Now I know it has been a hot minute (read seven months) since I last wrote a blog. I just got burned out and down-and-out about a lot of things, but seven weeks into work-from-home and I need a creative outlet.
Speaking of the pandemic we currently find ourselves in…
In many aspects this crisis has been rough on most of us emotionally, financially and mentally. And that is just talking about the ones of us that have not gotten sick or lost loved ones. That said, however, a few good things have come from this.
First, I feel like there is a greater outreach to God. I hope this is something that continues, but I fear it is just a temporary fix for many people – a reaching into the old medicine cabinet for a little Jesus when things get hard. If you are searching for an anchor in this storm of life, He is the answer. Always.
Second, I feel like we have been forced to slow down, rest, recharge and understand that life constantly in hustle mode might not be for the best. Side note: if you haven’t checked out To Hell with the Hustle by Jefferson Bethke, you need to right now. This book changed my life! (Plus, the fact that the author liked my book review pretty much set me over the moon! You can read my book reviews on my Instagram page.)
Third, there has been a huge outreach to local farmers and livestock producers for locally-sourced food. Check out my Yankee-friend Jodi’s farm and all their exploits recently. This chick and her family amaze me every single day and I’m often near devastated I can’t help support her. Shipping food-stuffs from Pennsylvania to East Texas is hard though! She and her farming buddies have truly turned a near tragedy into this amazing story of community outreach and support. It honestly brings tears to my eyes sometimes. And let’s be real, a little jealously-like feeling to my heart. They are living the locally-sourced dream! This is something that is hugely close to my heart and it seems my passion for it grows every single day.
Now, living in the Loblollies of East Texas is right where my little heart is content. One thing that frustrates me at times though is that something like what Jodi has going on just doesn’t make as much sense here. Mainly because if someone cares about locally-sourced products, they grow or raise their own. I’m not certain there is a sound financial reason to try and build a community of local producers here.
I love supporting my local Farmers’ Market (I got some gorgeous fresh green beans this weekend that I’ve tried turning into Pickled Dilly Beans from Johnson Farms). I can get semi-local wine and beers thanks to Fredonia Brewing and Angelina Brewing in Nacogdoches and Lufkin. I have yet to find locally-sourced dairy or meat that is not in the Houston or Dallas area, which honestly at 2+ hours each is just too far to be considered local. And what is a girl to do when she wants something other than the standard honey, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, peas, onions and peaches (I’m talking that are locally-grown). This small-town girl often has big-city desires when it comes to produce. The supermarket is an option, of course, but does that really help counteract the millions of pounds of food waste here in the United States or the farmers that are struggling right now because of shutdowns?
Several months ago, I researched a company called Imperfect Foods. The San Francisco-based group promises to “deliver seasonal, cosmetically imperfect produce to your house at affordable prices.” This is food they claim would otherwise go to waste. When I first researched the company, I was super bummed to find out they did not even come close to delivering to my area. Dang rural setting! I found out a few weeks ago, however, they have vastly expanded their reach to serve more people. I can only receive deliveries once a week on Wednesdays, but that is ok. I have currently set myself up for a medium box with every-other-week delivery. The cost is a minimum $30 spend with a $5.99 delivery fee.
I am going to do a more in-dept review post once the box gets here, but I wanted to use this time to talk about the pros and cons of these boxes. While the claims sound great, are they really? I did some digging and lots of reading and found several arguments AGAINST these services (Hungry Harvest and Misfit Market are two other subscription services with similar claims). One of the biggest negative claims is that the boxes are expensive. So far I don’t think that is going to be true, but I’ll post the breakdown of my box’s cost when I receive it next week.
The next thing nay-sayers complain about is how these companies are only acerbating the problem of overproduction by monetizing and incentivizing farmers to grow more product. Meaning, much of the produce they sell via subscription would not have, in fact, gone to waste but would have been sold to manufacturers of canned vegetables, soups, frozen chopped fruit and veg, jams, etc. Maybe true, maybe not. Farmers seem to be pretty quiet on this and the subscription companies are mum on who their suppliers are.
One of the loudest negative claims I have read is how subscriptions divert donations to local food banks and continues to put money in the pocket of Big Ag. This claim gets tricky and sticky fast. According to the USDA, in 2018, family farms accounted for nearly 98 percent of all U.S. farms. The breakdown between small and large family-owned farms is where critics bite though. Of the 98 percent of family-owned farms, small-family farms (less than $350,000 gross cash farm income a year) account for 90 percent of the total. Large-scale family farms (more than $1 million gross cash farm income) account for approximately 3% of family-owned farms, but they produce more than 40 percent of total production. BUT, they are still family-owned farms. One of the main reasons they are able to produce such large quantities of produce is specialization. Meaning, they focus all of the efforts and energy on one or two very specific crops or livestock. It is a business decision usually brought on by the harvests’ value and the input costs, but sometimes because of historical family reasons as well.
And even though we sometimes forget, farms are a business. I deeply believe business owners – big and small – should be allowed to make a profit on the items they produce, whether that be services or goods. To me this seems like a very common sense thought process, but apparently it is not. It is inconceivable to me why anyone would want to – or how they COULD – operate a business of any kind or size at a break-even or loss year after year. I believe Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is important and all businesses should strive to give back to their communities and the nation, but not at the detriment of the company or its employees. Farmers are business owners. They might not walk around in a suit and tie, drive an expensive luxury car or live in a big city high-rise, but their farm is often their family’s source of income. They should not be expected to sacrifice potential profits to donate food unless they feel driven to do so. These additional profits could mean the difference between keeping small-family owned farms operating or having to sell out as so many have had to do over the years. The agriculture world works on a narrow profit margin already. Why, I ask, should they not be allowed to add a little breathing room to that margin when possible?
Farmers like Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative believe these “ugly produce” companies have done just that. They have given them a way to increase profits on the 20% of crops that does not meet rigid grocery store and restaurant standards. You can read more of their interview here. Inversely, many local farmers argue against these subscriptions by saying they make middle-class buyers feel they are making ethical buying decisions while in reality ignoring cooperatives and local producers.
Now, do I think these start-up “ugly-produce” subscription companies are going to fix all the woes of our broken food chain? I give you a resounding and firm absolutely not. I do believe, however, they are trying to fix some of the problems. For me, participating in a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) is not an option. They don’t exist. I tried growing my own baby garden this year and it not going so well. Plus, in a normal, non-pandemic world I travel a lot and gardens need attention. I don’t believe having this subscription box will stop me going to the local farmers’ market, but it will keep me from going to a supermarket. Again, I’m more focused on items I can’t source locally rather than buying things that I can already get here from our local farmers.
One thing I really like about this box is you can go in and select exactly what you want to receive. Already have garlic, take that out of your virtual cart for this time! You can also cancel or pause your service at any time. More to come when my first box gets here! I just can’t wait!!! In the meantime, think about your food chain. Do you know where your food comes from? Wal-Mart, Amazon, Kroger or Trader Joe’s is not really the answer I’m looking for. I’m taking do you know the person that is tending the plants, livestock, eggs and dairy you are eating/drinking? If the answer is no, is there a way you could? This pandemic has shown us many things. Including just how very fragile our food chain truly is. Source local foods when you can.