Sumner injects logic into romantic locavore visage

Aug 20, 2008

A story in the Sacramento Bee paints a lovely picture of local food production in a story under the title "Think globally, eat locally."

"The sun is coming up. Geese fly overhead. Wild turkeys meander amid the fruit trees, as (farmer Lisa) Tollefson picks sunflowers in the golden glow of dawn," goes the story, written by Stuart Leavenworth.

The article's vision of local farming wasn't entirely rose-colored. Indeed, it mentioned that Tollefson's partner, Steve Pilz, disrupted a yellow jacket nest while clearing brush and had to set traps for voracious gophers with his eye swollen by insect stings.

But the real juxtaposition comes in comments by the director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center Dan Sumner, where he uses what some might consider truly global thinking.

Some of his key points:

  • Does buying local help the poor? Probably just the opposite. To help poor farmers, seek out products produced in poor countries (mostly thousands of miles away).
  • Does buying local help local farmers? Maybe a little, but most California farms should hope that buying local does not catch on elsewhere. If other consumers became locavores, most California commodities would face a collapse of demand and price.
  • In California, we are deficient in pasta wheat, but produce lots of wine grapes. Do we really expect local farmers to yank out vines to plant wheat? And if they do, what about those poor wheat farmers in Minnesota who simply cannot grow wine grapes, or the poor Minneapolis connoisseurs of fine California wine?

Sumner was also quoted this week in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the commodities bubble. In short, the article said commodities recently enjoyed a boom, but in the last month, are facing something of a bust.

The shift will bring some relief to consumers, who are already seeing gas prices fall. Food prices should ease as well, according to the article.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this commodity effect lowers (food) prices, maybe in the fourth quarter," Sumner was quoted.

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist