I was thrilled to witness this summer how the Iowa City Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings had grown from the scant booths while I attended college in 90’s, into a real “happening” community event, with music and festivities.
It’s more than just a place to buy things, but a social gathering, a place to mix and mingle with like-minded people, and a way to deepen the story of connection to the food and goods for sale. It’s fostered a Wednesday night spin-off and there are now numerous farmer markets spread out across town on different evenings. It’s a good sign that the organic farming community has grown in the region that there are people who recognize the importance of local, healthy eating!
As I looked at what prices various farmers were selling vegetables, I realized as a nation we really don’t pay the full price for our food. I’ve heard people complain and gripe about the rising cost of food or how expensive organics are, but in truth we pay so little of the actual cost that raising and preparing food requires. Much of the conventional food grown is subsidized by the government, so we’re not paying the correct price on non-organic food, which just makes it seem that organic is that much pricier. When you factor in the amount of environmental toxins that get pumped into the ground and wash into the water supply and the amount of energy, gas, and other resources required to get conventional food into our hands – we certainly aren’t paying the full price for it in cash, but in environmental damage and health problems. We know this, right? And yet it continues...
I found some disturbing “intel” during my time in Iowa. It begins though with some good news: a lot of conventional farmers in the region are doing well financially. I am genuinely glad to know they are making good money in such a challenging occupation. But this boon is thanks, in part, thanks to growing corn used for Ethanol fuel – not food. You may have heard, though, that Ethanol is proven to offer very little real environmental returns when you consider all the energy it takes to grow the corn. When I hear that more and more small farms have been bought out by giant agribusinesses…when I discover more farmers are growing corn year after year for the profit margin, thereby ignoring the wisdom of rotating crops for soil health and conservation…when I hear a lot more chemicals and GMOs are involved in making sure there are big yields for the big financial gains…my head starts to spin.
I’m so proud to be from Iowa and the rich history of farming it has, but I am deeply, deeply saddened by the modern industry to which it has been tainted. I do not blame the farmers – many of them I call family! I know they are doing what they can to make a good living. I am concerned by our society, so caught up in growth, progress, comfort, convenience and advancements in technology that it ignores conscious care of our environment – unless being “green” can turn a profit too, which we know it can. It seems that nothing motivates our nation more than economic concerns. Which means it’s going to require a lot of re-educating and re-considering how things are done, and there are some good people at work doing just that.
It's my sincere wish that family farms make a fortune through organic farming - they deserve it. The re-evolution of the farm industry is underway, but it needs our support! We can grumble all we like about the cost of food, but in a capitalistic driven market, we vote with our dollars. Place more of our money into the hands of a friendly organic farmer at a market than the unseen faces of corporate food production. We get delicious, conscientiously produced food out of it too. It’s time to truly know and be what we eat!