- Author: Andrew Meyers
The Mountain Mandarin Festival wrapped up on Sunday, amidst sun and happy shoppers. Though it rained like heck on Saturday, the Festival nevertheless saw a tremendous turnout. Overall, the Festival was a huge success.
At the UCCE booth, we held tastings of PlacerGrown fruit, and conducted a simple Local Food Dot Survey. The shoppers leapt at the chance to taste Fuyu persimmons, Fuji apples, Yali and Okusankicki Pears.
There were over 300 responses for The Dot Survey, which yielded insightful results. Full results can be seen on the table below, but here are some of the more thought-provoking highlights:
- 52.9% of respondents answered that they purchased locally grown fruits and veggies weekly.
- 49.2% of respondents answered that they purchased these fruits and veggies at a farmers’ market.
- 47.7% cited convenience as the main factor keeping them from purchasing more locally grown fruits and veggies
- 47.7% defined “local” as “From my county and adjacent counties.”
One main point to keep in mind is that the shoppers at the Mountain Mandarin Festival likely do not represent shoppers in general. Consider that this festival is billed around locally grown mandarins, add in the non-stop rain on Saturday, and we can surmise that these shoppers are more likely than most to purchase locally grown products. This is evidenced by the fact that 52.9% said they purchased locally grown fruits and veggies weekly, and 49.2% responded that they purchased these fruits and veggies at a farmers’ market.
That said, 47.7% still responded that convenience (or lack thereof) was the major factor keeping them from purchasing more locally grown fruits and vegetables. Based on these results, ease-of-access is paramount to growing the local food movement. Armed with this data, we will need to consider how to make local food, and the markets that offer it, more readily accessible and convenient.
One of the more interesting insights cannot be extrapolated from the data on the table. While speaking with people over the weekend, we noticed that some shoppers believe that any food purchased at a local grocery store (such as Briar Patch Co-op) is “local”. For instance, one respondent told me that she only purchased locally produced fruits and veggies. I then asked her if she ate bananas. She replied that she did. I then pointed out that bananas are not grown locally, but she countered that they are from Briar Patch. This was one example of confusion between “locally grown fruits and veggies”, and a “local grocery store.” I do not know how prevalent this confusion is in our society, but it is something to consider. The other side of the coin would be that it does not matter, and that as long as people are shopping at a store like Briar Patch, they are inevitably going to run into local produce, so we should not discourage those types of shopping habits.
All in all, the Local Food Dot Survey gave insight into what we can do to make sure that, in the future, more people are making weekly purchases of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
- Author: Dan Macon
Local food and small-scale farming seem to fit hand-in-glove - folks interested in locally grown food want to buy from small, family-owned farms that are part of the community. Small-scale farmers want (and need) to sell directly to consumers - selling to the end user eliminates the need for a "middleman" who takes a cut of the value of a farm product. While I've considered these issues in this space previously, I'm increasingly convinced that the middle - that space between micro-scale and large-scale farming - is a difficult place to be.
A vibrant local food system, then, requires a diverse community of medium-sized farms - enterprises that produce on a big enough scale to make food affordable but on a small enough scale to be personal. In his book Eaarth, author Bill McKibbon puts it this way, "what [a local food system] really requires is not huge commodity producers or small, incredibly wonderful gourmet farms. What [we] need are 1950s-size farms." If this scale is so desirable from the standpoint of quality and community economics, why are mid-sized farms increasingly rare?
As a struggling mid-sized farmer, I think there are several reasons. Some small-scale farmers start small with the specific intent of growing their operation. Others start small but treat their farms as true businesses. Many, however, are hobby farms that do not truly account for the cost of doing business. I've had several micro-scale farmers tell me, "I don't really care if I make any money - it's something for my kids [or grand kids] to do." While I don't discount the value of teaching a new generation about the skills involved in producing food, I do think that this approach to agriculture devalues the act of farming. When these micro-scale farms sell their products for less than it costs to produce them, it puts downward pressure on everyone else who's operating in a local marketplace.
On the other end of the scale, industrial farms can out compete mid-sized farms. The factory model of purchasing inputs, converting them to a marketable form, and selling them at a profit, allows industrial-scale farms to enjoy significant economic advantages. Farming at this scale pays the farmer, in most years, a living wage.
Farming at my scale - right in the middle of these two extremes - involves full-time (and then some) work on the part of the farmer. At least for me, our farm has not yet provided a full-time wage, let alone retirement, paid vacations or health benefits. In other words, our farm is too big to require part-time work and too small to provide full-time pay.
The answers to this problem are elusive and challenging. Local food security is dependent upon mid-sized farms being profitable. Perhaps increasing processing and shipping costs will reverse the economic advantage currently enjoyed by industrial-scale farms. Perhaps we need to recognize that in demanding cheap food, we get what we're willing to pay for. As a mid-sized farmer who is taking a part-time off-farm job so that I can continue to farm, I hope our community continues to seek these answers.