Heard that song by The Submarines in the latest iPhone commercial yet? I absolutely love it, but a song that could very well have been the soundtrack to the Story of Stuff being used to promote something as consumption-rific as an iPhone is more than a little ironic. But so is alot of our sustainability stuff these days.
Take my “local food” for example. I grew 1500#’s of potatoes under the auspices of The Movement and Being the Change and 85% of them ended up being consumed in a members only country club restaurant. Of course that is not a bad thing – my spuds offset 1200#’s of imported industrial spuds, but it still feels wrong that I sold to them because few in my home town were interested in or able to pay what I felt were fair prices -the going rate at the Madison Farmers market- for my crops. But for me, sustainability takes into consideration not only the environmental and economic aspects of an idea, but also the social ones. If my enviro foods are only economically viable for the rich, it sits rather bad with me that this forces the poor to buy the “potatoes” sold at the supermarkets for $.19 a pound while I sit aside with my Bourgeois Happy Feeling of Being the Change.
This all came crashing starkly into my reality today when we stopped in to adopt a few families for Chirstmas, which also shares space with a local Christmas Neighbors chapter and the local Food Pantry. While she filled out some paper work, I swung into the Food Pantry. I gave about 100#’s to the Pantry last year, and frankly they seemed a little flumuxoed by a local person bringing in non spoiled produce – the majority of their offerings are expired boxed grocery store goods. It almost felt like I was a burden to them by giving them perishable products. Nothing like a recession to change things though.
Their needs, like all Food Pantries, are up to the point that they are now serving 1000 people. This is in a town of 12,000. I think in “potato” terms so I asked how many they go through – they limit it to about a pound per person per month. That is 2 potatoes per month. We come close to that a day in our house – and that is consuming high nutrition heirloom varieties, not Idaho Trash. That hit home.
I asked what they had trouble getting last year, and he answered immediately -carrots. Carrots?! I then resovled to support the food pantries in a much bigger way than I had ever intended -not as an after thought like last year, but as a planned coordinated effort by myself and my network of other local organic growers. Much of the organic growers I see plant what I consider Bourgeois plants -Fennel, Broccoli Raab, Mesclum mixes, scallions, etc. Why? Because we have to make a buck in our labor intensive enterprises and the Rich Can Pay. Next year I will still sell 1500#’s to the members only club, but I promise here and now that much more than 100#’s of spuds will go the growing ranks of the undernourished in Jefferson County Wisconsin – home to some of the most fertile farmland in the world. WTH is wrong with our economic/ag system?
It is very easy for me to get lost in the High Ideals of Sustainability – in saving the world for my kids- and lose sight of that 10% of my neighbors can’t put food on the table on a regular basis. I made a killing on potatoes this year -essentially paying off the Grillo in one season. I need to give more back next year. For the near term, ecological businesses will likely cater primarily to the well off, as mine does. Only those well above median incomes can afford to pay $2/lb for potatoes and $125 for a rain barrel, but I need to ensure that I am a better social citizen and turn more of the money back into the community.
Plant a Row – or several- for the hungry next year.