The messages from the media are clear – gas prices and the cost of food are about to increase dramatically. Just yesterday, while listening to the news this information reminded me of the ominous words I had heard from a small farmer just outside of New York City before the last large scale food shortages hit in 2007/2008 resulting in a global food crisis.
A few years ago I completed a price study involving the cost of eating truly organic, farm direct food in New York City. One of the small farmers I had the privilege of talking with at the time suggested that I do another price study 6 months later. He talked of the inextricable links between fossil fuels and modern agriculture and that the price increases in oil were about to ripple their way through the agricultural system. He reminded me that this simply wasn’t the case for small, non-industrial farmers who create food naturally.
I’ll never forget his words “Last time I checked, the soil, fertilizer (natural), grass, sunlight and rain on my farm were all free…no price increases expected”. It turned out that this farmer’s predictions were far more ominous than we could have ever imagined at the time. The global food crisis of 2008/2009 resulted in never before seen commodity food price increases and many countries experienced a food crisis of epic proportions. Its spring of 2011 and here we go again!
The farmer’s wisdom reminded me of the economics behind the surprisingly low cost of the local farm-direct healthy food I was pricing. These small, local farmers simply do not have the expensive inputs and outputs of the modern, industrialized food industry. As a simple example, they pay for both the feed and the transportation of the feed to the animals in their massive commercial farming operations. This is also true for their fertilizers and the unusable, toxic waste their tortured animals produce. Also, their animal and produce products must be transported out comparatively long distances to huge regional distribution centers.
In contrast the local farmers’ animals wondered around eating grass, grubs and other free food courtesy of the sun and soil. There simply were no major feed or transportation costs. As such they were largely unaffected by fuel and corn price increases.
This was a simple example which could be applied to the entire cost chain of both types of farming operations. The same negative results for big industry and the same hyper efficiencies for the small farmers glaringly reveal themselves. Where the local farms were concerned this was another reminder of the sanity of it all.
Their inputs of their natural system are largely free. This beautiful system (I think its called nature!?!?!) operates in a perfect feedback loop where the outputs of the system become the inputs. In contrast, it was stark recognition of the sheer madness and inefficiency of our modern industrial system of agriculture.
Summarizing, our modern food industry or agro-industrial food complex or whatever you wish to call them provides us with the following laundry list of disadvantages:
- Low grade, low nutrient food which makes us fat, sick and generally unhealthy
- This food is made with hormones, chemical additives and increasingly, genetically modified organisms
- Their methods of production torture animals, ruin the land, create dangerous new microbes and produce huge amounts of pollution causing untold damage to our environment
- They have recently adulterated and come to monopolize the term “organic” (among other terms) lowering the overall quality of production of the food allowed to be sold under this name. This lower grade “organic” food is extremely expensive.
- They discreetly take our money in the form of tax subsidies in order to accomplish the above
- Roughly 10% of every dollar you spend on this food pays for the actual food causing it’s relative cost value and quality to be inherently low
- To follow this food from its origins to your grocery store you would need to travel thousands of miles, sneak past multiple levels of security, and break trespassing laws. The average person would still be unable to figure out many of the industrial processes this food is subjected to.
Then we’ve got the guys I met in New York, the small farmers who quietly exist all over the country. They provide us with the following comparative list of advantages:
- Fresh, high quality, high nutrient, naturally produced food which will keep you healthy and strong
- The food they produce is made in conjunction with the processes of nature, as such there are no dangerous chemical inputs or outputs and they let nature handle all of the genetic evolution
- Their farming enriches the land, produces no pollution and preserves agricultural landscapes
- These farms create a net tax gain – they contribute more tax revenue than they use
- They have nurtured, perpetuated and protected the true meaning of the original “organic” idea through their simple and natural farming processes
- 100% of every dollar you spend goes to those actually growing your food giving you the most relative value in terms of your food’s quality, purity and nutrition.
- The farming and creation of this food is entirely transparent. Almost every farmer I have encountered proudly invites customers to their farms to witness their plants and animals at every natural stage of life.
This journey of discovery also confirmed my belief that we, as consumers and as a society, can no longer afford to sleep-walk through the process of procuring our food. We simply must wake up to the ugly realities of our current modern system now and embrace and strengthen the alternatives while they still exist. We must support our small, local farmers. Over the last few decades especially, our food has come to seriously control us. Clearly, it is time for us to once again control our food.