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Access to Local Produce: How To Improve Affordability of Non-Industrial Food?

Posted in Movements, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on April 5th, 2011

Source: Grist

Image: fishermansdaughter via flickr CC

From “The omnivore’s other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food” by Bob Comis:

A couple of years ago at a farmers market, a woman approached my stall, a little apprehensively. She looked old and beaten down. Her face was weathered and worn. Her hands looked rough and gritty. But, it was clear that she was younger than she looked. Her clothes were poor. Her jeans were worn thin around the knees and had faded spots of dirt here and there on her thighs. Before she even said a word, I imagined a life of hard work and hard times for her. She came over to the stall and without looking up at me started looking over the meat case, and then after a moment, she fingered the edge of the price sheet for a moment and then picked it up to take a closer look. As she looked, I waited, without saying anything, wondering how things were going to go. I had long ago stopped stereotyping people. Yes, I had imagined a hard life for her, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t willing to pay half a day’s wages on pasture-raised, local pork, or grassfed lamb. I’d been surprised by too many people to make that mistake again. She carefully placed the price sheet back on the table and placed the small orange wee-bee little pumpkin paper weight back on top of it.

Then for the first time, she looked up at me. I smiled. “Hi,” I said. “Hello,” she said, and then as we looked at each other silently for a moment, I was taken very much by surprise. Her eyes quickly welled up with tears; one slipped out and slid slowly down her cheek. She raised a hand up and wiped it off. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “It’s just … it’s just that I am so frustrated.” I didn’t say anything. It was clear that she wanted to speak her piece. After a moment, still with tear-filled eyes, she said, “You know, I want … ,” she wiped another tear away, ” … I want so badly to stop eating grocery store meat. It’s terrible. Terrible for you. It tastes terrible. It’s all full of crap, hormones, drugs, and God knows what.” I nodded. “But this,” she said, sweeping a hand over the meat case, “I just can’t afford it, any of it.” “I’m sorry,” I said, a little uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed.

I looked away from her, around the rest of the farmers market. The people at the market were not monolithically well off, or white. It was not just soccer moms and exuberant well-off foodies. But, it was close. I didn’t know what to say. I had often been confronted by people over the price of my meat. “That’s ridiculous!” “So expensive!” “Phhftt!” One old lady even said, “you should be ashamed!” Little did she know that I already was, always had been.  I had set out in farming with a mission, to offer ethically and ecologically raised meat at the lowest price possible, low enough even for people like the woman standing in front of me at that moment. But, I quickly discovered that this was a pipe dream.

I couldn’t sell pork chops for less than $7.00/lb. and keep the farm going, and even at that price, my wife would still need to continue subsidizing the farm. The low-volume, direct market system makes it impossible. The costs are simply too high. USDA slaughter and butchering alone doubles the cost of getting the animal to market. A lamb has $3.00/lb. of small-scale, local slaughter and butchering in it! A pig, $2.00/lb. The woman standing in front of me had no idea how angry and frustrated I was. She had no idea that her tears were my tears.

I had set out to make meat broadly affordable, but instead, I was selling exclusive, high-priced meat to the well-off.

Read the full article by Bob Comis on Grist, to find out more about scaling up and calling for a commitment from supermarkets to local food.

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