This series of blog posts runs from October 14-18 and celebrates Food Week of Action. Learn more and get involved here.
For this blog post on the importance of supporting local farmers, we interviewed Russ Vollmer, a RAFI-USA staff person and the operator of the Vollmer Farm.
Why is buying from a nearby farmer important?
It’s important for dollars to stay in your community. By buying as close to home as possible, you are helping local farms stay in business and you are supporting the workers who produce the food and their families. You aren’t paying for produce to be shipped across the country and for the food quality and environmental impacts that come along with this system.
When you buy from a local farmer, you know that the food really is local. The word “local” in the food world does not have a singular definition. Everyone defines it differently. The big retailers have gotten good at co-opting terms that were generated out of small farmers markets and customers that buy direct from farmers. Anytime a customer can buy direct or from a farmers market, you can be assured that you are actually buying local. The definition that Walmart uses for local is produce that is sold in the same state in which it is grown. Farm to table is another term that has been hijacked. You have to be certified to sell organic, but you don’t have to be certified to call yourself farm to table. The consumer is unaware of the misleading ways that different groups use these terms.
Farmers markets and farm stands are a little less convenient to buy from than supermarkets. What would you say to a consumer concerned about these logistical barriers?
Part of it is making hard choices and figuring out how important eating local is to you. Do you value convenience more or knowing where your food comes from? Convenience has become a very strong driver in a consumer’s food purchasing decisions. Grocery stores will even deliver to you. We have become a society where we want what we want when we want it.
In terms of the financial side, there are hidden costs that consumers are often unaware of. Food buyers perceive the value in some type of product based on how perfect it looks. No one is thinking about how many chemicals had to be applied to the product in order to make it look perfect. At the Vollmer Farm, we like to say that we embrace the imperfection.
What are some pressures that small and medium-sized farms face that the average consumer might not know about?
If I’m growing tomatoes in the field on 1 acre, there are any number of issues that I could face on that acre, and because I’m growing on such a small acreage, there’s not much of a cushion. A farmer who is growing on 25 acres might get hail on 1 acre, but will still have 24 acres of tomatoes. If I lose my one acre of tomatoes, I have to call my supplier and let him know that I don’t have production this time. This damages my relationship with my supplier because consumers desire consistency, even though there is little consistency in agriculture. The person who grows on 25 acres is still able to deliver when they say they will deliver it. Logistics are valued over taste or quality or whether or not the product is grown locally. Additionally, smaller and medium-sized operations cannot produce enough of what they are selling to cover their inputs, such as fertilizer, labor, seed costs, and insurance.
Actions you can take:
- Visit your local farmers market. Connect with the farmers you meet there over social media.
- Visit your local co-op grocery and pay attention to which farms the food came from.
- See if there is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm near you.
- Learn more about and donate to RAFI-USA’s Farm Advocacy program supports farmers dealing with financial crises and recovering from disasters.
- Invite a farmer to speak to your faith community. Contact RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table team ([email protected]) if you need help identifying a farmer in North Carolina to invite.
- Be aware of xenophobic messaging that often comes along in the conversation about buying local, particularly in relation to buying food domestically rather than food from other countries. Some groups use messaging that implies that food from other countries is lower in quality and that that should drive our desire to buy local. However, we support buying from a nearby farmer because of the positive financial and environmental impacts of buying from a farmer in your community.
This blog series is put together by RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table program team. Learn more about CTTT here.