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The Local Middleman

The Local Middleman

There was a food movement in America before this one, what author Warren J. Bolasco calls the countercuisine. Common foodie knowledge about the layers of the industrial food system was found out by the countercuisine in the 1960′s, and more recently brought to our attention by Bolasco, Michael Pollan and other authors.

 

  

Authors and activists have worked to show eaters how huge conglomerate food businesses get rich off of poorly paid agricultural workers and unthinking consumers. “It is time for consumers to think!” The countercuisine said, “Time to participate in your food system!”  The idea was to ditch the corporate middlemen, the ones that take 90% from farmers and deliver unhealthy, processed, long-distance food. Some people started food co-ops to launch a conscious consumer movement. Others moved to the country to grow their own.

Click to enlarge this figure from a USDA study

The unrelenting farmers have since found ways to market their products in more equitable arrangements than the market economy offers, and are still farming today. Some of these farmers are Partners at Farmers to You!  A popular equitable arrangement that arose out of the countercuisine is CSA, or community supported agriculture.  In CSA consumers put down a lump sum of money before the season starts and receive a periodic share of vegetables throughout the harvest months. CSA heeds the countercuisine’s warning that middlemen are no good for farmers.

Funnily enough, a major downside to CSA farming is that farmers have to do the work of the middleman and the fields.  As a first year apprentice, I’ve experienced the time commitment and labor intensity needed for CSA vegetable production. I can’t imagine being able to manage the field work, planning, and storing as well as doing all the customer service, marketing, and distribution to feed 150 families. It must seem crazy to non-farmers too!  Busy CSA farmers do not have time to forge lasting connections with their shareholders. I’ve experienced it myself. Before starting my apprenticeship, I studied CSA through my thesis research as an undergraduate at Tufts University.  So at the start of the season I was excited to interact with shareholders and to share what I had learned. But, oh the work. I’m only in the distribution area to keep it running, stocking the food and taking away empty totes before it’s out to the fields. Sometimes there is a conversation, but not the start of a relationship. If we had the time, surely someone would man the station throughout the distribution period, but alas, we are farmers and middlemen. Unlike what the countercuisine turned against, some middlemen want to make lasting connections with their customers, and with their farmers too. A handful of these middlemen have found homes in our current food movement, creating successful, sustainable, and equitable companies that serve their farmers and listen to their customers.  Companies like Farmers to You!

I’m grateful that instead of picking up a box from a hallway, like is the case with many CSAs, there is someone at Farmers to You who can answer my questions, share my enthusiasm about local celery and artichokes, someone who feeds me samples and explains why my chicken weighs more than I expected. That person travels all around Vermont and packs a bag for me and all of you!  Thanks Greg and the team at Farmers to You!

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