Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Emperor's Indictment


I knew the end was near when several years ago the organic farm industry was forced to comply with new USDA organic farming standards. This was NOT the organic farming I grew up learning about through the pages of Mother Earth News and various Rodale publications. The government and big business took a perfectly good cottage industry and have co-opted it to the point that myself and many others don't know what organic means anymore, nor do I really care. I have other fish to fry, thank you. Which brings us to today.

The newest big trend in produce is LOCAL. You see it everywhere, and if you're in the biz you hear about everyone from Wal-Mart to your local supermarket wanting, buying, and generally supporting local farms. But are they? Take a close look at the produce you re buying....are your peaches mixed in with non-local peaches? Have those PLU stickers been cleverly removed to give it a more down-home appeal? Is the signage arranged in such a way that you can't really tell what's local and what's not?

I recently found my own TriStar strawberries tucked away in the remote organic section of our local supermarket...even though they are not organic. Why? because some grocers will often go to unscrupulous ends to appear to be something they are not. This is true with organics and it is now true with locally grown produce. Wal-Mart recently announced a big push to purchasing more organic produce. Will they get it locally? Doubtful, because of the cost. They'll get it from somwhere far, far away, ship it back here, and profit off the perception that organic=local...which it is definitely not. I'm here to tell you the Emperor has no clothes on.

I do want to say that there are many grocers large and small that have made a significant investment in support of local farms AND they make sure everything is identified properly in the store. But for the ones that are just taking advantage of another hot food trend, I offer this:

Please do us farmers a favor and don't confuse shoppers with improperly labeled produce. Don't obfuscate what is and isn't local by using the "if it looks local it must be local" marketing approach. Keeping farming going in NY is hard enough without hearing complaints about how those "local" (read: non-local) peaches taste horrible. Its because they were picked green, placed in cold storage, packed, shipped thousands of miles, placed in cold storage again, put on your grocers shelf, purchased by you, taken home, put in a refrigerator, washed & peeled, and finally eaten.....sound appetizing?

There are a lot of great products grown all around the world that can't be grown locally. But for those that can, please, Mr. Grocer, don't confuse the consumer by obfuscating the reality of your produce displays. When you buy our peaches, they usually go from tree to stomach in less than 72 hours. It is what local is and what we are all about. Local produce isn't going to be cheaper than imported produce, but it is better, fresher, and you're supporting your neighbors. Local works because it is your backyard.

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