Monday, December 22, 2008

Farming a Wedding, Part 3: interested parties, ins and outs, what have you's

In the last 50 years the food system, like most other industries, has leaped, bounded and thrusted itself into the future.  Fertilizers, insecticides, mega-farming and genetic modification have created a miasma both literally, in the fields and waterways of our country, but also figuratively, in the minds of people worldwide.  

Many have simply forgotten where their food comes from, and how it came to be.  We have forgotten that asparagus shoots up in the spring, strait up, one at a time;  that cows have been grazing on grass and nothing else for thousands of years;  that strawberries taste better in the summer because that is when they are in season.  These simple facts, known to human history for generations beyond memory, are being lost with breathtaking efficiency.

And it is dangerous.  In a 2006 E. Coli outbreak in Dole's bagged Spinach,  104 cases of infection occurred in no fewer then 26 states, and one case in Canada.  Dole, "The world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables" (according to their website) sells fruits and vegetables in 90 countries worldwide.  It draws from uncountable fields across the globe, spending unheard of amounts of money and natural resources to bring mediocre quality fruits to the American table.  Dole has no reason to determine the sources of its product, if they did perhaps the FDA investigators may have had better luck.  ("they were unable to determine how the contamination originated")

Dole's product, and much of the product distributed to places like Mohonk Mountain House, is very difficult to source.  The food is grown in one place, sent to a sorting factory, mixed with other food of other farms, sent to a packing plant, which may service several brands (this happens very commonly with beef), where it is mixed again, then sent to a distributor to be delivered to stores across the country.  There is no system in place to determine origin.  A section of tomatoes in your local supermarket may contain fruit from the same country, but determining which farm, town, county, or state it came from is literally impossible.  

On the other hand, if a small local farm has an outbreak, the damage is limited to the locale for which it serves, and the ability of regulators to determine the scope and necessary response to the problem is comparatively simple.  The problem can be dealt with efficiently, and the farmer will likely lose her entire operation to lawsuits.  Dole on the other hand, with $6 Billion in annual profits, can afford to pay off hundreds of settlements out of court, not even cracking the ivory tower at the top.

There is simply no comparison in terms of safety.  Small farmers must produce safe and high quality food to stay afloat.  Mega-foods have little or no concern with these pedestrian issues, profit margin is the only concern, as one can plainly see

E. Coli, a relatively rare bacterial infestation, is not the only reason to look to local farms.  Whole unprocessed farm foods have much higher nutrient contents, much lower rates of dangerous bacterium, dramatically different (and healthier) fatty acid ratios, and no refined grain or sugar.  This is a modern recipe for health and longevity.

This is only one reason we have chosen to source our wedding from local farms.  It is one of the most complex and difficult to grasp, as we simply don't understand how the system works, and how it can damage our lives, all in the name of higher profits.  Small farms are about livelihood, family, community, virtues that are often discussed in the upper echelons of american politics, but little concern is actually paid to them.  

We have seen these communities at work, and they are more then just a discussion around a liberal dinner table.  They are the last best hope for our food, our health, and our society.

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