I Went to the Farmer's Market and Didn't See Any Farmers.

             I have been to our local farmer’s market and I didn’t see a single farmer there.  The nice lady that makes this incredible garlic flavored goat cheese for $15/lb is really, truly an artisan, but I wouldn’t call her enterprise farming, nor would I call the others who buy their goods from wholesale markets and distribute them at the farmer’s market, farmers.  That guy with the big straw hat and the 1960’s painted up VW bus (I am completely serious) is not really a farmer either.  Back to the goat cheese, I have a feeling that this absolutely delicious goat cheese doesn’t come under any health scrutiny from any of the government bureaucracy so if locally produced goat milk cheese can give me some nasty medieval pox, I’ll just have to accept it as part of the riskiness of negotiating these straits of life with the siren song of Big Food trying to Jedi-mind-trick me into sure death, (but at least at a discount).

            There is a push to support “locally produced” food for a lot of reasons.  There are lots of versions of this but buying within 100 miles of home is a common defining principle.  First, as the logic goes, locally produced food supports the local community and prevents dollars from leaving town and landing in some bank in New York City.  Nevermind that local people have no monopoly on virtue if they retain the cash and that any successful farmer will tell you that the forecast of his failure by local people when he took a risk stung and fear of their petty jealousy of his success when it happened was one of the things which gave him the greatest pause prior to taking on that expansion or investment in the future.  Keeping the money local doesn't mean you will get any of it or any of its collateral benefit nor escape the fish eye and tall tails from jealous neighbors who want to lop off the head of anyone who tries to stand above the local average.

             Locally produced food presumably uses less total energy and produces less greenhouse gases as the product progresses from conception/germination to the dinner plate.  This is one of those magic facts that doesn't quite work out when you put on the old audit brim and start really adding up the numbers.  Nevermind the lack of diversity of local production means less variety and those Taconite miners in northern Minnesota will have to face the fact there are just so many recipes for sugar beets, I'll bet if I divide the pounds of produce in that VW bus by the gallons of gas used to haul it to the local market, the energy use per calorie created wouldn't be greater than "Big Food"'s methods, especially since a modern freight train can move a ton of food 436 miles on a gallon of fuel.

            Locally produced food is supposedly safer and more nutritious and more likely to be environmentally friendly in production techniques since those producing it are your neighbors.  This logic rests on the belief that neighbors would resist the panic engendered by the prospect of a total crop failure on their subsistence five acre plot and be constrained from putting five times the pesiticide required on their suddenly threatened organic food plot since they have to face you every day.  I think the prospect of returning to the insurance agency would be too much for some and the pesticides would flow (in secret of course).  This logic believes that neighbors, as opposed to corporate titans somewhere way far away, would be mighty embarrassed sitting next to you and the other locavores (what the local food movement calls themselves) in church as your children were heaving up their accidently e. coli tainted, locally produced breakfast granola in the narthex.  Bossie the milk cow got into the organic flax seed patch and the rest is history as are your children's intestinal villi.  I guess this kind of community intimacy polices some activities, but I'm not sure I want to play poker with local food producers and I don't barbeque anything they eat so this whole community building thing is not necessarily a selling point for me.  Plus knowing who poisoned your children and being close enough to catch them in the parking lot might not be the best thing for law and order in the local community unless you view the community down at the gray-bar hotel as just fine.

            There is mounting government policy support for this movement since all of the magical thinking listed above strikes the current set of sweet spots in the various national and global policy targets.  Beyond funding “farmer’s” markets pavilions throughout the country in every little village big enough to have someone capable of filling out government stimulus request forms, the government is heeling to activists both in the film-making business and in the University who are using their mediums to attack the structure of production agriculture and its associated processing and distribution. 

             Raining down a host of expensive audits, challenges, legal actions, regulatory demands, paperwork multiplication and charges for your (alleged) role in some Brazilian's decision to chop out another hectare of rain forest, coupled with threats to destroy your global brand (and making good on it) is all meant to give the local guys a competitive edge, some training wheels for a few years until everyone comes to their senses and plants a garden.  When the city council directs your school board to buy local food just make sure your kids have all their medieval pox vaccinations up to date.