Weekly Wrap

Grist – annoyingly, in my opinion* – told us all that we’re not doing enough to change the food system. New Yorkers, while susceptible to the same prejudices, can at least excoriate rude, self-entitled skanks in much more colorful language than the rest of us. The Chinese approach food safety scandals a little bit differently than we do. On the occasion of his Bangkok restaurant’s long-awaited opening, The Atlantic‘s Jarrett Wrisley exhales and looks ahead:

my triumphant moment was a frown and a deep breath, a contemplative ride home, and a personal promise to do it better the next day, and every one after that.

* – Annoyingly, because fifteen years ago most of us were eating out of 9×13 casserole dishes and chugging cans of Cream of Whateverthehell Soup. Today, the average farmers market shopper is spending only $20 per visit – so what? I wish it were more too, but we’re starting from scratch here. The people…they’re at the markets! Which have more than tripled since 1994! Relax. Seriously, it’s like that great Louis C.K. segment on Conan…give it a second!

Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

8 thoughts

  1. 15 years ago? You are showing your age! Many of us old ones way back when, were cooking from scratch. watching PBS cooking shows, eating at chef’s tables and culinary school events

  2. I may be showing my age, but I was really pegging it to the other statistic I referenced…the growth of farmers markets since 1994. Also, Julia did indeed help set in motion what we are beginning to enjoy today…but I bet you enjoy having more company. 😉

  3. In fairness, it’s harder for farmers to “give it time” when it’s our annual living at stake. No argument things are continuing to move that direction, but it’s a tight business to make a real living in. The continued growth of markets and small farms has a down side if the consumer support doesn’t keep up; right now there’s a real danger of the same consumer dollars being split between more and more farms & markets such that it’s harder and harder to make enough as a full-time farm. This doesn’t affect part-timers as much, though it’s the full-timers you really need in order to build a long-term success story. I’ve got a great editorial to share from a market farming monthly that makes this point; on our blog soon.

  4. Eric – good point. I received a farm share this year as a result of a contribution I made to a non-profit. While I’ve done so in the past, I have not stuck by one farm from year to year, thereby making your point about how hard it is to “be” supported by the vagaries of the buying public. There was no real reason why I didn’t go back to the same farm except that whenever it was time to sign up, whatever caught my eye first got my dollars.

    Now the farm I get my share from has done two very distinct things. Both of which raised my awareness and now find myself having signed up for another round with the same farm. One thing they did is set up the pick-up in a very specific location – away from the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market. In order to get my share, I drive across town and unless I really need something else, I don’t go to the Farmer’s Market as often. The other thing he did is start providing other items at the separate location.

    When I planned on meat, milk, cheese and eggs purchase recently – I found that he carried these items at his separate location – and that’s where I purchased them. In thinking about things, I realized that I have not been to the Farmers’ Market location in over a month. My food dollars are not being as spread out as they once were; they are going to one farmer only.

    I realized this and have given some serious thought as to whether or not this is a good thing. It is for the farmer. For me, I still have a one-stop shopping convenience as I did when I shopped at the Farmers’ Market. But my dollars stop there.

    Not sure how I feel about this – politically or ethically.

  5. Let me echo Maria. I am way older than you, Scottie – I’m pretty sure. And I was blessed with a mom who learned how to cook Chinese from her Chinese husband, and turned out to be a very good cook. And this was in the seventies, when you could find NOTHING exotic or out of the way in the stores. Not here in Mid-Mo! But we ate from-scratch meals more often than not (can you believe.. Hamburger Helper when she and Dad went out for a rare meal/event was a HUGE treat for us five kids!? We loved to cook that stuff up and eat it!) and ate very well. We got curries, stir fries, simmers, boils, soups… stuff that I’m sure a lot of kids back then weren’t exposed to. I’m sure since my Dad hated casseroles, that played a role as well!

    I am sure I’ve mentioned this before in comments, but when I got homesick for Chinese dim sum, I found a cookbook (Rhoda Yee) at a bookstore in Columbia sometime in 1978 or 9 and started cooking my own!

    Anyway, long long story not too short, it’s all how you grew up. And as we all know, changing culture is not an overnight phenom. Well, I’ve done my part by imbuing my progeny with my palate and multicultural background.

  6. Maria,

    Thanks for your comments. There are various benefits and drawbacks to focusing one’s dollars on a specific farm versus spreading it around and I don’t think one is better than another if the consumer has done their homework. If you find a few farms you really believe in, there’s nothing wrong with helping make sure they stay in business. If you like the diversity of selecting a little bit from everywhere, that works too. Any individual’s choices aren’t going to make or break the system; it’s the collective behavior and spending level that matters most.

    Regarding the role of farm shares in this, I’d like to share this story.

    The Columbia Farmers Market has always been producer-only, but until recently there was a loophole for CSAs, as the rules were worded only that items “sold” at the market had to be produced by the seller, not necessarily “distributed”. Several CSAs took advantage of this by supplementing their shares with produce and other items purchased elsewhere, such as a produce auctions and elsewhere. Last winter a rule was proposed and discussed, in which it was made clear that CSAs distributing at market were held to the same standards as everyone else, i.e. everything in the share had to be grown/produced on that farm. This was passed almost unanimously, with the only real opposition coming from one CSA which used lots of purchased items in its shares, an operation which had previously been thrown out of another area farmers market for reselling produce against the rules.

    Not coincidentally, since that was passed in early 2010, that CSA has stopped distributing at market and moved its share distributions elsewhere. This CSA offers very broad selections of animal and produce items. Their marketing efforts imply that it is a one-farm operation, which is not at all the case (and if you read carefully you’ll see that). Their marketing also strongly implies a certain set of growing practices which are also not the case, given their sources in produce auctions and elsewhere. I’ve been to this place, and they’re not doing nearly as much as they imply they are.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with a distribution CSA (as opposed to a farm-production CSA) if everyone is open about what’s going on. Often such things are cooperatives between multiple farms whose strengths complement each other, and who want to split the marketing costs, and this can work very nicely for consumers and producers alike. However, those consumers need to be very clear on what they’re getting and from whom. I don’t know if your CSA is the one I’m talking about, but very few folks are capable of both producing & marketing all those items on one farm and my suspicion radar lights up when I hear such claims. In the case above, the consumers’ money isn’t “going to one farmer only”, it’s going to one middleman/marketer who is doing a fraction of the actual farming.

    There are very good CSAs out there, including operations that offer some off-farm products clearly and openly (for example, Pierpont offers other local farms’ meat openly and honestly, while Happy Hollow is producer-only). But it’s always worth asking enough questions to be sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting. The same is true at farmers markets; if you care a lot about the impact your dollars have, it’s worth asking more questions to find out who you most want to support. Farmers are no more universally trustworthy or ideal than any other group of folks put on pedestals.

  7. Eric – when I wrote my reply my mind began processing some things I’ve heard when I’ve collected my share. My sense is we are in fact talking about the same farmer. Those things said have been gnawing at my brain and I suspect you are correct – reselling items purchased at produce auctions etc. And perhaps that’s why he is now off-site. *sigh*

    I also wondered about one vendor who is still at the market and has spread out to two sections. The produce sold doesn’t make sense to me as having been grown in this area, but it’s only an uneducated guess on my part.

    A friend on FB recently asked for recommendations for purchasing a farm share. I hesitated giving the name of the one I have because of my suspicions. I’m going to recommend she review your reply here.

  8. Maria,

    I highly recommend either Pierpont or Happy Hollow as reliable, authentic CSAs. There are others I don’t know enough about to make a statement one way or the other, so their omission here doesn’t mean anything.

    As for the other concern, I’ve found that customers’ instincts can be right or wrong on whether produce “ought” to be in season or local. Some farmers have figured out good ways to extend their season or grow unusual things; other times there may be cheating going on. The market takes the producer-only rule pretty seriously, and has an inspection committee which looks into any allegations or concerns. If you’re serious about your concern, you could raise it with the market manager or one of the board members (listed on the CFM web site) so that they could look into it further. THey would be appreciative of a customer taking that initiative.

    You might also simply ask the farmer: where did you grow this? or how did you get this out of season? It’s a perfectly rational question from a consumer interested in their growing methods and doesn’t have to be confrontational. I love it when people ask how I grow something, as long as they’re willing to listen to the answer.

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