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Why Buy Local? Do it for the Farmers

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I know I said in the previous post there was more to me than just food, and there is.  But after six years of researching and writing about the subject, it’s a little difficult to go cold turkey. (See how I did that?  I could have said something like “old habits die hard”, but no. My mind went right to a food metaphor.) Suffice it to say that I will get to all that other stuff  eventually. For now, I want to talk about one “last” matter of food before moving on.

Not long ago, I drafted a list of what I believed to be the most honorable professions in the world.  It wasn’t too terribly difficult.  No intellectual gymnastics were needed. Included were many of the jobs you’d expect.  Military, police, fire and rescue, doctors and nurses, and teachers filled-out the top five, and one that might surprise a few of you: farmers.

Yes, farmers. I dare say that most of us don’t recognize the effort and commitment of farmers, dairymen and ranchers and it’s importance to our way of life.  Because of their contributions, the task of feeding ourselves and our families is made infinitely easier. Without farmers, the fabric of our civilization would unravel in a matter of days.

Ask yourself this, if all the world’s farms were to disappear tomorrow, would you know where your next meal was coming from? Once the shelves at the supermarket had run bare, where would you turn? We all know the dread of coming home at the end of a hard day only to have to get supper on the table.  But imagine how much more difficult supper would be if it meant digging up some potatoes from the back yard, foraging for mushrooms in the dark, or slaughtering the family hog.

I would wager a guess that without agriculture as a trade, at least half our waking hours would be spent in pursuit of feeding ourselves, leaving us little time to earn a living.  So when you sit down at the table tonight and give thanks to hands that prepared your meal, don’t forget the hands of those who raised it.

We often romanticize about life on the farm. Signs and labels throughout the supermarket depict farms with pristine red barns, lush, perfect fields of crops, and sunny skies, but in reality, farming is far from idyllic. It is difficult, often dirty work involving long hours and mediocre pay.  In his book Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan suggests that if we were to experience a typical day in the life of the farmer, we’d never again begrudge them a fair price.

The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.
– Will Rogers

You have to wonder why anyone would want to become a farmer. What compels a person to devote his or herself to such a lifestyle all for the sake of putting food on the tables of complete strangers?  I am inclined to believe that, like teaching or nursing, the desire to farm comes from a higher calling.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistic, in 2012 there were only 930,600 farmers, and that number is expected to decline by 19% by 2022.  The median salary for a farmer with 5 or more years of experience is $69,300, twice the national median. Yet the median pay for an Accountant with a B.S. degree is $63,550 without any work experience.  Obviously, we value bean counters more than bean growers.

That is why I am heartened by stories like this one from The New York Times, which tells of young college grads who are choosing crop lands over the corporate cubicles.  Abe Bobman, a 24-year-old college student, who came to farming by way of a job in the produce department of a grocery store, gives us some insight as to why. “Farming appeals to me,” he tells Natalie Kitroeff of the Times. “It’s simple and straightforward work outdoors with literal fruits from your labor. It doesn’t feel like you’re a part of an oppressive institution.”

Words like those have a tendency to stir the faded remains of the hippie inside me. I still long to believe that in America, if all else fails, we can always “live off the land, man”. But the time-hardened pragmatist that I’ve become, with his endless statistics of the decline of the family farm and the rise and domination of corporate-run farms, suspects that Mr. Bobman and his generation will eventually hit the hard walls of reality and be forced to abandon their loftier ideals.

Since 1935, we have lost approximately four millions farms, mostly small and midsize family farms, while corporate farms have grown at a rapid pace. According to Roberto Ferdman of The Washington Post, 70 percent of the farm land in the U.S. is now controlled by just 10 percent of the corporate farms.

But maybe young people like Abe Bobman know something we don’t.”While big farms are indeed gobbling up more and more land,” Ferdman goes on to write. “Small family farms aren’t exactly disappearing — most farms are, after all, still relatively small.”  In other words, family farms may not be going away as much as they are shrinking. But why is this happening?  And will this trend continue?

In May 2013, Todd Kliman wrote this truly honest assessment of the local food movement for The Washingtonian.  Kliman, a locavore himself, questions many of the tenets of the faith. Local food is better and fresher; Local reduces our carbon footprint; Local can change our failed food system; and, local is good for the local economy.

It is this last point that I think is the truest and best reason to support the local movement. As Kliman writes, “One thing we can be sure of is that supporting a local producer helps keep that producer in business, and that is indeed a very good thing.”

I’ve said it before here, but it bears repeating. The fewer hands that come between you and your food the better. And that holds true for the farmers.  If 100 percent of the money you spent on food were to go into the pockets of the farmers, dairymen and ranchers, all food would be local.

I don’t know if the trends that Mr. Ferdman writes of are a direct result of the local food movement, but it goes without saying that we all benefit from a local agricultural economy.  For years, development, globalization and Big Ag, have worked together to push the farmer further and further from the urban centers. As a result, food travels greater distances than it has during any other time in history. Anything that reverses that trend is okay in my book.

Of course, I don’t expect to ever see large-scale farming to in urban areas, but a strong drive to buy local ensures that farmers like Jim Crawford of New Morning Farms, who has been supplying fresh organic produce to my neighborhood in Northwest D.C. for over 40 years, can continue to make a living doing what he was called to do.

So I can blow past all those other reasons for buying local, not that they don’t merit consideration, but for me, buying local is good for the farmer. And what’s good for the farmer is good for us all.

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What to Do with a Used Food Blog

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After much ado about something that was almost nothing, The Kitchen Journals finally went live last November.  At last. Finally. Phew.

I don’t want to say it was a lot of work, but I feel I better understand what long-term pregnancy is like. (No offense to all the mothers out there, but for now, it’s the best analogy I have.) Eventually, the thrill of creation dissipated, and all I wanted to do was to get that baby out.

STILL, there is much to do as we build-out content and begin marketing it to the world. Wish me luck.

In all sincerity, I am quite excited, and I hope readers of this site who are really serious about home cooking will take a little time out of their busy day to see what’s going on over there from time to time.  I know there are probably 1,234,567,115 food sites in the world today (or at least it feels like that), but I really think when all is said and done, The Kitchen Journals has something special to offer.  I suppose only time will tell.

Before I move on to the road ahead, I just want to take a moment to thank some of the folks who were so generous in helping me get The Kitchen Journals live.

A Partial List of Some of the Really Awesome People in the World:

Joseph Anselmo
Cathy Barrow
Jeni Britton Bauer
Adrienne Capps
Matt Checkowski
Frances Fiorino
Martha Holmberg
Julius Kuhn-Regnier
Domenica Marchetti
Nawal Nasrallah
Patricia Parmalee
Liz Unger
Rosemary Wolbert

And Now, What’s to Become of David’s Table

When I first set-out to create The Kitchen Journals over a year ago, I thought I would ultimately shut down David’s Table.  But as time has passed, the idea of turning off the lights here feels something like the abandonment of an old friend.  Since it’s inception in 2009, this site and has been a large part of what motivates me to pursue my passion for food and cooking. Along the way, it has certainly taught me a thing or two. Ultimately, it has been something of a HTML-based training ground which enabled me to create the new site.  So how do you just put something like that aside? I began asking myself the not-so-age-old question, “What does one do with an old, used food blog?”  Could David’s Table be repurposed for something else?

It seems to me there is always something missing when you’re writing a food blog.  It’s like throwing a dinner party and then spending all your time in the kitchen while your guests are in the next room having a great time. All the researching, recipe testing, photographing, writing, editing and posting, and you never get the chance to sit down and enjoy the meal with your readers. I never really got the chance to relax here.

That’s when it hit me. The dinner table is not just a place to eat.  It is also a place to gather with family and friends and share the stories of your day, talk about current events, gossip about people, ask each other questions, maybe argue a little, and enjoy your time together.  When I started this site, it was to act as a knowledge base for all things cooking and food. With that role now largely filled for me by The Kitchen Journals, maybe I could convert “the Table” into a place to just relax and have some fun for a change and not worry about things like SEO and grammar errors. (Warning; I’m a terrible spellar.)

So from this day forward this site will be a place for you (whoever you are) and me to come together and chat about the things that connect us; the things that make us human. So come along.  I’ll pour you a nice glass of virtual wine or cold beer, we’ll have a great meal, and see where the evening takes us. You’ll have a great time.  Trust me. There’s more to me than just food. (I think.) And besides,  I’ve reserved us the best table in the house.

It’s never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot

 

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So Close I Can Almost Taste It

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I’ll bet you thought I had dropped off the face of the planet and forgot all about David’s Table. If you did, I can’t say that I blame you.  It’s been over a year since my last post. In my defense, I did say that the new site I’m developing, The Kitchen Journals, would probably take all my time, and I wasn’t far off the mark.

Sadly, this was supposed to be the week we went live, but the it came and went with nothing to show for it. There are a lot of reasons it has taken so long, but I suppose the biggest is that towards the end of last year, I became so discouraged that I almost completely gave up.  Yes, this past winter was a real…well, I don’t want to say it, but it rhymes with “witch”.

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That’s a Mouthful: Observations on Food Blogs

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The reason I’ve not posted for several weeks is that I’ve been so busy working on the new site.  Between that and regular life, I’ve had no time for David’s Table.  I had no idea the new site would be so much work. Take for example an article I am writing on coffee.  I’ve spent well over a month researching everything from the best grinders to the perfect ratio of water to coffee. (It’s 16:1 for those of you keeping score at home.) I feel like I have coffee coming out my ears.

The point is this: If you want to do something well, you can’t rush it, and given the limited time I have, things are moving slooooooowly.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. Is a thoughtful approach to food blogging a waste of time?  Do people even care? Is it better to just slap up a pretty picture of something yummy and a half-baked recipe that most people will never try just for sake of keeping your website traffic high? Or is it better to post something thoughtful on a less frequent basis in hopes that your readers eventually regard you as a reliable source?

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Building a Better Website

kj_blueprint_logo_1Sorry for the radio silence of late, but there has been a lot going on in my life. Not the least of which has been the startup of a new media development company and a brand new site,  Several weeks from now, David’s Table will become part of The Kitchen Journals, a new food website focused on the art and science of home cooking.  Some of the more popular content here will be reformatted for that site, and subscribers of David’s Table will have the option of subscribing to The Kitchen Journals.

Why the change? When I began David’s Table it was supposed to act as a knowledge base of everything I was learning has I set out to master the art of cooking.  Oddly, I have never been a 100% comfortable with the blog format. Most food blogs are as much about the author as they are about cooking. This is not a bad thing, but I want a site from which I can collaborate with other food writers.

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