Existing side by side the grief and shock during my trip to Nebraska were the silent observations I couldn’t help but make about the huge difference in consumer opportunities available there, especially when it came to food. Now it has only been five years since we moved, but until I was reminded, I had forgotten that aside from growing your own, there was little to no way to purchase fresh, locally grown food. There was the small parking lot market we sold some vegetables out of the last year we lived there, but this was mighty small with mostly backyard gardeners. And although it had one bigger vendor who had added the direct market approach to their farming repertoire, these folks did not use organic growing methods and also bought and sold back certain other crops from wholesale distributors, a practice that in my mind misuses the trust buying from the farmer at farmer’s market is designed to create. In the state’s capitol, one of the few bigger towns in the state as well as the biggest college town, there was a better farmer’s market as well as the first organic direct market farm and CSA we had ever seen. Still, the state is big, and even though I continue to search, I can not find any other areas of the state that offer the same.
The funny thing, something we only realized after we moved away, is that farms like this would be wildly successful there. With the lower cost of farmland and living in general there, combined with a hereditary appreciation for fresh, garden produce (since the home garden is a staple of rural Nebraska living), I wish I could do some kind of Joel Salatin talking tour to convince some folks out there to give this a try, to get some of those miles and miles of land filled with pretty sad looking corn put to better use and hopefully saved before they can no longer grow anything at all. If a person in those areas isn’t growing their own produce, they have to buy it from halfway across the country, despite the fact that they live smack dab in the middle of America’s farmland.
I couldn’t help but think that despite the fact that we provide a lot of our food ourselves, I am more than grateful for the abundance of other local goods that I can buy with ease here in the Willamette Valley. We are lucky enough to get probably 90% of our food from right here in Oregon, most from the valley itself. It helps that our diet is virtually grain free because of pesky food allergies, but there are even farmers here who are trying to answer these pieces of the eat local puzzle, working cooperatively to try to provide grains and legumes for their communities. Every bit of food we buy and eat from farmers living here with us, along with our own goods, is simply so good, so flavorful, and so nourishing, to degrees that shipped in food or poorly raised products can’t begin to reach. I forgot that this wasn’t always as good as food could be.
Now that I am back, I want to fight even harder to keep these lines of purchase open for myself and this community. There has been a slower than average start up to the Farmer’s Market this year. It is subtle, but there. Foot traffic is a little down although sales have stayed steady. I think it is picking up, that the energy is picking up; but after watching the market itself and the community enthusiasm for it grow over the last few years, it is a little worrisome to think that this momentum might fade. The problem is that I know a few folks whose budgets for market are lower than last year, that Oregon has been hit even harder than other places, and that unemployment and a poor economy just might be the cause.
It doesn’t help when there are no longer the number of reports floating around about eating local (although the grow your own movement has had a well deserved boost), but rather erroneous news stories about it being cheaper to eat cheaply processed food rather than whole, real food. In times of economic strain, I don’t know if it right to ask of us all to continue to shop locally. Sometimes it does cost more. But either way, it seems to me that it is especially in times of economic strain that we have to make sure that every dollar we have to spend, we spend well. Walmart isn’t going to go out of business during this downturn, neither are large agribusiness farms (for now anyways…while the water and oil lasts). But a bad year for a small, independent business can be much more devastating. Being reminded what is like to not have the option of buying from local farmers or to be immersed in a thriving local economy, I know these are not things I want to see diminish here. We are so lucky to have positive choices when it comes to what we purchase, it is a hard reality to maintain in many other places in the country. So once again, we want to thank all of you for supporting this local farm business, and we want you to know that most of the dollars that you invest in us, we return to other community businesses. This is an economic model we can trust in; and security in our economics, choices in our consumerism…these are not small things. We are happy to take part and be a part of that system.