Lee Pitts: Takin’ It To The Streets
We’re all supposed to have gone global by now. If you want a new computer you phone a call center in India which passes on your order to a multinational corporation in China who uses chips made in Taiwan, monitors made in Korea, put together by Bangladesh workers in a plant in Singapore and shipped on Iranian flagged cargo ships to Long Beach where Mexican workers put it on a German owned DHL delivery van for delivery to your house in Little Italy or Chinatown.
That’s the very definition of globalization and it’s basically the same blueprint for the food you eat. Melons will come from Mexico, citrus from Chile, avocados from foreign corporate farms, beef from a Brazilian owned firm with plants in Australia, and lamb freighted in from New Zealand. Your food will be delivered by an Uber chauffeur driving a Volvo made in Sweden because folks don’t have the time to shop any more.
The American family farm is supposedly dead and if you aren’t the absolute low-cost producer you’d better be thinking about your exit strategy. If you produce anything that involves labor it’s already too late. Better learn to speak Chinese and make sure your passport is up to date. And this all makes perfect economic sense.
So, how do you explain the burgeoning farmer’s market movement where busy people of all ages wander down streets filled with fruits, vegetables and even meat that was grown just down the road? Folks have made a party out of buying food and are going gaga over locally grown garbanzos and gouda. “Going to market” is the way people in third world countries shop but it’s not supposed to be this way in 21st century America. It’s certainly not convenient and yet there are a dozen towns in my county and every single one has a farmer’s market at least one day per week. And every one is busy. In an age gone goofy over globalism how do you explain that?
Maybe it’s because people are tired of tasteless tomatoes, pithy oranges and hamburgers put together by an international committee that travel thousands of miles to market. Many of today’s consumers want a connection with the good people who grow their food and they don’t trust the multinational corporations to deliver something safe. They want to eliminate the middleman and they’re willing to pay more for food from a local farmer. They are curious how their food is grown and want to meet and talk to those who grew it. They want the story behind the spuds and the spareribs.
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I have a friend who refuses to buy food in grocery stores. He buys all his produce and meat at farmers markets and the meat is processed in a USDA approved mobile processing unit. The grass-fed beef he buys comes from a breed called British White Park and he insists the beef is far superior to any he’s ever eaten. I try to convince him that store bought beef is safe and healthy but he’s not buying any of it.
If you want to see how the family farm can compete these days just go to a farmers market and you’ll meet farmers and ranchers who take great pride in what they produce. Word travels fast that a farmer at one end of the street has some fabulous heritage tomatoes, or that the berry man has some extra-special boysenberries this week.
The family farm is not dead, it’s just different. Sometimes it’s part-time farmers called “sundowners” who work eight to five in town and then spend nights and weekends growing something to sell at the farmers market. I have another friend who grows all types of vegetables, puts an assortment in individual boxes each week along with a bottle of wine from his own vineyard, and sells subscriptions to receive one box every week.
I was raised on a garden and I feel sorry for the great majority of people in this country who’ve never tasted how good vegetables are that are eaten the same day they’re picked. They’ve never tasted farm-fresh corn on the cob with real butter, how good a peach tastes picked right off the tree or how good beef can be when you know the person who produced it.
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