Saturday, November 5, 2011

Farming for the Truth

I confess. I'm a farmers market junkie. I salivate at the thought of folding tables loaded with fresh-picked produce. I delight in chatting with growers about their property, their methods, their devotion to dirt. And once upon a time I thought it was enough that I was supporting area farmers and keeping my food close to home. After all, I was reducing my carbon foot print and keeping the small farmer in business. Go me!

But as I got to know each farmer, I discovered that the things on their tables aren't always on the level.

What do I mean?

For starters, some meat purveyors don't even raise their own animals. A large portion  - if not all - of their stock is raised by somebody else, on someone else's property, sometimes an entire state or two away. Honestly, no matter how skilled the farmer, he or she can't guarantee the animal's humane treatment or healthful diet when it spends a majority of its time on a farm 500 miles away.

Equally shocking is a farmer's propensity for frequenting wholesalers for vegetables they don't grow or aren't growing that season. Tomatoes in May anyone?

But the small farmer is just meeting consumer demand, you might say. Well to that I say: Shame on you, consumer. We wouldn't have the problem of our farmers selling spring-grown South Carolina tomatoes if we stopped eating them in the off-season. And, by the way, folks, if they are coming from a wholesaler there's a good chance those tomatoes are, in actuality, coming from Mexico or Peru.

That Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in which you invested this summer? Did you speak with the farmer direct? Get a tour of his property? Do you know what his methods are? What his growing philosophies are? What he does when hit by a stink-bug infestation?

Choosing a CSA can be a mind-numbing process if you live in an agrarian region. So, the folks at Local Harvest offer some CSA tips for those considering making the investment. The first one on the list? "Don't expect all of your produce to come from the CSA."


Sooooo, let me get this straight. I am going to invest a few hundred dollars in the name of supporting my local farmer, and he isn't even growing the food? So whose risk am I taking on? Whose pockets am I ultimately filling? And this is considered acceptable - nay - STANDARD practice that it warrants top-billing?

It's tragic. Not to mention vaguely appalling.

I urge you to pick the brains of the folks behind your farmer's market tables. Ask them the hard-hitting questions like: Do you grow your own vegetables? What kind of pest-management methods do you practice? Are your animals raised on your property? What are they fed? How do you cultivate your soil? What varieties do you grow? Do you practice biodiversity?

A farmer with truly sustainable practices will answer these questions with little hesitation, look you in the eye, maybe even smile a bit at your savvy. It is the farmer who changes the subject, brushes you off or denies you a visit to his property who may be dirtier than a Peruvian potato.

Just sayin'.

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