Farm and Garden

Locals Only!

Despite the March snow I can smell spring and taste peas. The daffodils, tulips, garlic and other bulbs are pushing through the surface reaching for the sky. I wish I could till my field, but it’s too wet. Instead, I focus on inside tasks like seeding, organizing piles, building stuff in the shop, marketing, networking and communicating on the Internet. And when all that isn’t enough, I cook. Today, it’s venison chili. First, I toast the Black Montana barley and add it to a pot of chicken stock. Cover and bring to a boil.

Since I returned to the Treasure Valley and started farming, the local food movement has blown up. I feel very lucky. In 2004 when I said, “I have a small CSA farm,” people looked at me like I was speaking Spanish.  “What’s that?” people would ask. Back then I had the privilege and burden of being the first person to define this concept for a huge number of folks. Our literature for the farm was like a little booklet stuffed full of information about our farm and a special section on why people should care about local farms.

2004 Local Grub Brochure

Now I have a small quarter sheet flier on City Gardens and nearly everyone has heard of Community Supported Agriculture. I don’t have to explain. Wow, this is great! So I thought.

Back when we started, we used door hangers to find our first CSA members. We put on public events, basically we directly marketed our stuff. Farmer and eater met and knew each other. This we called local. Now local is such a buzz word it rolls off the tongue of the best intentioned (liberally, just like “green”). Tons of non-farmers are part of the movement now, not as eaters like in the past, but as advocates or middlemen. ( I often think if all these people joined a CSA it wouldn’t be so hard to find members or sell out at market).

These people want to organize us farmers. You see, we are toothless hill people who can’t speak to Americans like the well-heeled gorgeously dressed middlemen who now want to speak for us. In fact, we farmers are now suspects in mass deception. We are evil witches trying to convince the public we are local and organic when we may not really be. We clearly need these well spoken office people to help clear up this malignant group of ne’re do wells. We need an office full of these people keeping us honest and reassuring the public that these great watchdogs are on duty. And most importantly they need to be paid more than us.

Once the barely comes to a boil, turn down and let simmer.

I’ve spent the last 8 years toiling in the dirt trying to make a living. It ain’t easy. I have worked my ass off to grow my farm to the point where I am a full-time farmer with a part-time job. Unlike Guy Hand, who claims not to have an agenda, I have an agenda. It’s not a point of view that changes depending on what audience I’m speaking to. I came to farming because I felt the industrial world was a wasteland of toxic politics and deadly poisons. Just walk down to the Capital any day this week and ask about the Albertson’s Foundation head and Tom Luna. It’s been this way a very long time.

I farm because my agenda is not to live like we have in the past. Part of that is (small o) organic and the other is to do what I say and believe. The idea of a certifying agency is offensive and part of the world I left years ago. I don’t care what everyone else does, regulate the hell out of yourselves. This will drive the cost up. And what I hear is the price at the market needs to come down. This might come as a surprise to our BMW driving fans, but the working teachers, real estate agents, musicians, state employee… are saying the price needs to come down. This is why I don’t pay for those expensive certifications, not because I’m trying to pull one over on the T.V. addicted shopper that doesn’t have time to get to know the name of their farmer.

What I don’t understand is how the farmer became the bad guy. Seems to me this is media making noise over nothing.

Now, I’ll saute the venison sausage. And stick to cooking.

— Farmer Marty

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6 thoughts on “Locals Only!

  1. I feel that the advocates and “middlemen” that you ostracize are generally well-intentioned. I think that any energy spent on looking at the issue of food/sustainability/health in America and how to make it better is positive thing. Actually, there is no local food movement without advocates. You need someone to influence public perceptions and public policy laws. And “advocate” can mean a number of things – I know plenty of advocates in non profits that make close to nothing as either volunteers, AmeriCorps, or in struggling non profits.

    I don’t think that you need the “organic” label. But, I support Capital City Public Market’s instituting a producer grown certification process, it’s a positive thing. It’s a standard of integrity, and is a forward step. It is a self declared statement, and I hope that it is at least in some way prevents some “farmers” from bringing food from Costco to the market and presenting it as their own grown food.

    You are clearly saying something here, and saying it with gusto. Maybe you should be more like Guy Hand and be aware of your audience, because what you have said and the way that you have said it could strain some of your relationships with the public, your buyers, and your relations in the local food area. I just think that you are making some assumptions about advocates that are trying to work for you, not against you

    Anyway, thanks for all your other posts, I really appreciate your blog – I love your recipes, and the images of the food always look delicious.

    Best Wishes.

  2. Farmer Marty,

    First of all, let me say that I understand your sentiment concerning bureaucracies throwing a wrench in the gears of the local foods movement. But I have to say that I don’t see advocates as bureaucrats. By attacking local foods advocates, you are doing nothing but hurting your own customer base. Local foods advocates do not compare to big ag lobbyists. They are not in it to line their own pockets. Most local foods advocates are volunteers or very lowly paid staffers for national and local groups such as Farm Aid, the Farmers’ Market Coalition, the Treasure Valley Food Coalition, and farmers themselves.

    Gleaning over your online conversation with Guy Hand on the producer grown certification idea that Capital City Public Market is floating, it seems that you have problems with the Treasure Valley Food Coalition. I have to say that I’ve never seen Janie Burns (local farmer, advocate, founding board member of the Treasure Valley Food Coalition) dressed ‘gorgeously’ as she testifies in front of the Idaho Legislature, pressing them to admit that local foods play a part in Idaho’s economy, culture, and are an important move in the right direction of a sustainable society. I hate to drag Janie into this discussion without her consent, but I just want to make the point that advocates are not your enemy. They are your fellow farmers and consumers.

    The second issue that I want to cover is that of a producer grown certification. I think that this issue has been looked at from the wrong direction. A producer grown certification is more of a branding process than a regulation. In the case of Capital City Public Market, they are a producer grown market. Without oversight and certification they are liable to lose their integrity if a rogue vendor ends up selling an apple that they picked up from Costco and stripped off the California grown sticker. For a vendor to say that they are producer grown, and to display a certification at their booth does not diminish, but adds to a consumer’s chances of purchasing from them. Certification does not mean that your farm will be overwhelmed with regulators. By being certified you are saying that, yes, you understand the importance of integrity. It in no means says that the producer and consumer can’t still meet face to face, or that farmers can’t offer farm visits to the consumers. In the case of restaurants, their consumers don’t have the opportunity to meet the farmers that provide the food, but they can be sure to choose to eat at a restaurant that uses local food if they are certified and branded.

    If you follow this Farmers’ Market Coalition website, you will see that many statewide farmers’ market associations have some kind of producer grown certification process. This is not an isolated case in Boise or Idaho. As Guy Hand pointed out, there have been issues in other states with vendors manipulating their customers. Here is the Farmers’ Market Coalition URL: http://www.farmersmarketcoalition.org/resources/home/items/13-farm-inspection-and-enforcement

    Having said this, I want to repeat that I am a local food advocate and a local food consumer. I know my farmers. I talk to them about their products. I shop consciously. I am a CSA subscriber. I appreciate the work that both you and Katie do. I think that it is amazing the work that Global Gardens has done to introduce EBT acceptance at the market, creating the opportunity for low-income folks to use their SNAP benefits at the market while also opening a brand new customer base to market vendors. I am envious of your cooking skills. And I frequently read your blog for the recipes and friendly messages.

    Thank you for what you do.

    Just please, don’t stab your own people (advocates and consumers) in the back.

  3. I tried to make a comment yesterday. Have you received it? I have not seen it on this site or received any response. I don’t suspect that you are, but I really hope that you aren’t suppressing my comment.

  4. Thank you for reading Jane. I don’t believe I’ve met you, but I think I know your husband John. Do you want to come over for dinner?

    For real, I think you are absolutely right. I did paint an unfair characterization of advocates. I’m sorry. I know lot’s of great ones like Jen Miller, who I hope will host a workshop on what all the new USDA rules will mean for us specialty farmers. Right now it’s a whirlwind of rumors. It would be nice to get a clear idea of what we are going to need to comply.

    These new rules are causing an uproar in the farm community. To further burden, us we have special rules here in Idaho about alliums and I’ve been trying to deal with the Idaho Dept. of Ag. I wanted to save my own potatoes too, but they wanted more potatoes to test than I planned on saving to plant the next year. I’m feeling like I’m living Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. I’m bit frustrated that the first reaction of people is heavy handed oversight.

    Guy Hand’s radio piece Push For Local Food Certification made me believe that the people meeting to discuss this issue were talking about a Treasure Valley wide problem not just a problem at the Capital City Market. Now I have looked into the problem and asked around, I understand what’s going on differently than I did after listening to Edible Idaho.

    The way I see it: Back in the day, the farmers’ market allowed farmers to sell 25% off-farm produce (when I went to market this had to be from another local farm or garden). There weren’t a lot of farmers way back in the day, so this helped get more booths and produce. I don’t know if any of it was from Costco. I wasn’t around back then. As the market got popular, more farmers began to appear at market. The 25% rule was changed now that the market is a success (some farmers protested), and now 100% of the produce must be from the farmer’s farm. In some cases, already struggling farmers were asked to take a 25% cut in sales. This is why there is no longer any asparagus at market.

    The true problem is that farmers aren’t making enough money at farmers’ market. This is why I stopped going. Every year, new farms show up to market and most don’t make it back the next. From my point of view Guy’s story should have been about how hard it is to make a living being a market grower. We fix this problem, then there is no need to bring stuff from Costco. Usually I love Guy’s stuff, this time I think he missed the point.

    My annoyance with advocacy groups is localized to a select group and my attempt to keep my anger anonymous made me generalize (I’m sure you can relate, Jane). I think there are a lot of great groups out there doing wonderful work. I do, however, think the problems of America are cultural and no amount of policy can fix them. We must change our everyday life before anything big will change.

  5. Idaho Food Advocate thank you for you time. I guess we can name names now, except of course, we don’t know yours.

    It is true that I don’t agree with a number of things that the Treasure Valley Food Coalition has pursued like the Food Assessment. Huge waste of energy.

    Mostly, I found that the local NPR radio programs favored the Treasure Valley Food Coalition’s side of any debate concerning local food. This did annoy me. Guy Hand does a great job telling a story, I like his show, but it doesn’t have much diversity in opinion when it comes to politics.

    Janie Burns is a farmer speaking for herself which is what I suggest should be done. I do however, think pleading your case down at the State Capital is a waste of good time. Elected officials are bought by the highest bidder, they don’t work for people like us they work for corporations (see history of Ag Policy). Not even the Treasure Valley Food Coalition has the kind of money needed to buy influence.

    I think the most frustrating advocate group is Think Boise First. I remember the first time I saw the logo. It was a stuck on the door of my favorite coffee shop. It made me think and I had high hopes for the campaign. As the group began to grow it quickly became clear that it wasn’t about local, at least not the local Wendell Berry wrote about. Not the local we talked about around campfires at Whistling Duck Farm. No matter who owns the McDonald’s or Ace Hardware, it ain’t local. The sticker that had so much potential became a symbol that muddied the water, not made it clearer. When I went into Big City Coffee and tried to sell my salad mix, they gave me a million reasons why they couldn’t. None of which was, “we are buying our salad mix from another farmer.” The whole time I was standing by the cash register staring at an orange and white sign that said local.

    I could go on…

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