When it comes to understanding sustainability, people seem to understand socially responsible and they understand environmentally friendly. Those are the easy ones to get your head around. However, the most difficult and certainly the least sexy part about sustainability is also the most important part. It's the part about a farm being economically viable in order to be sustainable. The whole local movement is a bit skewed. It's well intended yet I think we have to look at the whole big competitive picture and unfortunately, that is reality.
It’s important to know where your food comes from, but focusing on buying within a local region or a certain radius doesn’t take into account the big picture. How was it grown? How were the employees (we say team members) taken care of? Were they provided a competitive wage with benefits? If we did business in a 50 mile radius of our farm we wouldn’t…couldn’t be sustainable. Hey look, if you can get food safe, good quality in your backyard, by all means I encourage and support it. Yet as a small farm in a rural area we must seek our supporters of sustainable agriculture wherever they may be.
Nearly 90% percent of U.S. consumption is produced in a third-world country, and almost the entire remaining 10% comes from less than 5% of the total U.S. growers. In other words, $3 a day labor (paid in third-world countries) and huge corporate farms are feeding America. Supporting cheap third-world products comes at a very high cost to society and the environment around the world. Rather, we need to seek out direct relationships with folks of like-minded philosophies, who value the basic tenets of sustainable agriculture…not just local but wherever in the world they may be.
Imagine turning this around on a restaurant. What if you were asked to show your driver’s license before a restaurant would seat you? “Oh, I’m sorry; you’re not local so we cannot serve you.” Could a restaurant be sustainable if it only accepted customers within a 100 mile radius?
There are a lot of things we attempt to do on our farm to achieve the environmentally friendly and socially responsible aspects of sustainability, like rebuilding the nutrients in the soil naturally, letting land sit fallow, eliminating chemical and synthetic fertilizers, reducing the use of fossil fuels, recycling and so on. Yet one of the things we are also doing is competing against farms that do not hold themselves to the same standard. Our approach is more costly, but it’s also the right thing to do.
We have to seek out folks who respect and appreciate our attempts at doing the right things and sustain ourselves at the same time. Buy local when you can, but buy sustainable always. And remember…eat your veggies!