There’s been a lot of social movements lately. Some of them have to do with the Earth. Some of them have to do with things from the Earth that we eat. All of them have led to some disgruntled people, since there seems to be an “us or them” mentality in regards to these things. Either you’re organic, or conventional. You’re local, or you send your food far, far away.
First of all, I’d like to reference a song by a band known as “War.” “Why can’t we be friends?” It’s a good question to ask, really. Why does it have to be so black-and-white, big-or-small, organic-or-conventional?
The local movement may help serve as a bridge between these two vastly-separated groups. (These groups really aren’t that far-displaced from another, honestly.) Think of it this way: whether you sell your crops to restaurants in your region, or at farmers markets, or to the world market, you’re all farmers. You’re all feeding the world. You just have different methods.
How does local play into it?
True, the world market needs crops for many reasons. But it’s also possible to tap into your region and research ways to keep at least a small portion of your product local. A local beef raiser here has found an interesting way to do this. While the majority of his herd is aimed for feedlots, he also sells club calves to local 4-H and FFA members. He lets the kids pick the calves, meaning that the savvier beef kids have the option to take the highest-quality calves. These calves are then raised by the kids, make the show circuits, and often end up in the 4-H meat auctions. Not only does the farmer keep his product in the area, he gives kids a great chance to learn, succeed in showing (I believe the cattle are Herefords, although he sometimes has Hereford-Angus mixes), and earn back their money. (Note: This is all second-hand through a 4-Her who has worked with him. She bought a heifer calf from him one year to show, and is now using her Grand Champion Hereford to make more little show calves.)
This is, obviously, an unusual example of “keeping it local.” There are plenty of other ways, though. It takes a lot of networking and creativity. Do you raise grain? Check into your local feed stores. Look into the farmers markets. They’re always a chance to go local. The biggest obstacle to it is breaking the mentality that “big farms” aren’t meant to sell locally.
It doesn’t have to be “us versus them” anymore. We can share customers. We can share home turf. We can share markets. We can start bridging the gap to work together. Unless all growers, no matter their products or methods, work together, there will always be an Agriculture War.
This issue goes much deeper than just “where your product goes.” It’s about the stigma’s surrounding the idea of it. “Local” isn’t just for small organic farms. There is a gap that needs to be bridged, a rift that needs to be closed. Take the first steps, look into your choices, and maybe all of us can become a unified front.