Saturday, February 07, 2015

The urban market for local produce must support more and better agriculture than CSAs

Wendell Berry's daughter, Mary Berry, suggests that urban consumers can help leverage a new agrarian revolution:

Urban people’s interest in where their food comes from, and the quality of it—their worry about poisoned food, soil loss, toxicity, etc.—is a good thing. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, urban gardens, community gardens and school gardens are also all good. The worry, to me, is that all of this is entrepreneurial. Too many CSAs in any given area can make it hard for a farmer to sell enough CSA shares to get by. Our work is to try to get farmers out of a faddish economy.

The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who had the first CSA in Kentucky. He was saying that the CSA is a great model for a young farmer. He paid off his farm with a CSA. (He had borrowed the money in the 1980s, at 13 percent interest.) But he said, “You know what? It’s a young person’s game.” And that’s true, simply because it’s really hard work. He’s 55 now, sustainably logging on his own land and doing fine, but do we want farmers to quit at 55? No. We need a place for farmers, an economy for them to function in.

Those of us who live in the urban core need to do more than visit the Farmers Market and buy CSA produce; we need to hold major distributors and big chains accountable, especially as they spout advertising about buying local. We're a vital link in this growing sustainable food chain of produce raised in Davidson County. We have to be informed and ready to spend sustainably and smart. It is a youthful market we can help age well.

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