Paying the farmer’s asking price…and increasing the farmer’s share

Rural SCALE recently released a study on the affordability of local food for the average consumer, collecting data from 24 farmers’ markets in 19 communities in 6 southeastern states. The study concludes that

Overall, farmers markets in the Southeast and Appalachia are highly competitive with mainstream supermarkets in their pricing on a range of commonly consumed foods, including produce, meats and eggs. (Emphasis in the original.)

Naturally, one might draw different conclusions from similar studies of other regions, but there are some interesting statistics (and generalizable conclusions?) about size of community and prices at farmers’ markets that sell to moderate- and low-income patrons, those who might believe that the local food movement has passed them by.

Then consider this graphic by the National Farmers Union: Farmer’s Share of Retail Food Dollar. I’m not so interested in the startling figures on processed foods (soft drinks, potato chips, bread) because few of the raw ingredients are actually supplied by a farmer. Far more disturbing are the figures on whole, minimally processed ingredients. Take the produce section of a conventional supermarket (think Safeway, Kroger, etc.), for example: farmers receive anywhere from 10.3 cents on the dollar for lettuce to 30 cents on the dollar for carrots.

Now think about buying this produce at a farmers’ market or directly from a farmer: if it’s true that the prices at the farmers’ market are comparable to those of the supermarket for comparable items, the farmer will suddenly have $4.59 (instead of $1.38) in his pocket for 5 pounds of carrots; $3.08 (instead of $0.27) for a pound of tomatoes, etc.

Buying local food at the farmers’ market certainly seems like a win-win for farmers and consumers.

 

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All

Happy Mother’s Day! If you are concerned about the sort of world we are leaving our descendants (and what mother or nurturer is not?), today seems to be as good a day as any to commit to making sure that our children and our children’s children inherit a world that includes a healthy, sustainable food system to nurture them.

Where are YOU on your journey toward helping create a more sustainable, more equitable, fairer food system for our future generations: Just starting to think about buying more local food? Seriously into buying local, sustainable food? Involved in food systems change at the community level? Ready to influence the movement on a national scale?

For the past 18 months, I’ve had the privilege of working at Fair Food Network as executive assistant to the organization’s founder and president Oran Hesterman. I’ve done my share of the mundane executive assistant tasks, but I’ve also had the pleasure of helping Oran to edit his book, Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, coming out from PublicAffairs in June.

Regardless of where you are on your food systems journey, I recommend this book as one that gives everyone practical steps to take to move us beyond what’s on our own plates and in our own refrigerators toward what we can do in our neighborhood, our greater community, and our country (and maybe even globally!) to make healthy, fresh food available to everyone now AND into the future.

Ready to get more involved?

Baked Cod

Like a few other recipes on this site, this one qualifies as Chinese only because of the ingredients used – it’s really a fusion dish, a tweak of a recipe I found on the website of Lummi Island Wild. I am lucky enough to co-manage a buying club that purchases sustainably caught fish directly from this Washington state fishery – seafood is not exactly local to Michigan, but by buying in quantity directly from the fishermen gives us fantastic fish at a reasonable price and gives the fishermen a larger profit margin.

Serves 4

ingredients:

  • 4 black cod steaks, approximately 5 oz each
  • 1 T kosher or sea salt
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 2 T Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T pineapple juice
  • 1 T brown sugar

method:

  1. Rinse the fish steaks and pat dry.
  2. Combine the salt and 1 T brown sugar, then rub the fish well with this mixture and refrigerate in a covered dish for 2 h.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the wine, soy sauce, pineapple juice, and 1 T brown sugar, stir to dissolve sugar completely.
  4. Brush the salt/sugar mixture off the fish, sprinkle with the wine mixture, then cover the dish.
  5. Bake 15 m, turn the steaks, bake 15 more m or until fish flakes easily – do not overbake, or it will be very tough!
  6. Set the fish on a serving plate, then bring the liquid to a gentle boil in a heavy saucepan or sauté pan and let it boil gently until it is the consistency of thin syrup. Pour over the fish and serve.

Local food in the news and on the ‘net!

Check out the beautiful video done by Phase 4 Media about Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks – this project has been taking up the bulk of my time at FFN since I started there almost a year ago: http://www.youtube.com/fairfoodnetwork#p/a/u/0/aoHM11PGPKg.

And “follow your food from farm to fork” with Real Time Farms new website. Here’s your chance to get involved: add your own local food finds, farms, farmers’ markets, and restaurants or just learn from your neighbors.

Where to find great takeout in Ann Arbor

We’re so spoiled being able to cook healthy Chinese food at home, that we are almost invariably disappointed when we eat in a Chinese restaurant. Most Chinese restaurants in America are not at what one could call the forefront of the SOLE (sustainable/organic/local/ethical) food movment, and our bodies notice the difference. Add to that what we call the “MSG moment” so often experienced after a Chinese meal, and we are often left moaning, “Ugh, why did we DO that?”

When people say, “You blog about Chinese food and your husband’s Chinese – you MUST know the best places to get Chinese food in Boulder/Chicao/LA  (fill in the city in which we happen to be living),” my inclination has always been to respond, “Well, um, yeah…that would be my house!”

I’m pleased to report, though, that we have discovered a new alternative in Ann Arbor! If you live in our city (or in nearby Ypsilanti), you can now get free delivery of delicious and healthful Chinese food by ordering from Mei’s Organic Chinese Kitchen. Each week Mei offers a menu that includes 2 entrees, a salad, a soup, two steamed rolls, and rice – all made with predominantly organic and locally grown ingredients. Mei frequents the farmers’ market and local independent grocers, such as Arbor Farms Market, which means she supports the local economy and local growers, too! In addition, her recipes are gluten- and (refined) sugar-free! One order is plenty for 2 adults for a meal plus leftovers for lunch, so if you have a family, I recommend ordering extra rice, soup, and rolls.

We’re wishing Mei and her crew success – it’s awfully nice to be able to eat Chinese takeout without regrets!

Food in the News and on the ‘Net

Disturbing news on the scary food front:

Marion Nestle blogs on the egg recall: “Take home lesson: If you just have a few chickens, waste is not a problem. If you have millions of chickens in one place, you have a disaster in waiting.” One more reason to love your local pastured egg provider!

And here’s a rather unscientific project that should still give you pause: The Happy Meal Project documents in photographs how a Happy Meal looks after 137 days on the kitchen counter. Assuming all pictures are, in truth, documenting this lack of decomposition, I have to wonder how one could be sure that a Happy Meal is indeed “fresh” as is labeled on slide one. One more reason to avoid fast food and cook and eat from scratch at home using whole, close to the source ingredients, I’d say!

And some more positive links:

Change.org provides a good summary of food labeling terms: 8 Misleading Food Label Terms Every Eater Should Know

Food + Society Alliance posted a good intro to food issues: Food and You

Will the real free-range egg (yolk) please stand up?

I’m a firm believer in buying farm fresh local eggs (and other ingredients): true pastured eggs – from chickens who eat what what they can find while out scratching around in a pasture – come from happy hens, are likely to be better for us, for the environment, and for the local food economy, and they just plain taste better. For more details, see my post on eggs at Simply: Home Cooking.

For a quick, fun visual summary of some of the arguments for pastured eggs, visit Big Wheel Provision’s video, Egg Cage Match!