On the way back from the mailbox to retrieve the newspaper, I was struck by what seemed like the 30th bad news headline in a row: “A Fight for Survival. Some Shoppers Go Without. Financial Genius on Verge of Disaster.”
It was the last straw. It’s time someone heard some good news!
The local food business is thriving — demand for locally produced food is far outstripping supply.
In my 30 years farming and marketing locally, this was our best year. More telling is there has been no “bubble” but just steady growth.
And throughout this fall there was a steady drumbeat — like never before — from those wishing to buy our produce next season.
It all starts with a geometrically increasing consumer base that “gets it” — that real food from local sources can and does promote health. That spending those food dollars for local foods promotes many things most of us want — the freshest things the earth can provide at a reasonable price; the comfort of knowing where our food has come from and how it was produced, i.e.. transparency and trust; and beautiful agricultural landscapes in one’s vicinity.
The practice of agriculture models characteristics that are worth encouraging — hard work, honesty, connectedness, thrift, adaptability, inventiveness, recognition of the divine, artistry in the aesthetics of place, and responsibility.
Agriculture is also notorious for recycling the dollars many times over as they percolate through the local economy — local machinery and vehicle dealers, repair shops, hardware stores, office supplies, feed mills, local labor, banks, insurance and utilities.
Now I said earlier this local food is provided at a “reasonable” price. This is not the same as food provided inexpensively. The willingness of the consuming public to pay a fair price for food reflects a fundamental change.
This nutritious food is actually a bargain when compared to cheap food that is deleterious to health, or food which is shipped astronomical distances.
Several factors impede this unfolding ag revolution. One is the loss of local small scale food processing facilities. And the other is the loss of young people to enter the field.
The first might be addressed with revamping inspection regulations and would be an excellent place to spend some of those federal infrastructure dollars. Both impediments will be addressed as talent is drawn to the good agricultural and ag infrastructure opportunities.
I’m amazed how deep are the real pockets of our diversified Pennsylvania farmers. It’s not paper wealth that has been created, but the durable hard capital of topsoil, woodlots, cattle, orchards, fences, barns and machinery.
It’s pretty typical of these farmers not to live beyond their means, to be adverse to borrowing, to take responsibility, to see beyond rhetoric and schemes too good to be true. Rather than expecting a free lunch, they provide it. Instead of spending their grandchildren’s inheritance, they build it. The “real” economy seems to have forgotten these basics.
Later in the day, there was a bit of mixed news. In doing my annual first preview of my tax return, the net farm income was even better than I had thought. The bad news was that I’ll have to gingerly explain to my wife that we will have a rather large tax bill due early in the new year.
But then I don’t mind that — it’s the cost of civilization, the contribution of the successful for the common good. Only the “girly men” in that other economy think otherwise.