* About consumers. Debi asked if I wanted to chime in. YES!
If we really want to change the way food is produced and consumed in this world, then I don't particularly care about labels. I'm more interested in getting eaters to ask questions about their food and make decisions based on what they feel comfortable with. ----- Original Message -----
Oh, no, no, no. Labels are a shortcut for connecting people who eat with producers. The problem is we don't have outstanding labels that represent the individual small farmer. My father use to tell me, "All you have is your name." Well the large names and labels we now have just don't do justice to the small producer.
smallfarms.com is designed to change all that. We DRIVE BUSINESS to the small farmer and rancher, the small Co-ops, CSAs, organic, and biodynamic certified. Is it working? Yes! Our stats tell us that visitors are spending more than twice the time at our site looking at farm listings as they do on the normal internet site. They're checking out smallfarm.com farmers! That's by design.
Is it good for the farmer? Yes! And we'll help the consumer too by telling her where to find real farmers, the source of the best one on one education around. Quality food + info from the source = a return customer.
Are we e-commerce? No. You won't find a credit card logo at smallfarms.com so don't bother looking. We're a locator system where people find personal farmers. Early in our development, our internet people told us we'd spawn a host of imitators and I hear now that we have. We had targeted a fee of $24.00 per year, but finally set the fee at $29.00. Isn't interesting seeing some of the older sites that mention farmer food bring their fees down and the e commerce kids price at about $29.00 per year? So are we a standard for marketing on the internet? Naaawh. I just plan and work. But I sure wouldn't mind some of that development money back.
Are we a .org or .edu? No, no. We're the label that cares about the prosperity of small producers.... Hungry farmers can't feed kids or contribute to communities. We're the label that tells folks clearly and unashamedly, BUY FROM THE FARMER!
Buy from the Farmer
I was traveling for about 3 weeks and let SANET mail back up. I would like to reply to a couple of threads discussed in the last month.
* Regarding the vitamin A, GE etc. discussion. I would like to recommend two books, "Plants, Power and Profit" by Lawrence Busch and William Lacy, and "Making Nature, Shaping Culture: Plant Biodiversity in Global Context" by L. Busch, W. Lacy, J. Burkhadt et al, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1995. They discuss lots of ways that local knowledges about growing and eating have been systematically under attack for the last 500 years. Interesting stuff!
* About consumers. Debi asked if I wanted to chime in. YES!
If we really want to change the way food is produced and consumed in this world, then I don't particularly care about labels. I'm more interested in getting eaters to ask questions about their food and make decisions based on what they feel comfortable with. In the process, it requires that people get more in touch with their food system. Does it take longer? Yes, to get people aware of what system they are particiaping in. Does it take longer/more inconvenient to eat this way? NO! But it does take time to relearn food cooking techniques, develop a network of suppliers and routinize them into your life. In this way, it becomes as convenient to eat food that supports farmers, workers, communities and the nature in which we are embedded as it does to participate in a globalized, industrialized food system that is based on returning wealth to corporate shareholders.
I'm leary of organic labeling -- and forgive me for not following the debate very closely here so this might have been said -- because of the relationships that are beginning to predominate in the organic "industry". I read Supermarket News regularly and pay attention to what they are saying about natural and organic food. Kroger is doing a superb job of integrating it into their stores, as is Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, Whole Foods and Wild Oats are busy acquiring any community based natural market you can think of. Their growth is astronomical. Both retail chains say now they are going to have to concentrate on opening stores rather than acquiring existing ones. Large-scale natural retailers are just as interested in reducing transaction costs as other retailers. Thus, they prefer to deal with fewer accounts (forget buying local!), and prefer to have consistent, guranteed shipment. So what happens to relationships throughout the organic "industry"? Well, processors have to get big enough to meet the demand for all those stores -- and then organic processors become attractive to conventional processors (Alta Dena belongs to Dean Foods for example) -- and then farmers start to lose their bargaining power vis-a-vis processors, etc. A trend that started at the community level and incorporated ethics about relationships between people and the earth is rapidly become an "envirnomental" movement concerned with practices. In essence we are replicating the same structure of the globalized, industrialized food system in the organic arena.
There are options: Social/Ethic labelling like the Fair Trade labels in Europe (and to some extent here). The most important thing is to involve consumers in dialogues about what they want -- and make sure they know what they are supporting through each and every food decision. I encourage people to ask farmers how they produce their food and why they do it that way. I tell them to ask farmers why they are/are not organic certified. I tell them to ask about IPM versus organic etc. I encourage folks to make their own decisions about raw milk versus pasteurized based on the information they get from the farmer and their own comfort level with alternatives. I tell people to talk about the reasons they buy locally at church, dinner parties, potlucks, etc. I encourage people to ask questions of their store managers and make their opinions known. But most of all I tell people to GET INVOLVED with their food in any way possible!
Currently I'm working this into a four page handout that we give out at presentations. A farmer edition is already available on our website and the consumer one will be there by mid-April.
-- Mary Hendrickson, Ph.D. Food Circles Networking Project University of Missouri Outreach and Extension 106 Sociology Columbia, MO 65211
Website: http://www.foodcircles.missouri.edu Tele: 573-882-7463 Fax: 573-882-1473
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