Fighting for Both Farmers and Eaters

As the sustainable food movement matures and expands, the national organization Slow Food USA is experiencing some growing pains over their future direction. Traditionally known for their work to promote biodiversity and preserving food cultures, at issue is their increased focus on the affordability of food. Josh Viertel, Slow Food USA’s president, in this thoughtful piece on the politics and pleasures of food, explains how one doesn’t preclude the other, and why we need both. From The Atlantic:

The Soul of Slow Food: Fighting for Both Farmers and Eaters

When my fiancée, Juliana, and I were farming, we grew the most beautiful produce I have ever seen. I do not mean to brag. It is sort of like being a parent, or a pet owner. Anyone who has grown food with love probably feels that way about the product of his or her labor. We grew 300 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, many heirloom varieties, and ingredients for cooking food from so many traditions. We sold them at a farmers’ market in a well-heeled neighborhood, and we charged a lot of money. We did not think twice about charging $16 per pound for salad greens. We knew what work went into it, we knew how good it was, and we knew it was worth it. We sold out. And we made $12,000 a year between the two of us. We thought we were doing pretty well.

When low-income people came to our stand with food stamps, we gave them two or three for the price of one. But something was broken. At $12,000, we had low incomes ourselves, and the only people we could feed had high incomes. I wanted to change the world, and I saw farming as a piece of that work. Fairness for the farmer seemed to mean injustice for the eater. Fairness for the eater seemed to mean injustice for the farmer. How could we simply choose to fight for one, with the knowledge that it undercut the other?

…One day, I want to grow and sell vegetables again. It may be the most satisfying work I have ever done. But we have a lot of work to do first. Because being a farmer should not mean earning a living that prices you out of eating the sort of food you grow. And people in your same income bracket should not be priced out of being your customer. Read more…

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