QUOTE(TamIam @ Jun 6 2009, 06:26 PM)
We also need to re-develop local food systems that keep dollars and jobs floating around a local economy before making their way into the yachts and mansions of the coporate tycoons.
While I appreciate your point, craftsmen and workers whose livlihoods depend on building yachts and mansions might disagree.
I find it fascinating how many people compartmentalize the food/ag sector from the rest of the economy. So much talk about 'eating local', but if you told someone they should only buy clothes made within 100 miles of their home, they'd look at you like you were insane. To me, they're both economic goods, so why the different treatment? Are small farmers more noble that the woodworker or drywall installer?
QUOTE(TamIam @ Jun 6 2009, 06:26 PM)
Our communities also need to avoid being overly dependent on an overly centralized growing and distribution system. One bit of cow poop in the wrong place and millions around the country suddenly sick with e. coli. Deaths, market crashes, fear, over and over again. Which emergency shall it be this week?
Farmers markets and CDAs are a part of creating a viable alternative. Not for everyone, but enough to create its own viable (read: family wage jobs and good food) market niche. So are local food production companies. So is the multinational super-efficient fairly diverse and far-reaching industrialized system.
Industrial ag succeeded in bringing the cost of food to a very low level, which is (mostly) a good thing. It also created Monsanto, a compamny that seems bent on world domination of some kind. If they could patent the air you breathe and charge for it, they would.
Cheap ag's affordability comes at a price. Industrial ag and industrial food only remain cheap on a per pound retail basis because the true costs are dumped on others. Tighe - as an economist you know all about externalities, but most folks are not really aware of them. When an unlined manure lagoon contaminates drinking water, or fails and contaminates the fishery and surrounding land, and when the ammonia smell is heavy enough to make breathing in the neighborhood a real challenge, and when the pesticide runoff and mists kill birds and fishes, and residues exceed "safe" levels on our grocery store sheves, etc., etc., there is a cost that the business is dumping on to others. The cost is in the slow painful death of commercial and recreational fisheries. It is in more cancers and other health problems. It is in in the outrageously expensive and rarely successful attempts to resucitate a river and wetland system. And in additional taxpayer-funded costs to treat water so it is potable. The costs are real, and they are ginormous, but they do not show up in the store price. Naturally and sustainably raised foods dont create these problems, and as such, they arent being subsidized by neighbors or the larger community.
To really compare apples to organic apples takes a more complicated accounting far beyond the scope of that focused market basket study. Still, I find it fascinating that the farmers market basket study finds better pricing at farmers markets. Something I experience on a weekly basis, but that lots of folks find counter-intuitive.
Externalities? Oh yeah, I think I remember those.
The single biggest thing that could be done to reduce those externalities would be for the goverment to stop incenting the overproduction of food, by eliminating agricultural subsidies. Everybody, except corporate farmers, wins on that one. Stricter and more rigorously enforced standards on the use of pesticides and pollution by agricultural operations are also needed. Of course, the political power of big ag is the obstacle to both of these. And in terms of enhancing diversity, I would love to see that money put towards helping the hallowed family farmer transition from producing standard commodity crops to producing specialty crops, which is more likely to provide a livable income at smaller scale.
People also need to be realistic about the externalities created by the local ag/farmers market model. Some interesting studies have been done that point out inefficiencies in the model that lead to a much larger 'carbon footprint' in distribution and transportation than the big farm to grocery store model. Going to the farmers market generates an extra trip in a car for many people and those goods were transported in small quantities, so the amount of gas per pound of food that ends up at your home is much higher than for the stuff that arrived at the grocery store via semi truck and that you bought along with all the other items that aren't available at the farmers market.