Rettland Farm

Rettland Farm

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's All About Priorities...

There was recently an Op-Ed in the New York Times by my old friend, James McWilliams about local food being “elitist”. While I’ll withhold my opinions on Old Jim and his motives (for now), I’d like to address the “elitist” issue.

Like all farmers, I take great pride in the ability to feed people. I also worry about those who go hungry, which I think is a shameful thing to happen in the wealthiest society in the history of the world.

Unfortunately though, access to food is not a right, despite all of our wishes to the contrary. Food, like shelter, freedom, and anything else in life that we treasure, is only attained through sacrifice and work, and the willingness to exchange that work for the other things that we place value in. The only thing that is truly an inalienable right, the only thing that the human species is guaranteed to acquire with absolutely no effort, is death. Hate to be crude, but that's the way it is. You heard it here first.

Buying real, locally and sustainably produced food is not an issue of economics for most people: it is an issue of priority. We as consumers make a choice when we buy a $4000 flat screen TV and the related goodies, and yet feel pinched when the price of milk tops $3.50 per gallon. We make a choice to build status symbol homes that are twice the size of the houses we were raised in, strap ourselves with mortgages and heating costs and property taxes, instead of focusing some of those financial resources on eating well, or more importantly, feeding our children well.

That said, we have an obligation to help those who really truly cannot access local food because of poverty, and not because of poorly chosen priorities. Slowly, we are making progress in that direction through public assistance programs that recognize the value of local food and enable the recipients of that assistance to shop at farmers markets. As farmers markets expand into more communities, the accessibility for these folks will continue to improve.

From my own experience, the typical farmers market patrons in the booming metropolis of Adams County, Pennsylvania share one common thread. That common denominator is NOT the balance in their checkbooks or the zeros on their balance sheets. It's not their age or ethnicity, or the car they drive, or their political beliefs, or any other characteristic used to stereotype the farmers market shopper by folks like Jim McWilliams.

Instead, they share the sense of value in the food they are buying; the feeling of community from being with other like minded people; and the importance of their patronage to the farmer and his desired way of life.

If those feelings and those values make them elitist, then sign me up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Things to Worry About, Part 1 of many

Welcome to the first installment of the series "Things you should be worrying about, but probably aren't aware of..." Yes, I plan on dumping things on your already overburdened shoulders that will hopefully make you take notice of some issues that probably aren't on the radar for most of you. In many cases, like this one, I won't have a really good solution for the problem, either.

I recently came across the results of the most recent ag census, which you can find here. Although the focus of this particular part of the section of the census was the AGE of US farmers, (which IS increasing dramatically, and which I DO think is alarming) I was most disturbed by some other data listed there.

The number of farm operators under the age of 45 in the United States that work off of the farm stands at a whopping 81%. Based on most farmers I know, they don't work off the farm because they want to, but because they have to out of financial necessity. The same graphic shows that only 22% of farmers in this age group derive more than half of their income from farming.

In what other profession would it be acceptable for those practicing in the profession to do it as a part time endeavor? How about your doctor that also stocks shelves in the grocery store? Maybe a lawyer who moonlights installing carpets? The chef who mows lawns on the side?

Is it right that farmers must find other work in order to pay the bills? Do they have the time and energy left when they come home to really be able to concentrate on the job of growing wholesome, affordable food? As someone who does farm full time, I can honestly tell you that I don't know how they do it.

Should producing the third most essential ingredient for human life really be reduced to a hobby?

I know that there is a group of supposedly "enlightened" people out there who think that this is progress, that having only a negligible percentage of the population "burdened" by food production for everyone else is a really great statistic.

I am, and will remain, one of the unenlightened.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Real Food, Done Right

For the third consecutive year, we've had the good fortune to be invited to attend the annual Harvest Dinner at the Sheppard Mansion Restaurant. Thanks to the generosity of Chef Andy Little and the Sheppard Mansion management, several local farmers and growers are treated to a fantastic meal while having the chance to interact with other guests and explain to them our philosophies and production methods.

This event grows larger every year, and this year was no exception. It's increasing popularity is easy to understand: we enjoyed wonderful company, fantastic wine, and absolutely exquisite food.

I look forward to the Harvest Dinner each October. It's always rewarding to talk to people and to be reminded how important good food is to them. I always leave the Dinner with a renewed sense of purpose, reassured that what I'm doing is worthwhile and important...

Many thanks to Chef Little and his team at the Sheppard Mansion for including us in a truly memorable event. I think it is also fitting to express our sincere appreciation to the other guests for their continued interest in and dedication to real food, done right. Without all of your support and encouragement, our jobs become a whole lot less fun.