Democratize Local Food Movement?

Willing Hands at Edgewater Farm

In Michael Pollan’s recent NYT article, he offers support and also questions the effectiveness of the local food movement. He acknowledges the growth of farmers markets; “The farmers’ market has become the country’s liveliest new public square, an outlet for our communitarian impulses and a means of escaping, or at least complicating, the narrow role that capitalism usually assigns to us as ‘consumers’.” He also notes the growth of CSAs and the growing interest in sustainable farming. He cautions: “Not everyone can afford to participate in the new food economy. If the food movement doesn’t move to democratize the benefits of good food, it will be — and will deserve to be — branded as elitist.”
The article focuses on the need to go beyond the local to tackling Big Food and its hold on Washington and on the the import of California’s Proposition 37 . . . but I found myself considering how we in Vermont and New Hampshire have moved to “democratize the benefits of good food”.

* Having recently volunteered for Willing Hands, picking tomatoes at Killdeer Farm and carrots at Edgewater Farm, I am aware of and appreciate the generosity of local farmers who share their bounty and the volunteers who offer their time and energy. Local apples, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots find their way to food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, senior centers, child-care centers, etc., where they are offered at no cost at all. Volunteers also work at the Willing Hands Organic Farm Garden in East Thetford.

* School and community gardens are proliferating, offering many new gardeners education and the opportunity to grow food:
New Hampshire:

* The New Hampshire Food Bank runs its own farm with volunteer labor. Food raised at the farm is used for their Culinary Education program and for distribution to agencies throughout the state. The Vermont Foodbank has its own Kingsbury Farm, a statewide farm gleaning program, and a Pick for your Neighbor program.

* Many CSAs offer a sliding scale so that those of limited means pay a lower cost, and NOFA Vermont’s Farm Share Program assists low-income Vermonters in obtaining farm fresh foods.

* Plant A Row for the Hungry programs encourage gardeners to share their produce.

* The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has developed a Farm to Plate strategic plan for sustainable agriculture in the state. An important goal of this plan is “All Vermonters will have access to fresh, nutritionally balanced food that they can afford.” (The analysis of this goal focuses on providing free food for the most vulnerable citizens, not on reducing the cost to the average buyer.)

There seems to be a growing attention to meeting the need of the most vulnerable. But what of the middle class and the “elite”? What will it take for people of means to realize there is no bargain in cheap food? Our health, our children’s health, and the health of the planet are at stake. Will it be climate change and a growing concern about the erosion of our environment that will move us forward?

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