Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Organic in West Virginia and Co-Opting "Local"

There are two articles today that caught my eye and are, I think, inextricably linked.

First, there's this article I'm excited about for severeal reasons.

One, Thomas Clark is Tommy, buddy and fellow bartender in town who is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet in your life. And he loves agriculture. Works his tail off to help West Virginia farmers.

Two, letting folks know they don't need to go through tedious federal regulations to call themselves organic, when they know they're organic, and their neighbors know they're organic, and the county farmer's market knows they're a good thing.

Three, it's exciting that while WV organic farms seem at first blush to be is short supply, it's probably more likely that they're under-counted in the existing survey tool. And they just started counting in WV last year. So if I'm right to get excited, we'll be seeing many more organic farms in West Virginia.

Finally, I love that Tommy gets to point this out to the reading public:
"But organic farming is nothing new; it's been around for 30 years -- and really, before industrialized agriculture, it was all organic," he added. "The typical organic practices are hundreds of years old."
And Tommy's right when he says:
"We believe that many small farms are not full-time professions in our state. A 'farmer' might be a teacher, a construction worker, something else 40 hours a week, doing something else to pay the bills. They are then doing some sort of ag on the side -- they may have a couple of cows, leasing a field to a neighbor for hay production, direct-marketing produce -- all of those encompass the world of agriculture."
I know some of those small farmers. He's a middle school principal and she is the co-director of a multi-county intensive academic and leadership academy for girls. They have two kids, two jobs, and a farm.

They are exactly the people you want raising your food, educating your kids, and figuring out how to make local places work for local people.

And I expect we'll be reading a lot more about people like them, and will be able to buy better food for myself. Capitol Street Market is grand, but limited to mostly produce. I want to buy meat and cheese from local folks, and have the Charleston Baakery come set up a booth on Saturdays.

Eh...we'll get there.

The second article today is not making me happy. When large corporations co-opt the terms of small -production agriculture to try and maintain market share without really understandingthe broader context of that language, you get things like this.

Lays Potato chips as the next big local food craze. Lays. Lays! Yeah, you. You big massive chipper that you are.

This is what's happening on a national level today.
On Tuesday, five potato farmers rang the bell of the New York Stock Exchange, kicking off a marketing campaign that is trying to position the nation’s best-selling brand of potato chips as local food.

Five different ads will highlight farmers who grow some of the two billion pounds of starchy chipping potatoes the Frito-Lay company uses each year. One is Steve Singleton, who tends 800 acres in Hastings, Fla.

“We grow potatoes in Florida, and Lays makes potato chips in Florida,” he says in the ad. “It’s a pretty good fit.”

Mr. Singleton’s ad and the other four will be shown only in the farmer’s home state. A national spot featuring all five potato farmers begins next week.

No Mr. Singleton, that's not a good fit. Your co-opting of the language of 'local food' missed this little point:

Local potato chips would be the ones you make at home. You grow or buy potatoes from a local farmer or market, take them home, slice them, and put them in your dutch oven that's full of lard or bacon grease. Then you eat them. That's "local potato chips."

But don't worry intrepid food-sters o' mine, it gets even better/worse (and funnier in a 'they really thought this was a good idea' way).
“This is celebrating the notion of community,” said Dave Skena, vice president for potato-chip marketing of Frito-Lay. “We don’t use the term ‘locally grown’ because that’s a personal issue for so many people.”
If your title is "vice president for potato-chip marketing of Frito-Lay," you are not my source for "celebrating the notion of community."

Moreover, I don't want to celebrate the "notion of community." I want REAL strong communities. The kind that feed themselves, educate themselves, produce for themselves, and are part of an economy that allows them to sustain their community within the larger world.

And yes, haters, you can still have chains and fast food in that world. It just isn't what you should eat everyday. It isn't the jobs you should rely on to build your local economy. You know that already, so quit yur whinin'.

The good and the bad. The Tommy and the VP for potato chip marketing. The yin and the yang.

1 comment:

The EDG said...

Geez, and here's a clue. If you are ringing the bell on the stock exchange you are not who I'm looking for in terms of local food either. Unbelievable.

Thanks for putting this out there. "They" are coming after an important and legit concept, and "they" need to be called out for their bullshit.