small farms and many small farmers. Quite a few people have vegetable gardens; it's not unknown to see tables full of surplus in the front yards of various houses, come August and September, with a box on the table for money and a handwritten list of prices.

This should be a mecca of local foods, and yet, the vast majority of those who farm for profit set up their wares at farmer's markets more than an hour away from the community they live in.

I have a big problem with this. It's one thing to advocate for local foods and food miles and suchlike, but it's yet another to have to travel almost 50 miles (one way) to buy something that was grown or raised less than 15 miles from my house.

The reasoning behind this abandonment of community? My neighbors aren't going to pay $3.50 for a single tomato plant to plant in their garden. My neighbors aren't going to pay $6.00 for a loaf of bread, or $6.99/lb for grass-fed and finished ground beef. Or $12.50 for a whole chicken. Or $4.35 for a half gallon of milk. (I could go on and on.)

And why aren't they going to pay those prices? Because they aren't city folk. For want of a better word, they aren't yuppies. Some of my neighbors make minimum wage. Some of them don't work, for whatever reason. Some of them drive into the city to work a job that pays almost less than the gas it takes to get there. (I'm not joking.)

Don't get me wrong--I realize that it's expensive to run a farm. I realize that. I have a mortgage myself. I have to drive 92 miles a day (at minimum) to and from my day job. It's not easy in this day and age to make ends meet, even if you make a decent wage.

And don't get me wrong; I'm all for sustainability. I'm a local food advocate. I think everyone who has a bit of land should grow something they can eat. And if you don't have any land, container garden. And if you can't do that, then see about an allotment in a community garden. And if you can't do that... then eat local if you can afford to do so.

But this? This isn't going to work. There's nothing sustainable about driving produce in to the cities so that only those who can afford the higher prices can eat local foods (if they don't grow it themselves.) There's nothing sustainable about buying into capitalism's newest fad to make an easy buck off someone who makes twice (or three times) the amount the farmer does while living his or her more "sustainable" life. They aren't helping the communities they live and farm in by moving the produce towards the money. They might be able to sustain their lifestyle by doing that, but that's not exactly the point, is it? Really?

A friend of mine wrote, (Her post is about freeganism, among other things, but it's also relevant here) "What does confuse me about the whole freegan movement, though, is that some of these people don't seem to realize that without the society that they are condemning they would not be able to live the lifestyle they choose. Am I the only one that gets that? If everyone suddenly decided not to waste things (which I doubt is ever going to happen!), then how would the freegans get their food, their material goods, their shelter?" which made me realize that I needed to write this, because it's spring, and farmers market season is upon us.

So here's my take on that--What if the city folk went away? What if they left, or started growing their own food, or moved out to the country? What if they wholeheartedly embraced the idea of local food and sustainability and the farmer's markets fell apart? What if no one went to fast food restaurants anymore and no one shopped at the local grocery stores? What if the whole world suddenly saw the light?

Granted, that's not very likely to happen. After all, that would mean the complete and utter collapse of everything, and I don't see that happening (barring something extensively global) quite yet.

However. To be truly sustainable, that's really the end result that this world would need.

I read an article once, and I believe the person in the article was writing about child abuse or hunger or something akin to that. I don't remember the person's name, but I remember what she wrote--or, at least, I can paraphrase it. She wrote that she lived for the day that she was no longer needed in her job. She lived for the day that she could sit back and know that she'd completely eradicated hunger, or child abuse, or whatever it was, from the world. She wanted to be made obsolete.

No one can effectively live entirely outside the system in this day and age. Oh, sure, you can dumpster dive and squat and what-have-you, but that's still playing the system's game; albeit not with the same rules as everyone else. You are still living off the system's discards.

But for local farmers--and others--who drive their wares into the city so that they can live a comfortable enough existence back at their place in the country at the expense of their neighbors, who shop at the local IGA and Wal-Mart and Kroger because they don't have any other affordable choices--maybe looking into a truly sustainable life might not be a terrible thing to do, especially now. Because the city folk don't need you to come to them. They should be coming to you. And maybe then, if the farmers move back into their communities; if they accept food stamps, for example, or are more willing to barter for things or services, then maybe this whole thing could become a true local food movement and not just something that 'they' do in the cities, because 'they' make more money than 'they' can spend.

Until that time, however, until someone thinks outside of the box, until I can walk up to the town square from my house and purchase local milk, local meat, and local stuff I can't grow myself, it won't truly be local. And it won't ever be sustainable.


stonetalker said…
I've often said that about my job as a metaphysical counselor. My dream is that one day everyone is so blissfully happy and together about their lives that my services are no longer required.
Part of the problem, I suspect (though I am not familiar with American rules) is the regulations surrounding food sales.

Here, you need an inspection and a permit and all the infrastructure necessary to make the inspector happy. For instance, we sell meat - animals leave here in a stock trailer, go to the butcher, and the processed meat comes home in coolers and goes into the freezer, then it is delivered, again in a cooler, to customers. I have to have a separate freezer for meat-for-sale, which is fine, but the last time the inspector came she said that the freezer is also supposed to be in it's own room, behind a door, separate from everything else. Can't be in an an outbuilding (unless it is a completely finished 'office type building', not a garage). So there's expenses there.
To sell the excess from my garden, I'd need another permit. If I let you come buy from me at my house, I have to install a bathroom for customers to use, and make my driveway safe for people to walk on and keep my yard clean (this is a working farm, mind you, so that's not as easy as it sounds). All that means that selling *on my property* is essentially prohibited. Which is daft. It'd be nice to have a little market that runs every weekend, just an empty parking lot where people can show up and sell whatever and be done with it - but there's gotta be fees and charges and rules and it makes it way harder than it has to be.
I am all for food safety - believe me - but some of this stuff is just not meant to make local food sales workable. The rules are meant for industrial ag, but they get applied to everyone.
It'll change ... it'll have to. Hopefully it changes before it *has* to.
Grey Walker said…
*sigh* It's true, Jen.

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