Thursday, April 9, 2015

Local v. Exported/Imported Food

This week seems to have been about politics, as well as food and farming. On Monday, we attended our County Board of Supervisors' meeting where the issue of industrial agriculture - more specifically an integrated poultry complex plus about 500 chicken houses containing about 20,000 birds each - was on the agenda. A few citizens commented on their opposition to this business proposition during the open comments period. One individual commented that there are 1300 farms in the county. Since the potential poultry company needs about 500 "houses," with 4 to 5 per farm for convenience and efficiency, then only 5 or 6 of these farms will benefit from the poultry complex and houses. Obviously, it's not really benefiting the farmers in general.
How would you like 500 of these in your county?
On the other hand, on Wednesday, we went to hear a speaker at Chatham Hall, a private girls' boarding school. Ellen Gustafson was spending the week with the freshmen students and the evening's talk was open to the public. Ms. Gustafson is a co-founder of FEED Projects (along with Lauren Bush), as well as other nonprofits. She is a food advocate who understands the issues of small-scale farming, local food, industrial food, obesity, hunger, and malnutrition. She believes local food will help us and the world. Her talk was very inspirational and the girls' questions were very thoughtful and impressive.

Meanwhile, just down the road, at the same time as Ms. Gustafson's talk, our Agricultural Board was supposed to be discussing the poultry complex. A number of concerned citizens showed up to hear what the board had to say. Unfortunately, the board decided that it was an issue to be discussed after the meeting, in a "closed" session, meaning the public (i.e., taxpayers) was shut out. Bill and I were torn between sitting in on the board's meeting and hearing the speaker. We decided to go with the positive choice and were glad we did.

When I finally sat down to read this week's county paper, I realized it featured two related but very different stories, both on the same page. One was on a series of training sessions for farmers' market vendors. The article mentioned how much money stayed in a community when residents bought their food at farmers' markets:

Meanwhile, some of the same county officials who are touting the benefits of local food, are also pushing for agricultural exports (such as the chickens processed at an integrated poultry complex), saying how beneficial they are to the state and to farmers:
So I just wonder which is it? Does local food benefit farmers or do exports? How does the money work out for the community when food is exported for sale elsewhere and the stores have to import food to sell, with little of the money spent on the imported food staying in the community? Farmers make more money when they are able to sell food at retail prices, but if they export they must sell at wholesale, so less money for the farmer, less money for the community. In addition, as the article about farmers' market food points out, local food is better for the heath and wellness of the community.

This double talk makes my head spin. Local and exported food cannot both be beneficial. Local food is beneficial to the farmer and the community because they keep more of the money, plus the food is fresh and healthier. Therefore, exported food  cannot benefit the farmers and the community because that means they have to import food, they make and keep less money, and the food is less healthy because it isn't fresh. If the object is to keep money in the community and to provide the community with healthy food, then a community should strive for 100% local food. It can't be beneficial (nor logical) both to export AND to keep the food local. Right?

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