"Can you weigh this for me?" asked a woman as she handed me a four, full, bright orange carrots at the farmers' market.
"That's about $5," I responded.
"I think not," she remarked. "That's robbery. I'll buy them elsewhere." And she walked off in a huff.
You would still think that after almost two years of working at farmers' markets that I would be accustomed to conversations like this. Many of our customers are supportive of the organic produce sold by Riverbank because they know our products are grown without pesticides, tended to by individuals who love their job and who spread the word on local and regional food economies.
But, for some, they just don't get it.
Organic food factors in the externalities, including fuel and growing costs, and human labor. Further, since this food is not genetically modified, nature predicts the supply of favorite fruits and veggies. I admit, I need to be more patient with people who do not understand why we don't have basil pesto and pickles available for sale when it is 40 degrees outside (My statement: "The season is over, so our chef cannot cook with them"). However, it is really difficult to combat ignorance or maybe just a lack of knowledge on why we need to get past the price.
Sure, it's easy for me to say "buy local": I work on a farm and get much of my food for free or barter with other farmers. But, for one moment, get past the money issue. Supporting local farmers, growers and businesses is essentially creating an system not based solely on capital and materialism, but on that actually considers the people behind the product and strengthens relationships. In her book, "The Real Wealth of Nations," Riane Eisler considers just that: a caring economics. Eisler isn't an economist or a former businesswoman; she's an anthropologist and philosopher who seems, like me, frustrated with the notion held by many that our economy is simply going to bounce back under old, unjust, capitalist thinking.
We are in the midst of what is understood as a peak oil crisis, and, perhaps, a post-oil society. Our environment, economic, political systems and societies have all suffered because of our disregard for the real driver behind capitalism: people.
Food fits into this in a few ways. By buying or bartering with local growers, you are strengthening relationships in your community. Local food is not just a transaction of high-quality food and paper money, but an assurance that the farmer and customer rely on one another for their livelihoods. They share the same belief that perhaps "cheap" may be fine for their wallets in the short-term, but inexpensive can have far-reaching implications to the health of individuals, communities and the planet.
I realize it's a difficult time to proselytize the local food movement now when the economy is tanking. But, it may actually just be the right time to think and act on such a movement. It is, just that, a movement: We need people to realize that we can't live as conspicuous consumers and that a change in habit and thinking must occur if we want this food to be more affordable, accessible and of second nature to all individuals.