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Where’s the Food?

By Sam Fisher

One of the most tragic aspects of modern day agriculture is the fact that most rural agricultural areas have essentially become food deserts. This means there’s no food to be obtained outside the grocery store or supermarket.

Historically, farms were the food source and farmers wouldn’t have thought of buying most of their food in town. In the economic depression of the 1930’s, the basic needs of farmers were better met than their urban counterparts simply because – while they had little or no money – food was always to be had. Today, most farms only produce commodities such as grain, hay, milk, or on-the-hoof livestock for meat, and due to specialization, often only one or two of the above commodities per farm. And the farmers depend on the conventional food distribution chain for their own sustenance as much as an urban resident, due to the fact that the commodities they raise are inedible, and must be processed or fed to livestock before they can feed people.

This is the crux of government/industry control over food, when even the farmers who produce the “food” must sell it in order to buy it in an edible form. It also tells a story of a society that has allowed an industry to take over traditional culinary abilities.

Less than a hundred years ago, a typical family scale farm supported a family on a dozen different species of plants and animals. In the fields there was grass, clover, or alfalfa for grazing and hay, corn, oats, barley, or wheat as a grain crop to feed to pigs, chickens, cattle, and horses – horses being the tractor of that time – as well as an orchard for fruits and a vegetable garden.

One of every four Americans lived on a farm and a farmer’s land and labor supplied enough food to feed his family and twelve other Americans besides. In less than a century, fewer than two million Americans still farm, and they grow enough to feed America – a ratio of each farmer feeding roughly 130 Americans.

Depending on our point of view, that may appear to be a story of an efficiency increase. That is, until we begin to look for the food. Where is the food? It’s in the hands of corporations (i.e. food manufacturers, processors, distributers, and retailers). Plus, the final link in the chain – the retailer – usually has only about a three days’ supply of food for any given area.

 So – outside of air, rail, and highway transportation – we are constantly only three days away from a famine in almost any geographical area in the nation. Is that a picture of abundance?

Not only are most of today’s farms essentially food deserts, but the majority of rural agricultural areas are as well. Due to a dwindling number of farmers – causing the amalgamation of many small farms into fewer large farms – rural populations have steadily declined in many localities across the nation. This, along with the disappearance of the mom-and-pop grocery store in every small town – replaced by supermarket chains who serve a much larger geographical area (especially in lower population areas), makes for food deserts that span whole towns and counties in many rural regions.

The residents of these regions are now forced to go to the next town – or in some cases, several towns away – to obtain food. This only adds to our petro-transportation dependence in order to feed ourselves. Plus, in light of historical food preservation traditions, most of today’s homes are food deserts.

Past generations – even urban dwellers – not only had fresh food in the fridge and pantry, but had canned fruits and vegetables in the basement and stashes of meat in a freezer, and if they needed something more, there was always the grocery store on the corner. Unfortunately, many of those seasonal preservation traditions have disappeared from the American table, as has the food security it provided.

As a society, we have magnified our dependence on processed corporate food and the inherent factory farming it supports, plus the non-stop transportation demand it requires.

However, through our retail farm business, we constantly see evidence that the pendulum of supermarket dependence has reached the length of its swing in one extreme direction, and is beginning to return toward increased food awareness and more of a historically normal food flow.

While the return may be slow, it’s a heartening movement all the same. We believe this is largely driven by a society who is sick of depending on corporate food, sick physically and mentally – and are seeking real-life alternatives.