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Krupp: A Food Dilemma

08/19/10 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST)  Commentator Ron Krupp says that the desire to support local agriculture, creates a food dilemma for some consumers.
(KRUPP)  I was giving a talk in Proctor recently on farm and food issues in Vermont. An older woman of apparently modest means and Italian descent was in the audience.  She told me she loves buying fresh local food. So when her family came together for a reunion last year, she decided to go to the local farmers' market and purchase five pounds of potatoes. The potatoes were two dollars and fifty cents a pound.

She told the farmer she couldn't afford to pay thirteen dollars for a sack of potatoes and that she would have to go to the local supermarket even though she wanted to support local farmers.  For many consumers, the high cost of some food items at farmers' markets presents a challenge. Fortunately, many families can choose to purchase lower-cost food through shares at a CSA - a community supported agricultural farm.
When I raised the issue of the cost of local food to the audience at the Proctor library, one person said that people make choices in how they spend their money. After all, we're willing to shell out $8 for a movie - even more for the popcorn and soda and pay much more to eat out, but still complain when we go to the local farmers market -perhaps forgetting that farmers have to make a living, too.
Back to the lady in Proctor.  She told me that when she was a young woman growing up in Vermont, many families in Vermont had home gardens where they grew and canned vegetables. It was common to raise chickens and even a pig or two.  Her family purchased fruits and vegetables at local farm stands. In those days, the standard of living was much lower than it is today. I remember a farmer from Putney by the name of Guy Kelsey who once worked for George Aiken at Putney Nursery after Aiken became governor and senator. Guy and his wife put food by and milked their cow and raised beef, chickens and pigs. They thought of themselves as rich because they only had to buy flour and canned mackerel from the market in Brattleboro.
In the 1940s and 50s, the standard of living went up dramatically resulting in the rise of the middle class.  This was due in part to the GI Bill and the demand for housing and appliances. Supermarkets, new housing and prepared foods came on the market.  Industrial agriculture wiped out many family farms. Refrigerated trains and trucks criss-crossed the nation. There was a real cultural shift.
Today, we're going through another cultural shift. People can choose between food trucked from California or food raised right in our own communities. For the first time in years, the number of small farms in the nation has increased. Young Vermont families are staying on the land or moving to the land - trying to make a living - all of which helps to sustain our rural way of life.
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