“Living without expectations is hard but, when you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that is bad. You have got to have hope, and you must'nt shirk it. Love, after all, hopeth all things. But maybe you must learn, and it is hard learning, not to hope out loud, especially for other people. You must not let your hope turn into expectation.”
― Wendell Berry
This week of launching Valley Roots first Winter CSA mostly by the wiz-banger of the world wide web brings up an array of feelings. A big THANK YOU goes out to all of the CSA shareholders for making this precedence-setting program a viable way to eat. And for those that had a blip or two, thank you for your perseverance and tolerance of being "denied access" to where only a moment before you were a welcomed guest. "The page you are looking for no longer exists." Excuse me? "I'm sorry but you are not authorized to access these pages!" What?! Who is it that is taking and why do I feel as if "they" are in control? All I want is food that comes from within 50 miles of where I live and yet I have to go global before this can happen? Where's the humanity in all of this? Where's the food, the soil, and the micro-biology? These are all viable questions and while the answer is complicated I assure you that at the end of the day Local Food does win.
Now, it may come as a surprise that I have been known, and would even call myself, something of a modern day Ludditte. That is, I loathe the loss of the subtle graces of life that give way to technological prowess. I mourn the loss of the written letter that has given way to the over-whelming hurricane of internet and wireless communication. And I emphasize with digital natives (millenials) who all they have ever known is the internet way of life. Remember the patience and rewards we once used to experience in waiting for a favorite TV show to come on again NEXT WEEK. Or may favorite, listening to a record, tape, or CD song by song while thumbing through the liner notes and pictures-reading and digesting all the lyrics, the places it was recorded, who mixed and mastered it, and more. I can still smell the smell of a freshly opened CD or tape cassette and hear the crinkle of the cellophane. Those were magical moments. Yet, more and more I am lead to believe my experience of music or of popular culture in 80s and 90s was not "better" than what kids of today experience. Just different. Just like working ridiculously hard at something with hand tools only is not necessarily "better" than an approach of all power tools and the proper training to do something efficiently and effective. Or is it? And how do we quantify what makes it better. A hand built table is just that, whether its manufacture took sweat and time, or electricity and less time. Is there an inherent quality and how do we preserve it? How do we represent it?
Now the story of local food is this: that's all it used to be for everyone. Imports were a unanimous delicacy. Whether that was tea from the Orient, coffee from Latin America, or sugar from SE America. These commodities probably joyously spiced up the cupboard of saurkraut, pickled beans, and hard tack. Then, as fossil fuels enabled civilization to farm, transport, and refrigerate huge quantities of food, local became not such a confining issue. Then the populace became more and more distant from their food and the producers became more and more bio-mehcanical-chemical engineers not concerned with families who were eating their products, but more than likely the conglomerate corporation who was to by their crop. Or perhaps it was just a government subsidy that didn't care what the heck went on in the field, if anything at all. And pretty soon we are at the end of the 20th Century and health and environmental conscious people/initiatives were finding an incongruency in the way the system has left us to eat.
Yes, we can grow gardens and should. But what about when we go out to eat at a restaurant, or need to buy something to complete the home meal? Should we always have to succumb with nameless, factory food? The people have made it clear that Local Food is what we want. It starts with better health, environmental sensitivity, flat out sustainability/security, and and the hunger for the story (like the CD liner notes). Then you add in economic sensitivity, that of the $115 million dollars the people of the San Luis Valley spend on food produced somewhere else every year, all of that money has a one way ticket out of the community never to be seen or felt again. Change that scenario and put that money into local farmers and their employees, restaurants and their employees, retailers and their employees, and food hubs and their employees. Then we have a circular economy where that money actually aggregates and grows to the tune of 2.6 to as high as 7 times the amount of the original dollar. That is growing wealth for communities....look at Cuba for what happens when people grow and eat local, farmers and educators get some of the highest wages in society. Something about that whifts of intelligence.
I remember the early days of my tenacity with the internet when a friend questioned me about my stance. "Its the tool of the adversary," I said. "Well, the revolution's going to need it then," he replied. Ever since that day, I understood this game-changing tool to be something that the revolution better keep up with, in fact the revolution better get as good or better than the "adversary," whatever that means.
Where Local Food meets the global commons of the Internet is cross-section of logistics, economy, efficiency, and community self-determination. Let's face it, the Economy of Scale is a real thing and its laws are hard to deceive. Wal-Mart has built an empire on this law. The smaller something is, the more costly it will be. The less units an entity produces, the more expensive they will be. And for a counter-intuitive one, the Organically produced crop will be more expensive. Its true there might be more labor (weeding), certainly more paperwork, but I think we should uphold organics as flat out having a HIGHER VALUE on a pound for pound basis. Likewise, LOCAL FOOD has a higher value than the nameless tomato with salmon genes in it.
So, great we have super high value foods that are indeed produced locally. Now is the task of actually building a LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM that gets these super high value foods into the retailers, restaurants, institutions, and households of the the bioregion on a day by day basis. Now, we are competing against some of the biggest companies in the nation who will always be better equipped, better established, have more trucks, offer better discounts/promotions, have more offerings, and have cheaper prices. Its a tough playing field and its not level.
Enter the era amazing tools that operate at light speed that perform several functions: communication, education, interaction, and commerce. Yes, while not the smoking gun on their own these tools do contribute to more of a level playing field. Valley Root's aptly named software provider, Local Orbit, comes out of the belief that we can build thousands of local food systems out of the nation's many, many bioregions. And we can do it in a way that will stick for generations to come, rather than witness the ephemeral flames of countless start ups that just can't compete with the resources of larger companies. Local Food is about a lot of perishable details every week, and the demand for food is self-renewing, which theoretically makes Food Hubs like surgeon-farmers of commerce. As a good buddy of mine and an experienced businessman in local foods start ups has said, "Local Food Systems are a Commons, people have to use them and take care of them for them to have any future of productivity."
So, folks thank you for using the Valley Roots Food Hub, thank you for acquiring yet another password for the vast internet, and thank you for valuing the true value of local foods! Remember, we may be using some of the latest high tech tools in cyberspace, but we are always still firmly rooted in the web of life that exists beneath our feet. The bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, algae, protozoa, and mircro-arthropods always have a seat at our table.
May you and your family and friends have a great holiday season!