Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Posts tagged ‘Food Movement’

The “Walmarting” of Organics

Grocery giant, Walmart, has set its sights on organics planning to drive the market prices down nationwide announcing an exclusive partnership with Wild Oats. Walmart claims that they will sell a line of 100 organic products at 25 percent less than 26 national brand competitors.

“We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries” says Jack Sinclair, Walmart executive vice president of grocery. Need I say more?

I believe that most of us are familiar with the Walmart plan and how they have operated in the past. Driving competitors out of business until it’s the only game in town and then having prices creep up hasn’t been in keeping with the mantra go to Walmart and watch prices falling!

From a farmer perspective the new Wild Oats deal tells me that it’s about capturing a rapidly growing organic market, 10 – 20 percent a year by most estimates, and driving the small sustainable organic family farmers out of business. In keeping with its history, Walmart tells the producer what it will pay for your product and you can take it or leave it. Walmart buys in large volume and to acquire the volume the company will need huge organic suppliers.

By the same token, Walmart customers are traditionally either/or from poor areas, low income, rural, or food stamp recipients. I do believe in food equality meaning that everyone should have access to affordable healthy food choices.

What I don’t believe in is driving the food prices paid to the farmer down to the point of the small scale family farmer becoming listed on the endangered species list!

Open the door for industrial corporate organic food production – I’ve written in the past about the “bastardization of organics” and as I’ve said before, it is not about the real organic food producers it’s about the “posers”. With ever increasing relaxed National Organic Standards occurring, the road is being paved by government regulations for anyone to claim organic. Obviously, history is repeating itself as it did when corporate agriculture took over mainstream food production ushering in vertically integrated food systems, contract farming, and the theory of get big or get out!

It remains to be seen if the new Walmart – Wild Oats plan will be successful. If my local Walmart is any example, I don’t believe that the store will capture new higher end customers. In finding a decent grocery chain, I drive 30 miles. To find a really exceptional grocer it’s 120 miles.

My local Wamart is disgustingly filthy, rotten produce is offered for sale, the employees are rude to the point if you ask a question they behave as if you’ve bothered them, and empty spaces on shelves abound. It has all of the qualities of “if you don’t like it, tough”!

Walmart’s increased sales have remained stagnant. The company sees a rapidly increasing organic market and the sound of cha- ching! The entire deal surrounds the almighty dollar. It’s definitely not based on any warm fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing or providing access to healthy food choices for the masses. I’ve not heard or read one word related to this deal about any claims of corporate social responsibility or being a good citizen in local communities.

Speaking to the local economy, the deal will not provide a boost. Walmart won’t be buying from local farmers they will be buying from centralized mass producers. Efficiency will be the name of the game which translates to cutting corners.

What I find humorous about the deal is that corporations, such as Walmart, have in the past viewed organics as a niche market equating those farmers to left over hippies. Corporate agriculture types snidely snickered over organics as not being technologically advanced in food production. I say, hop on the bus, Gus – be a poser!

What Came First – The Chicken or The Egg?

Here on the farm, we are making preparations to expand. Yes, I said EXPAND! The great egg adventure has blossomed into something viable. Imagine that folks – viability on the farm. More Girls for Bird’s Eye View Farm and of course more eggs. Our current supply can’t meet the demand for product.

Back in January, I participated on a farmer panel at the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FH CASA) conference and our great egg adventure was used as one of several “case studies”.

Becoming a case study is something that I never considered when we first began. All joking aside, I had my doubts. Jumping into it was a leap of faith. As I told conference attendees we were flying by the seat of our pants in the beginning and in opposition to my colleagues successful case studies presented, I bluntly told folks – “do not follow my model”! Being a Guiana pig means making all of the mistakes and figuring out solutions.

If I had to do it over again I would have…… how many times do we say that in a life time? Exploring marketing and distribution would have been first before putting the Girls on the farm. I would want to know that I had outlets for product and have it figured out how I was going to get product to market – Note to self: Marketing and distribution, figure it out first.

Thinking back, I recall being told several times, don’t worry, the product will sell. That put me in a comfort zone and allowed me to relax and enjoy raising the Girls for 22 weeks. And then the eggs came! Getting the first eggs was a thrill and heartwarming because our grandson and my husband found the first ones. But then, more eggs came, lots of eggs!

Of course there are steps in between collecting eggs and selling eggs to consider such as washing, packaging, and cold storage. Washing and packing is done by hand (machinery is expensive) and a spare refrigerator works if you don’t have too many eggs. As the Girls increased egg laying the necessity for much larger cold storage space was presented. As any farmer knows, utilizing and modifying what you have is imperative for economic reasons – waste not, want not. There are not many of us who can go out and purchase a walk in cooler at the blink of an eye. Lucky for us, my husband ingeniously converted a pump room into a walk in cooler at a relatively low cost.

As the eggs started piling up the task of marketing became necessity! Marketing is a humbling experience for one who has never done it before. Thankfully, being an Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) Certified farm also meant that AWA lent a hand in marketing, free of charge. Who can afford to go out and hire a marketing firm to sell product? Sales began slowly and I had many sleepless nights wracking my brain thinking about markets. There are several ways to sell product. There is a lot of trial and error. Finding the way which best suits the individual takes time, patience, and persistence – lots of it.

Once the market was found, meeting the requirements of a buyer is something that never entered my mind until it was put before me. Researching Federal, State, and Local laws for production, processing, packaging, distribution, and selling is enough to make one’s head spin. Understanding and compliance is not the end of it. Each market or buyer has individual requirements and is something one should be well aware of before entering the market. Insurances, licensing, and permits for individual localities are a must.

Different types of packaging are something to consider such as chef’s preferring bulk (egg flats) in 30 dozen cases or consumer’s preferring half dozen or full dozen cartons packed in 15 dozen cases to suit the buyer and what sells best in the market place.

What size eggs do your customers want? Regardless of what some would have us believe, hens don’t lay uniformly sized or shaped eggs. Depending on the egg laying cycle of the hens decides what you get and how many. What do you do with eggs that don’t meet your customer’s preference?

Distribution – getting the product from farm to market can be a nightmare. Spending a good twelve hour day making deliveries each week was exhausting. Ensuring that product is kept sufficiently cool and as required by law is a must. Taking cost into consideration the question arises, will distribution cost outweigh profit margin expected after production and processing cost?

In my case, the chicken came before the egg! Was it a wise move? Probably not! However, I don’t have regrets over the roller coaster ride it presented! Settling on a market and developing a partnership with our buyer has been a relief to all of the unknowns mentioned above. I feel as if the farm has reached a point of serenity and life has leveled out over the past year. While not becoming complacent with where we are I’m a happy camper! Although eager to move forward I also realize that adding more hens presents new challenges. A new chapter in the great egg adventure!

It Never Ceases to Amaze Me!

Although my next post was to be a continuation of the Land of Confusion this week has been one of those weeks! Un-freaking-believable is a more apt description! Of course I’ve been completely sidetracked from talking about genetics in farming.

One of my repetitive sayings is “it never ceases to amaze me”. This usually accompanies me closing my eyes and shaking my head as if trying to clear it in order to take in the latest assault to my brain. I’ve done this a lot this week. More often than not, it takes me a couple of days to absorb “the latest” and to wrap my mind around it.

I should be of a very jaded mindset in regards to the meat and poultry industries and their relationships with government/politicians in power. I don’t discriminate when it comes to political parties – I call it as I see it.

One of the latest revelations to my brain was the release of emails between Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, and Perdue, mostly through the company’s attorney. Cozy, is a polite description. This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise because in the recesses of my mind, it was something that I already thought and something that many had speculated about.

Through a Freedom of Information request, Food and Water Watch, a Washington, DC based nonprofit organization, emails between O’Malley and a Perdue representative were obtained and released to the public. It’s interesting, informative reading and certainly lends credibility to theories as to why taxpayers in Maryland are picking up the tab for industry and its share of pollution caused by company owned chicken poop! This is one of those “indirect” subsidies that continue to prop up cheap chicken.

On another subject, and leading back to the saga of The Land of Confusion, I’ve had several conversations this week about objections to farmers using the term “pasture raised”. I discussed this in my last post, The Land of Confusion Part II and from what I gather it has ruffled feathers of some who have adulterated the term “free range”.

In my mind and in the minds of many other farmers who are practicing the method of “pasture raised” it’s a term used to inform consumers that animals are REALLY outside on pasture. The animals REALLY do eat grasses, bugs, and worms and are able to forage.

The term “pasture raised” most definitely goes above the term “free range” because some have coined the term “free range” to conjure up a picture in consumer’s mind of animals being out on lush green forage. In reality, those who’ve bastardized free range through the definition of animals only needing to have “access” to the outside created the need for farmers who actually let their animals outside and provide actual pasture, to clearly define their farming methods.

It appears to me that coining of phrases can only be used if it suits the purpose of a select few. Like it or not, this argument is something that USDA is going to have to address. The high jacking of labels for the sheer purpose of greed has been going on in the farming community for quite some time. Closing loopholes through clear definitions of what actually happens on the farm needs to happen in order for farmers who REALLY do what they say they do can be the only ones to claim the phrase or term and consumers can be assured. To further add credence to the need for this to happen can be found from several sources who’ve felt the need to search out and write about this issue. The latest comes from Rodale

It’s perfectly clear where I stand on this issue and I’m sure that we can look forward to a huge and long battle! Of course we will see a lot of wheeling and dealing during this process and the flexing of money, power, and influence.

While there were other assaults to my brain throughout the week I haven’t quite decided what to make of them so discussion will have to wait for other posts. Hopefully, the next post will get back to the subject of genetics and the effects created by them in farming and food.

Poultry Industry Clucking Over Food INC

This past week has been astronomically enlightening to say the least. Food INC was finally shown to the public in my neck of the woods and has raised hoopla to red alert status.

Most strongly conveyed to me is that the movie is skewed against the poultry industry and it’s felt that my part in the movie is not really what happens on the farm and what is happening to contract growers across the country.

The film crew followed me around for two days while I did the daily work on the farm. What was captured on film was not anything different from the normal daily routine. I’m in no way shape or form an “actress”, did not play a “role or part” in the film, and I didn’t go to Hollywood to audition. I’m just an ordinary every day farmer who spoke out when many farmers couldn’t!

For the poultry segment of Food INC two of the largest companies in the poultry industry “DECLINED” to be interviewed. In my book that is not skewing the movie it’s producing something which was unable to include any view-point of what the poultry industry now whines about.

Opinions are like other things and everyone has one. The last I heard we are entitled to them. Differing thoughts are what evokes dialogue about issues and eventually middle ground can be reached which addresses “EVERYONES” concerns. I believe that is considered to be the democratic process in this country which our forefathers fought for. It’s civilized behavior.

What I found utterly amazing in my little part of the world was the almost entire news media blackout about the showing of the movie and the discussion forums which followed. Only one brave local television station, WMDT, showed their face at Salisbury University and their headline was “Controversial Film Showing in Salisbury” (MD). Most news is controversial!

I have to wonder why it took almost 3 years to show an Oscar nominated and Emmy Award winning film to the local public and why the local news media shied away from speaking about it. It’s also been said that pressure was put on the University to not host the event.

Food INC is a controversial documentary and it’s thought provoking. The movie and the issues about food that it addresses are much bigger than me, the poultry industry, or the company I contracted with. The poultry industry is only a cog in a huge wheel that produces our food. The movie provides people with information and arouses the thought process. From that people can make individual choices and decisions about their own life.

Since the local showing of the film I’ve had to be a big girl and had to suck it up over the personal disparagement that I’ve heard. Today I was told that I’m not as pristine as what I portray myself to be. Meaning what, I’m not sure. However I seriously thought about it and have to say that I agree with my accuser.

Pristine – According to Merriam Webster –

  1. belonging to the earliest period or state : original
  2.  a: not spoiled, corrupted, or polluted (as by civilization) : pure
    b: fresh and clean as or as if new

Good Googa Mooga! Folks I hate to burst your bubble if anyone thought that of me. Over the past 55 years I have been spoiled, polluted, and corrupted by many things. My girlhood visions of everything is beautiful and la la land does exist (my earliest period of state) disappeared a long time ago. Yes, my dreams have been spoiled, my brain has been corrupted, and my life has been polluted by many things that made me think one way only to find out that in reality – the way was entirely different. There is nothing left of my mind that was introduced into this world as fresh and clean. Cynical yes, pristine no!

Seriously, I’ve been called many things over the years from communist to socialist, animal rights activist to vegetarian, anti-farmer to running a concentration camp for chicken’s, and the really bad word environmentalist. The list goes on…. Running the gauntlet of name calling is one way of me achieving non-pristine-ness. It’s never fresh or clean. I’ve generally taken this in stride and operated under the saying of “you can call me anything you like just don’t call me late for dinner”. I’m thinking that this motto will have to be changed maybe I could add-on to the end of the saying “and please don’t call me pristine”.

Controversial Film Showing in Salisbury” WMDT 47

Foodies and the Food Movement

Labels pasted on people have always been one of my biggest pet peeves. Lord knows I’ve had plenty of labels pasted on me over the years and my answer has always been “you can call me anything you like just don’t call me late for dinner”!

The label “foodies” sets my mind to wondering exactly what it means. Is it a certain elite class of likeminded people who are wealthy enough to afford better food produced locally in an organic method? For the generality of the label one could say yes.

Maybe in the beginning of what is labeled as the “Food Movement”, elitism was the driving force and probably something that held the movement back. Super markets such as Whole Foods stated springing up in only certain areas because there were only certain people who could afford the food being sold and which catered to only certain people. Actually it was about money and who had it to spend and who could capitalize from it.

Being a farm girl living in rural America I never saw super markets such as Whole Foods nor did I see local stores selling locally produced foods and never organic. Rural America, like the inner cities, is poor. We don’t have the extra food dollars to spend in specialty grocery stores and I would imagine that demographics have everything to do with where these stores set up shop.

Over the past 5 years, if not more, the “Food Movement” has become something more than just for special people. The number of local farmer’s markets steadily grows, more farmers are producing food to supply these markets, and more consumers are patronizing these markets. Local restaurants are shopping for local foods and many are connecting directly with local farmers. Institutions such as schools and medical facilities are participating in “buy local” programs for food purchasing. The list goes on. Does all of this fall under the label of “foodies”?

The Food Movement to me is a driving force to change the current system and methods that supply the majority of our food. In this movement are many differing reasons why the system needs changing with one goal. I consider myself to be a part of this movement and am likeminded with others in reasoning……… Change! Does this make me a “foodie”? Going back to the beginning of my post I cringe at thinking I might fit into the elite class of foodies.

It’s all in the wording folks and it wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that anyone who makes the mere mention of changing the food system is a “foodie” and part of the Food Movement. Are you a foodie?