Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jen says "Save Money, Buy from a Family Farmer!"

We all have different reasons and impetuses for changing our behavior. With regard to what and how we eat, some of us base our decisions on our health, some on our morals, some on our traditions and background, some on trends, and some on a specific event (for me, the discovery of mad cow disease in the U.S. four years ago changed everything about how I eat). Many of us also base our food decisions on economics and, as Kim Severson points out in the NY Times, in today's economic climate this could be good news for family farmers.

We wrote recently about the high price of commodity crops like corn, wheat, and soy driving up the cost of the food you buy at the grocery store. And while I'm sure no one in the Good Food Movement is cheering about the high cost of food, there could be a silver lining for those of us who are working to get more people reaching for family farm food. Because while grocery store prices are rising steadily your local farmers' prices are probably not undergoing a comparable increase.

See, commodity crops generally go to two food uses: processed foods and animal feed. When the cost of commodity crops go up, the cost of processed food and the cost of raising animals who eat those crops goes up. In terms of processed food, you're probably going to see a savings if you put down the cheese puffs and pick up a piece of local, seasonal fruit. In terms of animal feed, your local farmer's beef, raised on pasture and not on corn, is going to be a savings over the feedlot corn-fed beef you'll find in your grocery store. (Not to mention these family farm items taste better and are better for you!)

Another factor in the increase of food prices is the cost of energy, which is used to refrigerate, process, and transport food items. Here again you'll save when you keep it small, minimally processed, and local. And don't forget all the packaging and marketing--something else you're paying for when you purchase processed food. At the farmers market, you're paying for food--not all that extra. And your money is going to the farmer, not to a middleman, not to an advertising budget, not for the cost to transport that food item across the country or the world. If you're not shopping directly from a farmer or at your local farmers market yet because it supports your local economy; keeps farmers on the land; protects the environment; results in tastier, fresher, healthier food; or because it's trendy right now, maybe your wallet will be the reason.

Whatever the reason, Farm Aid encourages you to give it a go. Seek out a farmers market. Look around for a local CSA this summer! Call up a local farmer and arrange for an on-farm visit to pick up some good, wholesome food. Because at the same time that we're reading about increasing food prices, we're reading this too, about giant industrial food companies raking in huge profits from the sales of seeds and the pesticides used to coax those seeds into food. I eat family farmer food for a number of reasons, but this is a big one: If the contents of my wallet have to go somewhere, I want them to go where they are deserved and where they will do some good.

And until we're all making as much as those corporations, Farm Aid supports the work of groups like Community Food Security Coalition, which works to increase accessibility to good farm fresh food for all.

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