The buzz about local food is everywhere. There is no question that food grown by your local farmer is healthier for you, the environment and clearly for the farmers’ financial well-being. In Niagara, the banana belt of Canada, we are blessed with abundance and our growers can grow an amazing variety of fruits and veggies to keep us well-fed virtually year-round. The idea of eating locally is really nothing new. It is what people have always done. Out of necessity people grew their own food or ate what was easily accessible to them. Local food was the norm. Common sense.
But if you are like me, perhaps you are getting somewhat weary of it all. I’ve now heard the term distavore used in jest to rebuke fervent locavores. They are tired of people looking in their grocery cart and sneering… just before they hop in their gas guzzler and peel out of the parking lot. Tired of going to foodie friends’ homes or restaurants and listening or reading for half an hour about the local roots of every minor ingredient making up the ensuing feast. Tired of reading about all the different organizations you can belong to that will assist you in your local food search. I constantly ask myself why such a simple thing as eating great local food has become so complicated and preachy. Can we please just get on with the task at hand and eat?
When I think of whole tangled web of local food advocacy organizations in Niagara, my head spins. A fantastic line from a song of that iconic folk singer John Prine comes to mind…”It don’t make no sense that common sense don’t make no sense no more” We now have all these paid positions for food advocacy, your tax dollars and mine paying no doubt well-intentioned non farmers to promote local food. Some organizations require a fee from the farmer to join. Don’t join, you aren’t promoted. Seems a bit silly because you are still a farmer and you are still growing local food, but you can’t take advantage of these subsidized programs without doling out the cash. And of course even when you join you likely won’t see everyone being promoted equally. Lets’ face it, some products are just a little cooler to promote. There is no indication in any of these directories that membership is exclusive to those who have paid. The assumption is that the list is comprehensive and inclusive. If you haven’t paid, your name appears nowhere. You and your farm don’t exist. Ditto of course with restaurants and other local food purveyors. Some not on the lists are the very best at dealing with farmers and at promoting local food having done it for years before it was the trendy thing to do. It just made sense.
So here’s the question. Why is the money provided to support local food efforts not doing anything to support the farmer on the farm beyond promotion? Perhaps provide needed assistance to farmers to enable them to grow more and distribute produce? For small farmers like me the struggle is the same as those looking for a job for the first time. You can’t get the job because you don’t have experience. But you can’t get the experience because they won’t give you the job. As a small farmer, the only way I can grow my business is to get help. And the only way I can afford more help, is if I produce more. It’s a vicious circle.
So when I hear the talk about all the money being floated to these local food organizations, I shake my head. Promotion is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but if you grow food we should be hearing about you regardless of your ability or desire to pay membership fees or be associated with any particular organization. People want to know. And if local food continues to grow in popularity, farmers could use a bit of financial help to grow and keep up. As for now, the best advertising for a farmer is showing up at a farmers market with a quality product. People will talk. Buying locally involves stopping at road side stands or farmers markets that may or may not be on a map and forming relationships with the people who grow your food. Not tapping away at a computer to see who is a member of what.
Supporting local food is about supporting farmers. And there are some superb ones in Niagara. May they grow and prosper.