I was on a local NPR affiliate, on the "Farm to Fork" movement taking place. It is part of the whole buy local, support family farms and sustainable farm practices effort happening all across North and South America and European countries. We were in studio because I had written to the local paper in response to an article about local farm produce prices.
During a break in the show a question was asked about the general demographics of our customers. At the farm we’ve found consumers to be in two groups: those that want to buy local and those that look solely at the price. In other words you get people who buy food for its nutritional value, freshness and safety. Then there are those that buy based on what they perceive as a fair amount for the commodity. From what we have observed this attitude cuts a cross socio-economic and educational lines.
I’ve gotten price grumblings from people who I know make over $100K a year and from people that work in some of the lowest paying jobs. A couple of years ago, we were selling certified organic tomatoes, two for a dollar. Closing time came and we were packing up when this man stopped by our truck. He was in a brand new convertible Cadillac. He was a gray haired gentleman with gold chains around his neck, gold rings on his fingers and a diamond pinky ring. I had a bag of six tomatoes and he asked "how much?” I wanted to get rid of them so I said “two bucks”. He then said "how bout one-fifty". I took the bag back from him and said have a nice day. Okay, stop right now. Fight your urge to write me to say the ability to haggle goes back to early homosapiens, I understand that. From a market farmers view point in order to grow and produce fruits and vegetables there is no haggling.
Capitalism and sustainable farming are two beliefs that are not mutually exclusive. As a person that grows fruits and, vegetables and raises animals in such a way that it benefits the environment, there is no bargaining for us. I don't try to cut corners in order to benefit the cash-flow of the enterprise. When it comes to being a humane farm there is no wiggle room. Growing organic fruits, vegetables and eggs is not a negotiable process.
We set prices based on national databases, local supermarket prices and what costs we have incurred. The sad truth is, as farmers we all face this behavior at the market, which brings me to education. The more we can educate consumers about the benefits of sustainable farming practices to them, their children, and their children’s children the more they understand why long term support of local sustainable agriculture is needed.
The cost to fix the environment from documented damage being done, using industrial farm practices, never gets added into the price of the product the Industrial Food Complex (IFC) sells to us. But think about it? Who steps in to say, wait a minute male bass are starting to exhibit female tendencies? Who does pay for the cleanup of the coastal waterways and our tributaries? I’m not saying that the IFC are the only polluters but they are at least part of the problem (think Endocrine Disruptors and atrazine).
The cost of environmental sustainability is in the price of the food organic farmers sell. We are not poisoning the soil and water table but just the opposite. We are benefiting nature by adding to the poly-culture that Mother Nature intended. If I can get a person on the farm and give them a tour they get to see the benefits that sustainable practices bring. It is that simple, they see what you are talking about, they get to look at the poly-culture all around them and understand how green manure and resting, replenishes soils and nutrients. They will also complain about the amount of bugs flying around their heads. But, they’ll see the birds, the bees and other wildlife and we’ll explain these are good things. That this is Mother Nature’s way of telling us what we are doing is benefiting the ecology.
At the radio station, I knew what the person was getting at, with the question, that people of means and education would be the ones wanting the safest, healthiest and freshest food at their disposal. Being educated, they would know about CAFO’s and the Industrial Food Complex’s profit driven decision making that puts the food supply and our natural environment in danger. So the more affluent and well educated would be more inclined to purchase from a local farmer regardless of cost.
It's not quite like that entirely. More people are becoming aware of what is at risk (and its them they find out) when food borne illness breaks out. I think because of the frequency of events more people are questioning safety which drives them to make safer choices. Have we had a recall from a local butcher or local fruit and vegetable farms?
We encourage people to taste the difference. The best way is the blind taste tests. With all things being equal, people will gravitate towards what tastes best to them. What tastes better, a store bought tomato or one from your garden or a local farm? You can’t taste vitamin content or micro nutrients or the fact that there are trace residues of carcinogenic chemicals. The only thing you know is what your palate tells you. One food is going to taste better than the other and that food happens to be the safest for you to eat and for us to grow and the earth to produce.
Buy Local: From a farmer that you visited, know and can trust