Wednesday, February 24, 2010

what if?

I can't sleep because I have an idea knocking around in my head. Obviously I'm passionate about the environment, I've decided to focus the rest of my life's work on it, and I've (along with many others) identified the food system as the major problem within that to work on solving. It all started when I caught wind of the local Whole Foods getting beaten to a pulp on a local internet forum. I'm not thinking they are the solution to our food/environmental woes by any means, but I find it hard not to jump to the aid of ANYONE getting unjustly stoned in public. I mean that in the old-testament sense! If what they were saying was true, or even made sense, it might have been ignorable, but no, these folks were spouting off in the most inflamatory ways despite being relatively clueless about farming, food, and the economy itself. I felt it was my duty to correct the inaccuracies therein. So I did, and I didn't pull punches. I could never be in politics even though that's probably the best shot at making real change happen because I'm just not able to be likable enough. Not with my inflammatory writing style and willingness to publish-while-angry.

I asked a big question during that thread that my mind then simply wouldn't let go of. It went back to an old idea I'd had and fleshed it out just a little bit more, such that now it almost makes sense. Since I can't sleep, I'm hoping writing it down here will get it out of my head and I will be allowed to sleep. Plus, I went out to the garage and grabbed an old anti-insomnia prescription of Mary's that she let me have for a trip once, its 6 years expired but it worked on my trip so I figure I have about 45 minutes...

The question was this: what would be a viable way for me to sell whatever vegetables or meat products I produced, as much or as little as I produced, whenever they were ready to be harvested, for a fair price, me and every other small or even backyard producer? The farmer's market doesn't work, like everything else its all set up to exclude random little first years like me who just grow a tiny amount of the same thing everyone else has. They want 25% farms, 25% prepared foods, 25% crafts, 10% value added and etc you get the picture. You have to apply in advance, be on a waiting list, and pay a fee for the privilege of dealing with all that hassle. And its one day a week, so most people don't even do their real shopping there, it takes years to build a devoted following who come to get YOUR stuff if you want to be successful there. At least that's how it seems to me.

So my first idea was a full time farm market, in some central location, which operated maybe every afternoon/evening 6 days/week or something, so that people could shop there whenever they wanted. But you'd have real bootstrapping problems with that, farms wouldn't come because the customers weren't there yet, and vice versa. It just wasn't a compelling enough idea.

But this food fight on the local forum got me thinking about the economy, and unemployment, and the whole problem of lacking local manufacturing and production. We think we are saving our local economy buying stuff from Mexico or China or Chile at a locally owned independent store. Well we are not. As long as it is produced or manufactured elsewhere we are sending money out of our economy and over to theirs. For stuff we can't produce here, great, we should do that, those people need to make a living too. But there's lots we can produce here that we aren't, even though there's all these unemployed people here, there's about a million obstacles codified into law to prevent these people using their time to make and sell stuff locally. The middle men, the whole system makes sure that "production" only works for the big guys.

So what if some local whiz kid supervisor like Effren Carillo could literally re-write truckloads of legal obstacles just for our little renegade community and give us a real old-school market/bazaar? Like we could use the huge and centrally located with lots of indoor space and outdoor parking Pellini Chevrolet location and allow ANYONE who wants to just set up a table there and sell stuff any day they wanted 6 days/week. The only rule would be that it had to be produced, manufactured, grown, or created in Sonoma County. Heck, be magnanimous, throw Marin and Lake Counties in until there's critical mass and they get their own.

Lots of people would try it as a seller, because there are low costs and obstacles to doing so, and lots of buyers would check it out because they could go whenever it was convenient for them and be assured that they'd succeed in getting their shopping done (assuming the sellers were there in numbers). I might not be there with my eggs every time you go but there will always be someone there with no factory farmed eggs. So when we all have a ton of zuchini in the middle of summer, we bring it down along with everyone else. Some recently unemployed enterprising person comes through with a cart and buys them all cheaply cause supply is high and demand low, and takes them home and with the help of their backyard flock of chickens makes them into zuchini bread, which shows up piled on a table in a few days at the market and sells out. Long days and nights, but worthwhile work turning something nobody wants into something everybody wants. Not in a "certified obstacle" kitchen, but in _their_ kitchen. If people are leery about quality, ask for a sample. Be your own food inspector, right? Regular old bread made from a bunch of backyard gardens and backyard eggs is really tasty and desirable stuff, and factory made bread from elsewhere wouldn't be there.

It just seems to me that if people had a way to sell the stuff they grew or produced or made, they'd spend more time growing, producing, and making things, and less time tearing hair out or gnashing teeth about the bad economy, the job market, and the high prices at Whole Foods. If they could convert labor into cash, maybe they'd be willing to hand some of that cash to farmers, who then could afford health care coverage for their own family and maybe even to pay a living wage to an employee and get coverage for them too. Tourists might even be attracted to this market, thus turning those local products into instant exports and enriching our local economy with outside money. Wow.

Like I said, truckloads of laws are in place preventing anything like that from ever occurring in our "free" country. Food for thought...