“The alternative [to competing with robots, AI, and outsourcing] is to be local, creative, energetic, optimistic, trusted, innovative and hard to replace.” –Seth Godin
Control of American Agriculture has moved from “Main Street” to “Wall Street.” This is a familiar pattern in American business that has more to do with market distorting Government interference in the form of “subsidies” than natural free market forces.
But sustainsble farmers can compete with Wall Street by producing a higher quality product at an affordable price. Quality doesn’t always mean the same thing for everybody. For some it’s the confidence that comes from a personal relationship with the people producing the food they eat and provide to their families on a regular basis. In a word, quality can simply mean trust. But as Joel Salatin says in his book “You Can Farm,” people usually have money for what they really want.
I now marvel at how I used to stalk the supermarket meat shelves for the cheapest cuts available. If you’d asked me then whether I’d thought about how all that meat could be so cheap and what that must mean about its quality or the living conditions of the animals, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy.
Though I live in a big city now, I grew up on a farm where we had cattle and other crops. While I did not always enjoying fixing the fences they broke, the cattle’s presence was good for the land. They grazed behind the fallow cropland in the off-season and their natural habits strengthened the soil.
Although I no longer farm, I want to again someday. For now, I can support sustainable farming with the purchases I make. The good news is this is a very good trade. The quality of sustainably raised animal protein and vegetable produce speaks for itself. When you finally factor in all the benefits, it comes out to a bargain for all.
Start by locating your local farmer’s market. No doubt you have one nearby. When you get there, shop around by talking to the farmers and asking whether or not they use pesticides. The basic trade-off is labor for pesticides. The more time and labor a farmer is willing or able to put into her operation, the fewer pesticides she has to apply to keep weeds and insects at bay. While more time and labor may mean a little bit higher price on your end, the value you get in return, and the priceless vote for sustainability you make, more than makes up for the difference. Ask, also, what their animals eat. Cows should be grass-fed and grass-finished. Chickens should be on grass, even if they are supplemented with grains as chickens, like pigs, are omnivores and cannot survive on a bed of grass alone if they are caged, though they can if they are free range to an extent.
Sustainable farmers use biological principles as opposed to chemical ones to grow meat and produce of the highest quality. Going well beyond the stark nutritional value, fundamental, biological, farming principles sustain and even regenerate the land. This is a direct investment in the future and the future generations to come. When you buy what they grow you complete the circle.
I don’t know about you, but when the economy trembles, foreshadowing recession or depression, I tend to think a bit more about the food supply. There are times when food and shelter climb to the top of the list letting everything else fade into the background. Food grown, sold, and bought locally is an insurance policy against recession. The real economy is based on things that are renewable, sustainable, and free.
It’s a simple formula, really. Grasses are nature’s solar collectors which turn sunlight into more grass through photosynthesis. Multi-stomach, ruminant animals, like cows, eat the grass turning it into beef. When farmers put the beef on the market and you buy it, the economy grows. When farmers use rotational grazing, the soil bank builds rather than depletes.
The economy grows when value is added without draining it somewhere else. The real economy is sustainable. In fact, the real economy is more than merely sustainable, it is regenerative.
I’ve even come to see it in terms of civic responsibility. The goal here is to behave like a Citizen rather than a mere Consumer. A Citizen pays into the sustainable food system—the one that ensures we increase the Public Commons rather than deplete it. A Consumer pays into the propped-up, subsidized, unsustainable one. I was a Consumer for a very long time. No longer.
I’m not on the farm anymore. But as a Citizen I can act responsibly by treating my food purchases as what they are—a vote for sustainable economic principles, the promotion of healthy lands, all while providing the highest quality nutritional food to my family. The choice is mine, and yours.