Monday, June 29, 2009

Fresh, Local and Fair

Bought some chard at the Saturday Market yesterday. Each piece was a different color, different size. The sun shone through them, glowing emerald green. They had that unmistakable look of freshness. They also weren’t one of the leathery, long-lasting varieties you get at some natural food stores, unless they’re buying locally.

"How much?", I asked. 2 dollars a bunch was the reply. As I pulled out my wallet for the money another question came to me..."What’s the _fair_price?" Three dollars. I fished out another bill.
Why? Well, first of all I place a high value on fresh. When I’m eating food from our own garden I try to wait til the last minute to pick. Really fresh vegetables taste different to me. More importantly, I feel different after eating them, more satisfied.

And then there’s local. I like to eat things that come from the soil close to where I spend my time. I have the idea - totally unsubstantiated by ‘objective proof’ - that there’s something beneficial to eating locally.

Lastly, when I shop for organic vegetables I’m as interested in the farmer/gardener as I am in his or her produce. We pay very little for vegetables, in my estimation. Somehow our economic system has produced inexpensive vegetables (unless they are shipped in from the Southern hemisphere...) So I want this grower, who grows chard down at the end of my town, and picked it this morning, to survive.

Why wasn’t he charging the ‘fair’ price, i.e. the price that made sense in terms of the work and costs he has to put into my stalks of emerald green fresh local chard? Which includes the work he expends building soil fertility in the land that he rents or leases and which could be converted to another use by the owner at any time, thereby throwing away seasons’ of soil-building?
The answer is that there were five or six other growers also selling produce at the market and, in the classic ‘free market’ process, they were pushing each others’ prices down to the level of their costs. Actually, if you think about it, below their actual costs - because that chard wasn’t going to be worth much after 1 PM Saturday when the market closes. I think markets are valuable economic entities but sometimes they don’t work right. I also dislike regulation because it is clumsy and expensive. What to do?

Well, here’s an idea: next Saturday perhaps the growers should compare notes as they’re putting out their veggies and decided what they think is a ‘fair’ price, i.e. one that will keep them in business so we can have fresh, local, organic produce next year as well as this year. And they could agree to post this price alongside whatever they’re actually charging (which may vary during the day). That’s all.

Let people decide what they want to pay, asking price or fair price or in between. We’re a community. These growers ‘belong’ to us. We can pay them the fair price if we want - but not as a favor or out of the goodness of our hearts but rather because we benefit from keeping them in business.

Buon appetito!