I watched two news stories from my local ABC affiliate about rising diesel prices last week. They started off with a rumored trucker’s strike on April 1st (or somewhere around that day) in protest to higher than expected diesel costs. Many independent truckers are thinking about just hanging up their CB for good. This is not wholly unexpected, really, if you think that most of our consumer goods are trucked around, even freak’n spinach salad mixes. But I digress from the news story.
The next story aired after the diesel strike was segued into with the thought, “How will this affect our food, or our farmers?” They interviewed the county Ag extension folks and an actual farmer. They all said they can’t “strike” from farming because the cows would starve. Huh, do they mean all the cattle on pasture or the poor sots in feedlots? So the farmer bemoaned the high fuel costs with a shoulder-shrug. “Without cheap diesel, I can’t get my products to the wholesale market.” The Ag Rep gave the trite line about how farmers should receive more money from the government so they could continue farming in the same way.
Next conversation occured between my Philipino co-worker and a student from the Carribean. They were comparing all the wonderful tropical fruits from their respective home countries. Boy, I was jealous as they described mangoes so honey sweet that it hurt your teeth! Food was purchased fresh every day at the markets; they hardly ever ate reheated or frozen leftovers. Here in the States, “everything is fried” and they can’t go pick fruit just anywhere. No wonder my co-worker is battling type-2 diabetes.
This morning I read a chapter from The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. [One of my favorite-ever books!] Here is what jumped out at me:
The other farmers in my neighborhood realize that they are working very hard only to end up with nothing in their pockets. The feeling is growing that there is nothing strange about growing natural food products, and the producers are ready for a change to farming without chemicals. But until natural food can be distributed locally, the average farmer will worry about not having a market in which to sell his produce.
As for the consumer, the common belief has been that natural food should be expensive. If it is not expensive, people suspect that it is not natural food. One retailer remarked to me that no one would buy natural produce unless it is priced high.
I still feel that natural food should be sold more cheaply than any other. Several years ago I was asked to send the honey I gathered in the citrus orchard and the eggs laid by the hens on the mountain to a natural food store in Tokyo. When I found out that the merchant was selling them at extravagant prices, I was furious. I knew that a merchant who would take advantage of his customers in that way would also mix my rice with other rice to increase the weight, and that it, too, would reach the customer at an unfair price. I immediately stopped all shipments to that store.
If a high price is charged for natural food, it means that the merchant is taking excessive profits. Furthermore, if natural foods are expensive, they become luxury foods and only rich people are able to afford them.
I will never enter the Health Food Store with the same mindset again.
Do you see the dichotomy? Local farmers are languishing because they depend on national wholesalers and fluctuating fuel prices. We are dependent on the retailers to bring the food from the wholesalers to us. All the while, we are getting royally screwed both in the quality and cost of our daily bread.
Local, good quality food should be cheap enough for Wal-Mart Moms. I don’t want to pay $10 for an on-sale Fran’s Fryer frozen chicken. I don’t want to pay $8 for ‘organic’ milk from cows 800 miles away. And I certainly don’t want to pay $3 for 5 pounds of flour from wheat that could have been milled down the street and grown 5 miles from here.
The ‘natural foods’ vendors are not doing us any favors, at all. They are just the same mask-and-gun middlemen like the yellow-smiley faced dudes. What we really need are more good “do-nothing” farmers, small butchers, grain mills, dairies, bakers, and local markets!! And fast…