I attended the October 14th Food and Beers series presentation, Can the City Feed Itself, where the assembled crowd heard each of the four panelists describe what ingredients their “recipe” for regional food security would include. (For comprehensive coverage see Ten Ingredients for a Healthy Food Economy at The Tyee.)
After the presentation I chatted with a couple of local farmers about their thoughts on the local food economy. Loren of AppleBarn Pumpkin Farm and Jerry and Audrey of Gelderman Farms are an integral part of our local food chain and have firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities we have to improve food security in our region. Mostly, though, they just want to focus on farming responsibly and getting a living wage for their efforts.
We covered a lot of ground in our conversation, but one of the things that came up and has stuck with me is the idea many people hold that “big farm bad, small farm good.” Where it gets messy is when we try to define exactly what qualifies as big or small, and is that the real issue?
Then the Globe & Mail called and wanted to know what I think about industrialized food. It would be easy to say industrialized (a.k.a. big) bad, local good. Except that’s not exactly true.
Local can be big. Small can be environmentally unfriendly. Plus local and small isn’t necessarily any better if it’s locally engineered rather than real food.
After a bit of consideration I’ve clarified in my own mind that size is not the issue, it’s all about attitude and behavior, which come in any size.
I was first attracted to supporting local food producers many years ago at artisan/craft fairs where people would sell homemade goods like jam, candy and baked goods. These food artisans were just as creative and put just as much passion into each creation as other artists do into their work, whatever the medium.
It’s that artisan quality that is the opposite of industrialized food, rather than a question of how big a production plant or farm is.
For me “Industrial” includes all the things that we associate with a more mechanized society — machine-made, technology-focused, assembly lines, massive scale, dehumanized, profit over quality. In farming this includes packing animals into inhumanely small and crowded cages and paddocks, using environmentally unfriendly chemicals as fertilizer and pest control, and monocropping.
“Artisan” on the other hand has a more personal, individual feeling — hand-made, personal craftsmanship, a sense of personal pride in quality, and a human rather than a machine behind the product. On the farm this includes things like hand-weeding, organic pest control, grass-fed livestock and agricultural biodiversity.
Many of our local farmers are true artisans, putting their hearts and souls into producing quality food they can be proud of. The farms may become get big, if that’s what it takes to make a living, but they will always remain artisans to me by their personalized and responsible approach to farming.