How Farmers’ Markets are the Front Line in an Emerging War in so-called ‘Developed’ Societies

I believe that issues pertaining to what we eat, where we buy our food represent an emerging front line in a developing war (of sorts) between ordinary people, aka ‘citizens’, and the various agencies and organisations who collectively represent their ‘rulers’.

All societies have class systems which develop from a valid need to separate functions, roles and authority in any group structure, from a small family to a large nation. And whenever there are such divisions of role and status, there is the danger of such relationships becoming dysfunctional or unhealthy. This too is entirely normal. The challenge of any such organisational structure involves how well it deals with inevitable imbalances.

My suspicion is that although we live in a time of relative peace and prosperity for those of us fortunate enough to live within the pale of industrial development, there are many quite sordid aspects which we collectively prefer to hide, both from ourselves, and also the leadership hiding from those below.

What’s good: most of us have significant basic freedoms: if you want to work to become a doctor or lawyer, you can. If you want to be a mechanic, a carpenter, a writer, a banker etc. etc., you can choose your path. You can usually choose who you marry and raise children with. You can usually choose where you live, roughly speaking (i.e. we can’t all just pack up and move to a mansion in Beverly Hills CA).

What’s bad is the encroachment of commerce into nearly all aspects of everyday life. Since the development of civilisation there has been a natural growth of trade as goods (now also services) are transferred from one location to another. From this basic trade – most of which no doubt occurred at market places about one day’s journey away from each other as populations expanded, or more closely knit in concentrated urban areas, such as the neighbourhood street markets that exist to this day each Saturday in the various arrondissements in Paris – emerged a class of traders, those whose livelihood depended upon their cut of a deal between buyer and seller, the transaction being mainly up to them since they would buy from wool vendor A in Town Z, and then sell to carpet maker B in Town Y, with wool vendor A and carpet marker B not necessarily ever meeting, both dealing only with Trader T.

There is nothing wrong with any of the above. It’s natural. However, increasingly over the past few centuries, the Traders have taken over society.

This is where the following linked article comes in:

http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/08/12/should-you-be-able-to-buy-food-directly-from-farmers-regulators-do-not-think-so/

Here is an excerpt from the initial few paragraphs, but I recommend reading the entire thing:

This would seem to embody the USDA’s advisory, “Know your farmer, know your food,” right? Not exactly.

For the USDA and its sister food regulator, the FDA, there’s a problem: many of the farmers are distributing the food via private contracts like herd shares and leasing arrangements, which fall outside the regulatory system of state and local retail licenses and inspections that govern public food sales.

In response, federal and state regulators are seeking legal sanctions against farmers in Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California, among others. These sanctions include injunctions, fines, and even prison sentences. Food sold by unlicensed and uninspected farmers is potentially dangerous say the regulators, since it can carry pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli O157:H7, leading to mild or even serious illness.

Most recently, Wisconsin’s attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to file criminal misdemeanor charges against an Amish farmer for alleged failure to have retail and dairy licenses, and the proceedings turned into a high-profile jury trial in late May that highlighted the depth of conflict: following five days of intense proceedings, the 12-person jury acquitted the farmer, Vernon Hershberger, on all the licensing charges, while convicting him of violating a 2010 holding order on his food, which he had publicly admitted.”

The underlying story here – to my mind – is that the government (which mainly represents Commerce, which is the modern Trader) feels inspired to step in to interfere with private arrangements between individuals and a farmer. These are called private agreements (as opposed to commerce which transcends local or national jurisdictions and used to be called ‘the law of the sea’ or Maritime Law for that reason), and it is such ‘privacy’ that is supposedly protected by various constitutions and charters throughout the Western developed world, and such rights exist principally to provide a bulwark against the encroachment of too much power and control from the Rulership, whether that be in the form of a Monarch or a Legislature or a Tyrant, democratically or otherwise chosen.

And here we see the emergent battle getting down to what you can pick up with your hand and put in your mouth, surely one of the most simple, basic function of any living organism. If your neighbour has chickens who run around the woods feeding themselves and the hens lay (unfertilized) eggs and you pay your neighbour (or do some other deal or even receive them as a gift), the government can step in, in the interests of ‘public safety’, and forbid you from such elemental transaction as taking an egg, boiling it, and enjoying it for breakfast.

Well, this is a simple blog with infrequent contributions and this topic is worthy of several volumes, for it involves no end of examples from current news stories, many of which are not well written so it is hard to figure out what is really going on, constitutional law, commercial law, common sense and so forth.

Suffice to say that I remain increasingly convinced that it is Farmers’ Markets in local communities that are the principal main Force for Good in this general War Front in developed societies. There is a place for regulation, including basic standards of hygiene and so forth, but also there is a line beyond which it should not cross. That line has something to do with acknowledging privacy, the right of a private person to make agreement with another private person, which is outside or underneath the realm of Commerce and extra or para local affairs. In other words, if you are going to get into Commerce which involves transferring goods and services outside a local jurisdiction (however that is defined), fair enough: you must obey various regulations, usually in the form of legislated Statutes enforced by various Government Agencies. But within a local context, such regulation should have no part to play.

We have allowed Commerce via Government Agents into our bedrooms and kitchens where they have no business.

A Farmers’ Market is a front line of local person-to-person interchange, which is why I feel it is perfectly correct and normal that you find more than only farm produce at such venues, and also why so many of the various Boards encourage things that are made locally by local people but discourage little stands selling franchised items (various brands of shoe polish or soap made far away for example). Most importantly, it is a way for local people to make things for their friends and neighbours who can choose whether or not they want the products. And even more importantly, if enough people were to choose the local products, then more producers would step up and gradually we could get rid of the Big Box stores, whose presence has been shown to harm local economic and cultural life again and again.

I suspect that 95% of people who sell and buy at Farmers’ Markets are unaware of just how (potentially) important they are. Certainly all such markets in Nova Scotia are forbidden to operate unless they get every single vendor in them to agree to abide by various Statutory restrictions.

Personally, I would love to put together a market that clearly and unequivocally stands free from such restrictions for it is a matter of principle. But also it would mean that both sellers and buyers would have greater awareness of the significance, the importance, the value of basic human society, which is consenting free people exchanging goods and services together in a common area, aka a ‘market’.

Sorry, this was too long, but anyway…..

Nalanda – village farmers in ancient seat of learning point the way to a sane future for all with SRI

Sumant KumarSumant Kumar photographed in Darveshpura, Bihar, India. Photograph: Chiara Goia for Observer Food Monthly

India’s rice revolution by John Vidal of the Guardian

In a village in India’s poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?
India’s rice revolution – audio slideshow

This February 2013 article from London’s The Guardian (and Sunday Observer), is not exactly new news. I have been aware of this since researching bokashi (EM or IM – Efficient or Indigenous Microorganisms) several months ago, a method which South Korea has switched to almost completely and which interests me because of the use of micro-organisms quite similar to those used in making bread, cheese, pickled vegetables, wine and properly prepared sausages, aka ‘fermentation’.

Further, it is personally gratifying in that I was in the first graduating class of Naropa University, the first offspring of Nalanda Foundation, named after Nalanda University (Naropa was the Head Chancellor of Nalanda around 1070 AD, about 100 years before Persian Mongol invasion flattened this huge university to which came advanced students from all over the Asian world from China, Japan and elsewhere – it took three months, it is said, for all the books to finish burning there after it was ransacked and tens of thousands of monks killed by the Muslim invaders who wished to stamp out (aka ‘genocide’) all Buddhists in India. Basically, they succeeded.)

In any case, this article is about SRI (System of Rice Intensification), albeit it works with most other crops. Simply put, it’s a way of cultivating individual root systems more efficiently – and with less water interestingly enough – than traditional methods, along with good manure/compost management. Yields not only are far better than with agro-business methods, but double or triple. In short: organic methods are far more efficient and productive without doing all the damage of the life-killing methods of the ‘scientific’ approaches based on a combination of materialistic anti-spiritual pseudo-science which regards all life processes as essentially mechanical and believes that by breaking things down to their inert chemical constituents they can thereby tweak this, control that, and ultimately mimic Nature or God, thereby improving it, taming it. In fact, what this means is corporate special interests trying to find ways to commercialise basic life processes. If they can find a way to charge us for breathing in oxygen or breathing out carbon dioxide, they will. They already charge hundreds of millions of people for water, and even fine them for collecting it from their roof, or putting in a dug well, since they ‘own’ all rights to water in that jurisdiction (whose leadership class has sold out, obviously, in return for a nice bank account in Switzerland or wherever).

There is a lot in this article. Note how the officialdom of the scientific-agro-business community is so skeptical about verifiable results. You can’t really argue with a 20 ton yield being replicated by farmer after farmer in places where 5 tons is normal using their recommended (and soil killing) methods. And truth be told – and it’s there in the article if you parse it well – they are not really disputing the results, their issue is that you cannot duplicate them with machinery and technology.

Leaving aside the issue as to whether or not that is true (I suspect over time they will figure out ways to more or less duplicate), surely we should ask ourselves: ‘why would you want to do that?’. Wouldn’t it be great if small farmers could make enough money from growing high quality, organic crops all over the world? Rural community life would come back. Those who don’t want to work in call centers and Wal-Mart could go back to the land. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also not mechanical work, it changes from season to season. It is human and humane and natural and fundamentally productive. Moreover rural life breathes sanity back into the urban populations since most of the young people coming into them do so from the country. The people in the city feed off the produce grown from the rural areas nearby which in turn they visit regularly, visiting friends and family or merely as weekend tourists. It is good symbiosis. It is natural. It is the way it was in Europe for over a millenia. It works.

Agro-business doesn’t work. It is ruinous, and only because we have such dysfunctional political systems and media do most of us not see this clearly. Most of us just cannot wrap our heads around how much damage big box stores like Superstore, Wal-Mart and others do, how many local jobs and artisan sources of productive employment are lost to the minimum wage ship-the-profit-out-of-province (or country) model that we live under.

In Sydney, where I live, you can hardly buy any organic green vegetables in the two main local supermarket chains (Superstore owned by Loblaws and Sobeys owned by the Sobey family). Given Sydney’s remarkably small size of about 22,000 (it feels much bigger because it is a harbour town – albeit the Port has not yet been developed due to regional and national political obstruction going back 200 years ) the selection available is actually pretty good, albeit a tad frustrating for those of us who have travelled further afield. Still, not bad all things considered. (We even get fresh sushi now, albeit mainly only with vegetables and weird sauces, not with thick slabs of super-fresh fish.) In any case, I want organic green vegetables. They don’t have hardly any, even in season. What do they have? Both supermarket chains feature green vegetables from the Little Bear farm in Texas (of all places!), which in 2010 had everything recalled for e-coli poisoning (i.e. using bad manure, aka cow shit, on their fields which are probably large greenhouses). And that cow shit probably comes from drug-intensive factory dairy operations. Well, I am guessing. Here is intro from their website: ”

The Company

At J&D Produce, Inc. the goal of quality and service is first and foremost.  Each of our

growers must conform to stringent quality standards.  J&D Produce employs seven field supervisors who make certain that irrigation and fertilization are correct and that we uphold safety requirements for chemical application.  Our supervisors also ensure that cultivation is performed properly and that produce is handled gently during harvest.”

J&D is owned or distributed by http://www.katzmanproduce.com/jd.html, a list of whose producers on the left margin of the page is quite long and includes entries such as Central American Produce

central american fieldsHere we see classic ‘agro-business’ mono-culture which depends upon endless external inputs onto dead soil. Plants grown on such dead soil are unhealthy with compromised immune systems (not unlike many humans with insufficient nutrients in diet or damaged microbial populations from abuse of antibiotic medication), which in turn attract infestation by insects, fungus and so forth, which necessitates the (perceived) need for pesticides which in turn further deplete, if not entirely eradicate, sub-surface soil life. Moreover, the already unhealthy produce is harvested early before being properly ripe so that it can be transported thousands of miles over several weeks to its delivery point. Unripe produce has significantly less nutrient value, but who cares about that?! Indeed, most of us in urban North America have no idea what truly fresh, ripe produce – either of fruit or vegetable variety – tastes like unless we have good local produce from our Farmers’ Market AND it is picked at the right time – not early – by the farmer, many of whom themselves don’t really know the best time to pick because they were raised on supermarket produce themselves. (!)

I am beginning to rant…

SRI shows the way to truly sustainable culture. Not just agricultural or farming culture. But national culture. National cultures, societies, should be based on sound rural communities which in turn should be based on sound agricultural practices which yield good, healthy food.

Michelin recently voted on their best restaurant in the world. Guess what? It’s a small joint called ‘Noma’ in Denmark which uses only locally sourced ingredients year-round, including their bread. I will soon be ordering a new book from this bakery who supplies them (and give them a post on this blog in next few days as well). They grow their own grain – or source it locally, am not sure – grind it and bake bread which in turn is served at the restaurant. That is what I hope to do here in Cape Breton at some point, though right now there is not a single farmer on the island who grows grain, and only a handful in the entire Maritime Region (Nova Scotia, P.E.I, New Brunswick) who grown organic grain. That little factoid is in itself extraordinary evidence of the enormous, incalculable damage done by the Big Box Corporate model we have running our society these days. That we have populations of several million and only a handful of local farmers growing natural, organic grain (and very few growing non-organic for that matter).

It used to be said (by Hamlet) that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ Looks like they are on the right track, and we have to catch up now….

I have a rather strange collection of posts, and offer them sporadically. But there is some sort of theme behind it all, which is generally promoting locally made goods and services and generally offering an alternative to the Big Box anti-life anti-local community corporate model which is now dominant. I am convinced that the single main way to ‘fight back’ as it were is to support local Farmers’ Markets by purchasing things from local producers who in turn will be encouraged, both financially and psychologically, to expand, and of course also more people will become producers. This takes significant effort, especially for those of us living in Northern climates. Supermarkets are not all bad, or wicked, necessarily, but they have gone too far and their model undermines local economies and culture far more than it should. I simply refuse to believe that there are sane, good reasons why we get all our greens from agro-business mono-culture-grown Little Bear in Texas – both chains buy from the same source apparently. We have good greenhouse technology in Canada and could be producing far more for local consumption – even agro-business model style which I don’t like obviously. We could have far more preserved (lacto-fermented)/pickled vegetables during the winter which have high vitamin content rather than getting unripe produce on chemical life support from thousands of miles away.

Anyway, this SRI business is important. Staring us in the global face is a way out of systemic insanity. It is being done. It is known. There are no fundamental problems other than rotten leadership which all of us continue to support by not insisting on doing better.

Monsanto Protection Act in the US – this is not a joke!

http://www.naturalnews.com/039668_Monsanto_Protection_Act_Obama_deception_GMOs.html

I find this website often adds a tad too much emotional spin for comfort, but at the same time he usually covers real issues and real news which few others do so consistently. Personally, I am convinced, having read Seeds of Destruction in full which highlights dozens of peer-reviewed studies on GM crops/foods etc., that GM should be immediately outlawed as a perversion of Nature and something already proven to be harmful to animal and human health. Full stop; end of story.

Of course, that’s not going to happen.

If Mike Adams is right in this article about the thrust, scope and power of this new ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ which is apparently it’s real name, then this is just one more reason why we should start growing our own food again and/or getting absolutely as much as possible from local producers at our Farmers’ Markets. Personally I don’t trust most of the organic stuff at the supermarkets and regard packaged food which can be stored a long time but are pre-prepared and ready to eat, even if organic, as useless. I will buy organic produce there if there is no local equivalent, it’s a way of voting with my dollars, but I am not convinced it is all that much better – a fruit picked weeks too early, even if organic, is really not all that good. We are all so used to prematurely picked fruit that even farmers’ markets vendors do the same thing.

Anyway, a quote from the article:

Corporate-government conspiracy is fascism

This new law forces the USDA to automatically approve all GMO planting permits sought by Monsanto and other biotech firms, effectively granting Monsanto dominion over the U.S. government. This is the very definition of fascism, a form of tyrannical government where corporations conspire with the government to destroy or confiscate all rights, powers and assets, leaving the people impoverished and powerless.”

You might think, reading this in Canada, that it doesn’t concern us. You might be right. But I don’t think so. Health Canada is the same sort of corporate-run fake government that they have in the US, as various Canadian whistle blowers have shown us. Our press is so controlled few Canadians are aware of these things.
In any case: eat organic, grow your own or buy local. Don’t trust these long-distance, over-centralised corporate-engineered imitations of pretty much everything: food, clothing, music, education, medicine, government, law and all the rest.
They are taking money out of peoples’ bank accounts in Europe and this is just the beginning.

More of the same – corporations rule, dehumanizing our food and culture

—–Original Message—–
From: fmns@farmersmarketsnovascotia.ca
Subject: National Food Strategy: Update from Conference
Board of Canada Consultation

Farmers’ Market Community,

At the end of January I attended the Halifax consultation of Conference Board of Canada’s National Food Strategy.

Along with the consultations, the Conference Board of Canada created an online survey available for anyone to complete. The original deadline to fill out of the survey was January 31st. Thanks to many in the room at the Halifax consultation, the survey deadline was extended to Feb 28. You can complete the survey here: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cfic/foodstrategy.aspx.

Regarding the integrity of the Conference Board of Canada’s National Food Strategy, I will share the words of a number of respected experts in the field –

. from Food Secure Canada : http://foodsecurecanada.org/conference-board-canadas-food-strategy

. from Steffanie Scott, director of the local economic development program at the University of Waterloo. She is also vice-president of the Canadian Association for Food Studies and was founding co-chair of the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable : http://www.therecord.com/opinion/columns/article/674510–more-voices-needed-on-national-food-strategy

. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/paul-hughes/conference-board-of-canad_b_2583114.html

It has been suggested that the best thing to do is offer our thoughts and, if appropriate, our dissent and concern. After attending the Halifax consultation, I am very concerned.

Thanks, Keltie

Keltie Butler
Executive Director, Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia
902.425.9776
FMNS@farmersmarketsnovascotia.ca
www.farmersmarketsnovascotia.ca

Comments: first, a quick summary: a grassroots effort involving many people is followed up by a corporate initiative which essentially continues the over-centralising, profit-obsessed trends evident in most so-called ‘industries’ these days, following which some people are complaining and seemingly requesting that they be included in this process which is otherwise unfair or unbalanced or otherwise inappropriate.

My feeling is that, although the above is reasonable, in fact there is little point in working with these large, dominant corporate ‘special interests’. Rather, the emphasis should be on the grass roots style organisations using Common Law norms (Notices etc. ) to establish certain basic rights or practices. For example, I believe it might be possible to establish that if food is being purchased in X county of Y  Province (i.e. where the Notice is published and later filed) the undersigned hereby establishes the right to grow or purchase any food or drink product that he/she desires unless it can be proven in a court of law that such activity endangers the life of anyone involved in such intercourse. Or something like that.

In other words, more effort has to go into creating more understanding about the role and effect of promoting local culture, including local business, including local food production and services, thus especially the role of Farmers Markets in the local community context. We need more research with data, but also less looking to government and big business, which are essentially the enemy on several levels. Wasting time petitioning the government, waiting for their largesse, lobbying them to change rules etc., though well intentioned, even correct, won’t work.

Why? Because large corporations, with practically unlimited amounts of money to throw at legislators and legislative systems, will undermine any changes you/we manage to effect. Look what they are doing with ‘organic’. In a few more years it will be more or less meaningless with many of the products so labelled. Is hydroponic lettuce using ‘organic’ liquid fertiliser meaningfully ‘organic’? Is organic lettuce grown in California really necessary in Nova Scotia, or rather is it all that significant that it is organic if it comes from California?

Further, I think it is time for more people to learn how to grow their own food. That in itself will put great pressure on the Loblaws of this world to raise their quality and lower their prices. And to do that, guess what? They will have to promote and then contract with more local producers. Locally grown lettuce, picked the day before it is presented on the supermarket shelves when it is ripe with the ideal sugar content will beat long distance stuff picked early and then chemically treated any day. More sophisticated winter greenhouse operations within Canada, but especially Nova Scotia, and in particular for the author of this blog, Cape Breton Island, will be far more nutritious and delicious than anything either Sobeys or Superstore are offering by the Big Bear Farms in Texas.

Yes, ideally our local Farmers’ Market could get the ball rolling in this direction, but the reality is that only supermarkets supply a meaningful variety of produce and other goods and it is very difficult for a small scale, usually amateur, producer to offer a sufficiently broad product line since so few people from the town come to the market. And of course one could argue that so few come because there is not enough offered and so on ad infinitum.

But still, somehow we have to find a way to grow and consume locally grown and/or processed foods. That’s the bottom line.

So when you go shopping for stuff to eat, please consider taking this seriously, whether you are buying meat, fish, cheese, eggs, bread or vegetables. As much as possible, buy the local offerings and as much as possible/reasonable, cut back on commercial processed or transported foods. Within reason of course.

But if you do start choosing local over global, so to speak, you will find there is more variety than you might think, and also you might find yourself developing a taste for basics and buying those rather than packaged foods, i.e. vegetables, spices, grains, nuts, fruits and veggies especially during the cold season, and so forth.

The more we support good food by not buying junk food, the more these corporations will have to work harder to supply good food and not junk food. But if we keep buying the junk, they will keep trying to push it further, because of course one of the main reasons junk food has been pushed in the first place is that it is the most convenient money-maker for corporate food industry players.

Stop buying their junk!!!

P.S. An example of why the label ‘organic’ is increasingly meaningless. Look at how one manufacturer (for that is what it is) of ‘organic spinach’ is having this product recalled in over thirty States in the U.S.  And for salmonella, which, I think, comes from manure. I very much doubt this manure comes from animals that are grazing on the same property as the farm, probably it is shipped in, and probably this brand of spinach is being grown in many different farms, or greenhouses, or hydroponic units. I don’t know, but I very much doubt that true organic production is taking place in such large volumes. I do buy such stuff from time to time because I prefer to give money to organic producers, but I hold my nose a little every time I do, and meanwhile am taking steps to grow all my own produce, including winter production which hopefully will take place next year.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/spinach-recall-taylor-farms-e-coli_n_2687967.html?ir=Los+Angeles&ref=topbar

Port Williams CSA – Tap Root Farms

Because I am never over there (near Kentville), I have no first-hand experience of these guys, but they are doing the right thing, imo, namely a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture operation which is when clientele are shareholders rather than simply shoppers. This page has a great description of how it works, which is why it is now in the blog…

http://www.taprootfarms.ca/CSA

Excerpt: ”

Shareholders are more than shoppers

Shareholders commit to a new model of food production. This model is designed to create stronger relationships between local farms and local families. By purchasing shares in the farm’s annual production, families help cover the upfront costs of production and guarantee a local market for food before and during its production. Shareholders commit to a whole season or year of farm production by paying for a weekly box of local produce and products in advance.

Community-based farming versus industrial farming

By entering into shareholding agreements farmers invite the community to actively support agriculture. The cheap, often unethical, and sometimes unsafe, production of food (often on the other side of the globe) has given large producers and exporters an unfair advantage. This and other commercial farming practices of the last few decades have placed the family farm in great jeopardy. Shareholders in local farms are a key component of “community shared agriculture.” At Taproot Farms, and other small farms across Canada, shareholders are helping to stabilize the local farm economy. They are countering the commercial farming practices that are threatening family farms and farmland. As a result they are also assured of produce that is the freshest-of-the-fresh.

The benefits for shareholders

  • Guaranteed access to a wide range of tasty, high quality, local (organic and non-organic) produce from Taproot and associated farms during all 4 seasons.
  • Membership in a caring, fun community shared food system.
  • Increased ability to incorporate seasonal “100-mile diet” principles into weekly meal plans and lifestyles.
  • Great recipes featuring local produce.
  • Seasonal farm-based events.
  • Improved knowledge of the nutritional benefits of local produce.
  • Being part of the solution and stewards of the land.

What is the guarantee?

At Taproot Farms we are committed to continually improving our agricultural methods. This is to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources (water, air, soil, ecosystem), long-term viability of our farm and increase biodiversity. We believe in providing people with food that is delicious, nutritious and ethically produced.”

Farmers Cooperative in Port Williams article

http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/37720-local-food-lovers-hope-open-new-farmers-co-op

This is old news, but any story showing how farmers are fighting to stay viable is worthy. Will include later news as to their progress..

Excerpt: “

COLDBROOK — A new co-operative food market — one that would connect farmers with consumers — may rise from the ashes of the failing Kent Co-op grocery store in New Minas.

“It’s unfortunate that Kent Co-op went the way it did,” David Cudmore said Tuesday about the closing of the 41-year-old grocery store that couldn’t survive in a highly competitive grocery market dominated by large players like Sobeys, Loblaws and Walmart.

“At the closure meeting, there was quite a turnout and a lot of support given to why people like to shop at their co-op and all the wonderful things the co-op did for them,” said Cudmore, president and CEO of Scotian Gold Co-operative Ltd., a farmer-owned business.

“Whatever model Kent Co-op had just didn’t work,” he said in an interview at Scotian Gold’s apple storage warehouse and retail outlet in Coldbrook.

“But people expressed an interest in being involved if another opportunity came along.”

So a small group of people passionate about local food formed a committee and started looking at the options. It’s proposing a new co-operative food market that will put local products first and emphasize the connection between good food and healthy living.

“We’re trying to create a whole different format to the co-op structure,” said Cudmore.

Instead of trying to be all things for all people, the new market would focus on consumers who want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown.

“There’s a core group of people who care a lot about where their food comes from and knowing who produced it and how it’s produced,” Cudmore said.

“They would have part ownership of the enterprise and be able to influence what products are sold in the store.”

Farmers would also be members of the co-op, giving them not only a direct connection to consumers but more control over their products and how they’re priced, displayed and sampled.

The emphasis would be on Annapolis Valley products first, followed by products from elsewhere in Nova Scotia, then Canada and lastly imported products that aren’t grown locally, like bananas and oranges.

“It would have all the groceries you would want,” Cudmore said.”

Commentary: of special note here (for me) in relation to the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market (CBFM), is how the membership/ownership is not just the farmers/vendors but also those creating the market, i.e. the customers. I feel strongly we should do the same thing in Sydney, but making changes like this in an institution is always difficult, and usually not for bad reasons either. Still, I think it’s time for a re-set.

Price Changes

I have recently become aware that another baker at the FM is outselling me by over two to one. Now of course this might simply be because his breads are far better, and that is not really for me to say, but it also could be because although my bread costs about the same, gram for gram, as supermarket ‘artisan’ breads, his is about 40% cheaper AND he is using the same organic flours from Milanaise as I am (though many of my fresh-ground flours are from Speerville-supplied kernels from Maritime-based farmers).

Given it is November, it is easy for me to guestimate the income from now until year’s end (about 6-7 weeks worth) and conclude that without any question this year I was not able to make a clear profit net of basic, necessary living expenses, which in my case are quite modest given there are no mortgage or new car payments in the mix. Health care in the form of (often ineffective but nonetheless expensive) dentistry is the biggest challenge, and I have found this year that I cannot afford what I need and so am just letting teeth break and not fixing them. But even with this rather strange way of saving (!), am still not breaking even. This is the sort of conclusion one doesn’t want to make, but the numbers don’t lie. And since I have virtually no savings after thirteen years on the island, and the bakery is the sole source of income at this point, the current situation is simply untenable. Something has to change.

Clearly am faced with a challenge. Presuming I wish to continue the bakery operation – which I do – I must find a way to boost net income so that it is sustainable.

I have decided that the first thing to consider are my ‘price points’, so am lowering the prices on nearly all breads to see if, over a few months, that will boost sales volumes. Have calculated that if volumes go up by about 20% then that will more than compensate for the lower prices.

Of course the risk with this approach is that it could possibly hasten having to close down since if the volumes don’t pick up, all it will effect is a lowering of income. (But if risk didn’t involve taking a chance that things could go worse, not better, it wouldn’t be called ‘risk’, would it?!)

Have been selling about 80-90 loaves per Market Day and really should be selling about 100-110 (at current prices) to be viable. So hopefully lowering the prices will get me to about 120, which should be fine. Of course this will take a few months to evaluate given that Jan-Feb-March is always very slow for seasonal reasons.

Secondly, must consider additional market venues, either other Farmers’ Markets, or finding a retail outlet, a corner store, a steady restaurant contract or whatever. The challenge here is to find something that want sufficient loaves to justify a second Bake Day during a week, since I can only add a few loaves to current FM Bakes, especially since in theory they should at some point come in at around 120. So an order for 20 loaves on Wednesday is not good enough, it has to be at least 40 loaves to justify an additional bake, which is a 2-day process. Ever since opening have been waiting for / wanting more sales in the immediate local area (Marion Bridge, Gabarus, Albert Bridge) but almost none have been forthcoming. Perhaps I need to approach Church’s with more determination, perhaps set up a road side booth during the summer months (personally do not like that idea), perhaps an email-based order and delivery service once a week. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Lastly, there is an old bakery in Whitney Pier that I could take over rent free for 18 months, and which has one of the largest brick ovens in North America, plus a rotating convection oven in back (both propane fired). But this is a relatively large undertaking and I cannot do this alone due to lack of capital. If there is anyone out there who reads this at some point who is interested in owning and managing an island-based production facility, please let me know. Myself am only interested in working the brick oven and producing line of quality, organically fermented breads. I believe this could be done with 1-3 employees as a sub-department in a larger bakery operation and we could produce the best commercial bread in the Maritimes which could be sold in several FM’s, health food stores, and purchased regularly by upscale restaurants as well. If nothing else, it would scare the supermarkets into making better bread, although I must say that the artisan breads are pretty good now if you are someone who likes (laboratory / factory grown commercial yeast risen) breads; I don’t, and there are no good sourdough loaves available in such venues, and I believe if more people had access to them, they would ‘take’.

Jamie of Kingsville Farms (the rival baker!), a very friendly fellow, floated the idea of structuring the large bakery as a cooperative. Perhaps this is worth exploring too.

Meanwhile, though, must still confront the harsh reality of the current situation which is that they have not ‘taken’. Another baker has demonstrated with his skill and hard work that much higher volume sales are possible in the Sydney FM, so clearly my product line (and/or its prices as per above) is not appealing. Which means also that quite possibly having access to a larger brick oven will make little difference. In order to better evaluate this, I will therefore lower my prices to being closer to what they would be were I manufacturing in larger volumes.

Time will tell!
I make this post partly to keep those few who follow this blog informed, but mainly as some sort of expression by a small, artisan bakery operator of the sort of challenges we face. Personally, I have no doubt AT ALL that I will find a way forward with this; that the challenge as it becomes more clear and dire will oblige a solution to be found. As long as the bread is good – and I believe it is – and the prices reasonable – which I believe they are based on their cost and labour involved, it will work. But that is easier said than effected, that is all, and right now am faced with the challenge of finding out how to raise volumes somehow.

Oh yes, am also building up a much nicer looking booth. More on that later as hopefully (after delaying it for months during the busy summer months), it gets put together in the next couple of weeks. Maybe that will provide the sales boost I need and this whole ‘crisis’ will be no more than a blip.

Personal exchange of goods and services is a right

http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/omkara/2012/aug/10/moms-risk-arrest-protest-lemonade-stands-raw-milk/

We have almost the same laws in Canada. As mentioned previously on this blog I cannot automatically sell traditional, lacto-fermented cabbage, or even fresh almond milk on my table at the Farmer’s Market, nor at a stand near my house on the highway.

At what point to laws supposedly designed to promote ‘health and safety’ go too far, and also at what point do they stifle small, local initiatives – not to mention employment – and promote an increasingly corporate (and usually low wage in local terms) situation?

Obviously, that’s a judgment call. But I believe that goods and services being offered within a local radius (say a 2 hour drive) should not be subject to the same rules as stuff that is made in large volumes and shipped long distances. This is true for both food and basic goods, but especially for food. Something that is picked a few hours before being sold, or made by hand in small quantities and sold soon after being made is inherently different from something that is mass produced, then packaged/processed, transported long distances and sold long after its inception. It is not right that the same rules are applied to what are, in essence, very different ‘products’.

And of course the modern so-called ‘scientific’ approach does not recognise the value of promoting/protecting vibrant local culture, including local business by locals for locals, does not recognise the harm done by agro-business monoculture methods to both culture and the environment, and therefore does not factor them in at all. So their notion of ‘Health’ and “Safety’ is very narrow and again, intentionally or not, favours the large para-local corporate model over the small, hand-made, local one.

And so it goes….

(NOTE: Washington Times is a highly partisan, rather bad, publication. But the protestors presumably are real. And not the story comes from the email address: press@westonprice.org.

Microorganisms going mainstream!

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/opinion/lets-add-a-little-dirt-to-our-diet.html?ref=opinion

(Note the fermented drink on the table!)

Note also that ‘earth’ is fermented organic matter plus living organisms. That is the food of plants, and therefore also animals. Of course a little is good, though personally I would prefer the earth as processed by the vegetables. In any case, it’s good to see this sort of thing entering the mainstream.

And of course also there is more to being a ‘locavore’ than eating dirt, but it’s a start!

“OVER 7,000 strong and growing, community farmers’ markets are being heralded as a panacea for what ails our sick nation. The smell of fresh, earthy goodness is the reason environmentalists approve of them, locavores can’t live without them, and the first lady has hitched her vegetable cart crusade to them. As health-giving as those bundles of mouthwatering leafy greens and crates of plump tomatoes are, the greatest social contribution of the farmers’ market may be its role as a delivery vehicle for putting dirt back into the American diet and in the process, reacquainting the human immune system with some “old friends.”

Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us. As nature’s blanket, the potentially pathogenic and benign microorganisms associated with the dirt that once covered every aspect of our preindustrial day guaranteed a time-honored co-evolutionary process that established “normal” background levels and kept our bodies from overreacting to foreign bodies. This research suggests that reintroducing some of the organisms from the mud and water of our natural world would help avoid an overreaction of an otherwise healthy immune response that results in such chronic diseases as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of allergic disorders.

In a world of hand sanitizer and wet wipes (not to mention double tall skinny soy vanilla lattes), we can scarcely imagine the preindustrial lifestyle that resulted in the daily intake of trillions of helpful organisms. For nearly all of human history, this began with maternal transmission of beneficial microbes during passage through the birth canal — mother to child. However, the alarming increase in the rate of Caesarean section births means a potential loss of microbiota from one generation to the next. And for most of us in the industrialized world, the microbial cleansing continues throughout life. Nature’s dirt floor has been replaced by tile; our once soiled and sooted bodies and clothes are cleaned almost daily; our muddy water is filtered and treated; our rotting and fermenting food has been chilled; and the cowshed has been neatly tucked out of sight. While these improvements in hygiene and sanitation deserve applause, they have inadvertently given rise to a set of truly human-made diseases.

While comforting to the germ-phobic public, the too-shiny produce and triple-washed and bagged leafy greens in our local grocery aisle are hardly recognized by our immune system as food. The immune system is essentially a sensory mechanism for recognizing microbial challenges from the environment. Just as your tongue and nose are used to sense suitability for consumption, your immune system has receptors for sampling the environment, rigorous mechanisms for dealing with friend or foe, and a memory. Your immune system even has the capacity to learn.

For all of human history, this learning was driven by our near-continuous exposure from birth and throughout life to organisms as diverse as mycobacteria from soil and food; helminth, or worm parasites, from just about everywhere you turned; and daily recognition and challenges from our very own bacteria. Our ability to regulate our allergic and inflammatory responses to these co-evolved companions is further compromised by imbalances in the gut microbiota from overzealous use of antibiotics (especially in early childhood) and modern dietary choices……

The suggestion that we embrace some “old friends” does not immediately imply that we are inviting more food-borne illness — quite the contrary. Setting aside for the moment the fact that we have the safest food supply in human history, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and food processing plants and farmers continue to take the blame for the tainted food that makes us ill, while our own all-American sick gut may deserve some blame as well.

While the news media and litigators have our attention focused on farm-to-table food safety and disease surveillance, the biological question of why we got sick is all but ignored. And by asking why an individual’s natural defenses failed, we insert personal responsibility into our national food safety strategy and draw attention to the much larger public health crisis, of which illness from food-borne pathogens is but a symptom of our minimally challenged and thus overreactive immune system.

As humans have evolved, so, too, have our diseases. Autoimmune disease affects an estimated 50 million people at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. And the suffering and monetary costs are sure to grow. Maybe it’s time we talk more about human ecology when we speak of the broader environmental and ecological concerns of the day. The destruction of our inner ecosystem surely deserves more attention as global populations run gut-first into the buzz saw of globalization and its microbial scrubbing diet. But more important, we should seriously consider making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine, or making its core principles compulsory in secondary education. Currently they are not. 

As we move deeper into a “postmodern” era of squeaky-clean food and hand sanitizers at every turn, we should probably hug our local farmers’ markets a little tighter. They may represent our only connection with some “old friends” we cannot afford to ignore.

Jeff D. Leach is a science and archaeology writer and founder of the Human Food Project.”

An intelligent, informative article. Nice to see in the NYT.