Remaking the Food System

Having never been thrust into a global pandemic before, I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that we have the opportunity to re-work the system while it’s shut down. Many of us have said at one time or another: “I wish the world would just stop for a day while I get caught up (on life).” Well, we have the chance to do just that. 

Let’s look at the options you have and how your buying habits will help us get through this. (We will get through this together.) I’m figuring on making it better than it was before.

You have probably already noticed that you are thinking about your food several days in advance—something very few of us did before COVID-19 showed up. Counting on easy-to-eat leftovers, or salad that lasts most of the week, makes it seem effortless to eat good-for-you food. The next thing to figure out is how to secure these foods you are so looking forward to.

One option is to order online and have it delivered to you from a national retailer that has contracts with other multinational corporate conglomerates that source huge quantities of foods from as few farms as possible, then comingle them from around the country in a technically efficient method. It still boggles my mind that Big Food has so much expensive, specialized farming equipment, hundreds of harvest crews who pick the exact same thing every workday, all those refrigerated warehouses, 53-foot semi-trucks cris-crossing the country, and still sell it so cheap. But somehow they can, and once they shift from supplying corporate kitchen companies, big box stores will be flush with produce. 

But just because they can, should we be so dependent on them when some other wrench is thrown into the works? Do you want your well-earned dollars subsidizing corporate financial strategies to decide how your food was grown and how many hands handle it before you do? Now that the world has stopped, and you’ve thought about it, I would think not.

Your other option is to keep your food dollars as local as possible. Elmwood Stock Farm is doing our part to grow food, right here in your backyard, where we don’t have a convoluted circuitous route from farm to you. We have been converting your food-dollar investments into this family farm, an increasingly productive solar-powered food generator. The productive capacity of this farm is beyond anything we dreamed of 20 years ago. Now we find ourselves poised to produce as much as we can in the name of national security. Ironic, is it not?

Local supply systems are not without pinch points that are beyond our control.

We are totally dependent on our US Department of Agriculture-inspected abattoir, Jerome and his crew of six or eight people—several family members—to harvest and package our meats and poultry. There are a number of other processors scattered around the state, all of which quickly booked up for the year by people with one or two cows looking for food security. We have already secured the dates we need for 2021 to ensure our food supply continues.

Then there’s the weather. With the Summer CSA Farm Share season getting underway the end of the month, our shareholders will have access to what we have, given the late start to the growing season. (We had that deep freeze on May 9, and it has rained so much since then that water seems to be standing on the sides of the hills.) Typically, we would be done with berries and asparagus by now, with squash and beets just coming on, but not this year. The spinach and lettuce look good, so we plan to offer plenty of those to start things off; the others are coming along in their time. 

Here we are in the midst of the ultimate wake-up call from Mother Nature to quit quibbling and get our act together. Since most pandemics have shown to have two or three years in their name, we have time to think about substantive food-system change. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. We can invest our dollars into local production—people we can call on the phone to grow more food—and take care of ourselves, healthy at home. I’m figuring we can grow lots more food around Central Kentucky if we are willing to commit to using local food dollars to build a better food system. —Mac Stone

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