Monday, September 17, 2012

The Romanticism of the Small Farmer

Recently, I read Tamar Haspel's article in the Huffington Post, "Don't Romanticize Small Farmers---Some Are Jerks." This was a very interested take on the role of small and sustainable agriculture in our food system today. Granted, I should preface by saying that I will buy local and sustainable above large factory farms at all costs, but it's still interesting to note small farms from a social science standpoint. Books like Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and movies such as "Food, Inc." do a great job in bashing large scale farming, which I totally agree with, and romanticizing the small-scale farmer. Haspel presents an interesting view of the small-farmer and I feel they align with my own viewpoints to an extent.

Many small-scale farmers are law-abiding citizens, but as with any industry you will have those who "cook the books," tax evasion, animal cruelty, etc. Which brings an interesting thought to mind...why not eat food from the farmers we know. If you search hard enough through the contacts in your iPhone or the 1,300 friends on your Facebook, you're sure to find someone who in engaged in some sort of agriculture. Step out of line at your local grocery store and buy what you can from them. I frequent farmers markets, my girlfriends parents have a small farm with fresh dairy & produce, and my parents have a huge garden that produces a ton. So while not all of my food comes from sources I know, a lot of it does. At a farmers market, you have a chance to sit down and discuss with the farmer about their practices, their beliefs, etc. You can gain a great insight into where your food comes from and the hands that harvested it, instead of the label at your local Giant Eagle that says "Produced Locally." As a geographer, I have to wonder what their scale of local is. I would say 25 miles or less from the store. What if their 25 miles is from their headquarters, not the individual store. See brings about a lot of other interesting questions.

Crazy, I agree, but in today's society we have become so detached from the land around us. I once read an article (which I cannot think of the name) where kids could not point out a carrot in front of them because it wasn't shaved and shaped like the baby carrots they get at school and did not understand how carrots and vegetables grow. It's sad, but as cities grow and small towns shrink, we begin to lose that connection with our food system and our natural world. Yes, it is unreasonable to think that every family could know where every bit of their food comes from, but isn't it worth exploring it a little more? Efforts such as The Slow Food Movement are trying to slow down how we get our food so that more people can gain an awareness of where their food comes from. Whether a nugget from McDonald's or a  freshly killed chicken from Joel Salatin's "Polyface Farm," it was once still a chicken that lived, was killed, and brought to your table. Why not change the way you eat it, know where it comes from, how it was processed (heck, even go to the farm and help process it), and learn about our food system.

So, I can agree with Haspel's argument that we don't know the source of food from all local farms, but I can pretty much generalize that all factory-farms are not going to have the care you'll find at a small-scale farm. We need to support our local agriculture, learn about where our food comes from, learn about the systems that make up a farm and how they all interplay together, and witness a revival in the food system in America. Yes, even I am guilty of eating the occasional fast food when I'm on the go and, yes, my parents do own Subway sandwich restaurants in our small town, but on the whole we like to have an idea where a lot of our food comes from. We co-op with others and buy a whole cow's worth of meat from a neighborhood farm, get pork and other things from friend's farms, catch our own fish, grow our own vegetables, and (a favorite pastime of my brother and I) scour the woods of western Pennsylvania for wild Leeks (or Ramp, depending on where you're from). Again, I admit I don't always pick up a shovel and plant or play a key role in a lot of this at this point in my life, but I still like to be involved in the process and know where it all comes from. We need to support our local agriculture before we lose it. We need to be subsidizing small-scale farmers and decreasing the monoculture of corn or soybeans that we see developing across the Midwest, and we need to know where our food comes from.

As I always say, we are part of a river system. Everything comes from somewhere and when we are done with it, goes somewhere else and affects someone else. We are all upstream and downstream from everything else.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article Cory. Anytime you want to get your hands dirty in the barn or the garden, just say the word!