The First Lady has planted a garden, organic, of course, and the Department of Agriculture is spending 50 million or so on a program called Know Your Farmer. The effort is likely to disappoint: in fact, a suburban housewife determined to know this corn farmer is likely to be mortified by my looks, the way I smell, and my opinions. I can't imagine why any resident of Manhattan would want to know me, and, trust me, some of my neighbors are even worse.
...One of the assumptions implicit in all this local food stuff is that we farmers are dying to make a connection with our customers. In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. All we want is to sell corn and to be left alone.
--Blake Hurst, farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau
I borrowed this striking quote from The Locavore's Dilemma, partly because it had me laughing out loud, but also because it illustrates an intriguing point about the food and ag business.
Take a Brooklyn hipster (no, really, take one!). Imagine her, freshly done reading one of Michael Pollan's books, and deciding, firmly, that she wants to get "close" to her food. She’s gonna know her farmer, man. Now she'll make regular trips to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, take a weekly subway ride to Manhattan's Union Square Farmer's Market, and maybe even once a month line up a Zipcar Prius to drive up the Hudson Valley (staying within 100 miles of course) to visit an actual organic farm!
Hipsters are usually quite good at irony. But there's one question, ironically, that this hypothetical Brooklyn hipster never thought to ask: what if her farmer doesn't want to know her back?
You'd think this imaginary friendly farmer, if he really wanted to know this hipster and others like her, would take a job where he'd actually get to meet hipsters. He wouldn't farm at all! He'd work at the Apple Store. Or at Whole Foods.
If you take Blake Hurst's word for it, most farmers just want to farm. They didn't sign up to meet hipsters and agri-intellectuals. That's the reason other people sell, distribute and retail their food: because selling, shipping, distributing, retailing and hipster-meeting isn't farming.
Think about this a little bit. Does your farmer want to know you?
Are you sure?
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