Sunday, December 18, 2011

to blog or not to blog?

When Google+ came out, I figured oh cool, now I can drop twitter, facebook, and the blog and just use Google+ for everything. But if Google+ is being used by more than a handful of people around where I live then its news to me. It just isn't taking over the other services as I'd hoped, even though it would be much better for all of us if the other less functional sites would just go away. (facebook and twitter, how about just throwing it in?) They seem to have reached critical mass, where like Ebay, the other sites are just never gonna get there because the biggest one is the only place most people care to be. Crappy or no, they seem to have traction and critical mass and I am stuck dealing with the mishmash SM stuff to spend my dark-outside time on.

I return to the blog for a simple reason: I have something on my mind. Its food of course: is the food we sustainably produce too expensive? Is it worth the blood, sweat, and tears to create this food if my friends can't afford to feed it to their kids? Isn't that why I started farming, to make better tasting, more nutritious, better for the planet and our community food for my friends to feed to their kids?

But what is "can't afford?" I know people who drive Lexus' and BMW's who don't buy local food because they think it is over priced. People who have read Omnivore's Dilemma, and have plenty of money, just can't see spending twice the price of Rosie when she's organic fed after all. I also have among my customers people who are clearly making every penny count but wouldn't buy a Rosie if their dinner depended upon it. Yet for everyone, food IS a large part of the monthly budget (even if its a smaller part in the USA than it is in every other developed country) and is everyone ready to double that? Then do it again? What if they are already having a hard time saving up a nest egg and nourishing the 401-K? Dont those 2 need to be prioritized over eggs with less cholesterol and more vitamin D? I mean, you don't DIE from eating a $1.50 dozen of eggs, but you could easily croak if you dont have health insurance and you get sick, at least if the tea-party gets to take over you are dead.

How can we prioritize something as indirect as our topsoil and our ocean and our atmosphere when these things are so vast that any major damage we do to them will only really manifest itself in our children or grandchildren's lifetimes? Paying for college and gas for the commute and the rent is so RIGHT NOW. Plus, these are the commons, and without everyone having a crystal ball isn't it a little silly to make financial sacrifices yourself when everyone else is just gonna go for what's cheapest? And as for the welfare of animals, well, what's more important, animals or people? Vegans you are not spared, your vegetable mono-crops come at the expense of wildlife from huge to microscopic, both on the farm and very very far away. It is shipping our topsoil off to the ocean. It is messing up the climate, terrestrial hydrology, and polluting non-stop.

A Kurt Vonnegut quote comes to mind. I can't remember what it was exactly but it was something along the lines of "I smoke because I'm too cowardly to commit suicide all at once." We can't see the future, these changes are happening slowly and the effects are absorbed by the vastness of the systems involved (the solution to pollution is dilution). A few people have put some money into getting some data that shows us that sustainably produced food is actually better for our bodies. Focus groups have shown that people won't really pay more for the environment but they will pay more if they think its better for their health. But there isn't much out there proving that conventionally farmed food is actually bad for our bodies. There is a lot of unexplained illness and disease we didn't used to have (heart failure, cancer) but this could be environmental too, or social issues like more stressful lives. So we are back to why pay $8 for something you can get for $1.50?

Why can you get it for $1.50 anyway? How did that happen? Developing systems that reduced risk, minimized labor, and maximized efficiency. What are the costs and who pays? Animal suffering=not me, environmental degradation=not me, human exploitation(cheap labor)=not me. Also governmental corruption subsidizing any farming that is cheaper than the others makes this uber-cheap food possible. Modern marketing further allows for pushing food that isn't really food at all and for changing traditional nourishment strategies into modern ones. How in the hell have we convinced people of the complete oxymoron that food should be cheap and illegal immigration is just a bunch of criminals ruining our country? Media/marketing of course.

People will say that markets determine all of this. Cheap food exists because there is a market for it, and sustainable will take over only if and when the market demands it. Alas markets are not truly free of outside forces and thus dont work in reality as well as they should in theory. We behave irrationally for a variety of reasons. But most importantly I think that the corrupting power of money has so much control over policy that we have the markets we do in a large part because super wealthy people think its better for them this way. I disagree, I think the current economic system as deployed since Reagan of dismantling the New Deal is weakening the middle class, the true big spenders of our economy, which actually hurts the wealthy, who's wealth is invested in markets which crash when the middle class has no more money to spend. Robert Reich just nails this one: first we sent women to work, then we worked longer hours, then we borrowed like no tomorrow, and now there's just nothing left for the middle class to do for themselves to increase their spending power. Their bosses just have to increase their pay at this point for their wealth to grow. And that ain't happening you communist america hater. As long as we can be convinced that the reason our local governments are so broke is because of teacher, police, and fire-fighter pensions then we aren't going to make any progress strengthening the middle class. And of course, its gotta go way beyond the public sector, the middle class needs more wealth across the board. The wealth is right there in Warren Buffet's bank account. He's one of the good guys, but the point is, the super rich are richer and more numerous and powerful because the middle class is dwindling, and educational quality has been dropping for a while now, and we are all plugged into a media that can convince anyone that which is bad for them is actually good and vice-versa. I'm not convinced there is really such a thing as wealth creation. I think its a vast closed system, like the atmosphere, and it all sorta sloshes around. You add to this pile by removing some from that one.

So maybe the question isn't why should we pay more for food when we have so little money to go around and should instead be why is there so little money to go around? Its basically the force behind the Occupy protests, why do I have enough free time to Occupy this place instead of working? Because I have no job. Because the old contract with our society, that if I'm willing to work hard for a lifetime I get to have kids and a place to live and a good education for them and a comfortable old age has been chucked out the window.

We live in THIS place, at THIS time, with THIS system. A local farmer once admonished a bunch of us: "we farm in the economy we have, not the one we want" and surely the same is true for the consumer. So what can we do?
-pray, work, and advocate for change towards a more just society
-buy direct from a local farm so they can farm sustainably and you can afford it since there isn't a middle man with his margin
-plant a garden
-get skilled in your kitchen
-heck if I know

I wish I really knew the answer and could figure out how to produce wholesome food for less right here in Sonoma county, without cheating the land, our employees, or our livestock. They after all give their last measure of devotion to become immortalized as part of our children.

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