A guest post by Gail Blake, Tompkins County resident and local food advocate:
On Thursday night, a record 115 people attended Taking Back our Local Food System, a panel discussion presented by the Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network at La Tourelle Resort and Spa.
When the Ithaca Farmers’ Market started in 1973 and instituted a 30-mile-radius rule, they kept out the big producers that could have swamped out local farms and [they] defined a foodshed. In Tompkins County, we now have 11 farmers’ markets and 20 CSAs (up from just one or two in the early 90s) serving 2200 eaters. These, along with farm stands, u-pick farms, and restaurants that buy local foods make up $10 million in food that is both grown and purchased in Tompkins County. That’s only 5% of the total food purchased in Tompkins County, a difference that represents both a big opportunity for farmers and a big unmet need.
Panelists addressed many aspects of the local food economy—consumers, farmers, distributors, restaurants, and institutions—yet a few themes came up again and again:
• Issues of scale. Even a large local farm is still small, limited by access to capital, and may not be able to provide a steady supply of any particular product year-round.
• Synergy is important. Problems have been solved, markets discovered, and enterprises begun because of connections in the local food community.
• Food justice. We need to make fresh local foods available to everyone, but the cost is higher than corporate-grown food trucked in from somewhere else. At the same time, many local farmers are not themselves making a living wage.
One concept stuck with me, although it's not easy to address. Chaw Chang, of Stick and Stone Farm, pointed out that food prices in the US are low, on a global scale. People in other countries pay much more for food, but much less for housing and health care. We need to re-order our economy.