Why do we have to pay more to eat local?

 I grew up above the grocery store my dad owned in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania. Most of our stuff was local. We’re talking 1960s.

Steigerwalt brought his eggs.  The Lehigh Valley Dairy* and Zimmerman’s gave us milk and orangeade and iced tea. They were local. The meat came from the various meat-packing houses like A&B and Swift’s, while being national and regional companies, used locally bought livestock. Whitaker supplied the fresh corn. I used to go with my dad to get it.

(As an aside, when I went to visit my mom in the hospital before she died, there was this old couple there. My mom said, “Do you know this guy?” Nope. He said that he remembered me. I was the kid who unloaded the crates of eggs that he delivered.)

And, as another aside I baled hay, had my arms up to my elbows inside a cow turning a calf around, shoveled shit out horse stalls, had to hold onto a horse condom when the stud pulled out, and all kinds of other stuff that made me realize I should pursue other avenues.

Oh man, I’ll never forget that cow moment. My cousin called over the old farmer across the way to help with the breached birth. I remember it like it was yesterday, and this was like 1969. The old man said, “The kid has to put his hands up there to turn the calf around.” I looked at him and said, “I don’t think so.” He looked at me, dead serious, and said, “If you don’t, it dies and that’s money.” (It was because I had thin arms. It was easier than them doing it.)

So much for the romantic old days.

Back when most everything was local, at least in the summer, it was affordable to the average person. It was common, not “artisanal.” The people where I grew up were mostly working class, factory people.

Sure, people had gardens, but those were mostly tended to by the wives of the men who were off at work in the factories. That stuff was used mostly for canning for the winter. It was utilitarian and not some weird fetish.

So, the question I have is, why should locally sourced food now come at such premium prices?

Maybe, because I’m the Hey you kids get out of my yard! guy gives me a skewed perspective. I remember when the food these nitwits want never existed, at least in my lifetime. The local farmers used pesticides, much worse than today, and they used whatever new stuff came along to make their lives easier, and they still couldn’t feed the whole area. Food had to brought in from out of the area to make up the difference.

Those fuckers worked hard and they had no notions of organic or harmony with nature.  They busted their asses to fight nature so they could make a living.

And no one would ever think of telling farmers how to grow their food.

* The Lehigh Valley Dairy was the so-called “milk money” that was involved in the Nixon scandal

3 thoughts on “Why do we have to pay more to eat local?”

  1. I just read an article about coffee being grown in California; the cost per pound was (if memory serves) $100.

  2. Lol! Yeah, I remember those days too.
    I have to say though, it depends where you live. Around here, we still share like that. My chickens feed a few families, and the people with fruit trees share the bounty. But a couple of things have changed.
    One, fewer people know what to do with a vegetable or an egg. Even at the supermarket: I buy an eggplant and the checker person says “What is that? What do you DO with it?”. People are used to everything coming in a package, or eating out. THAT is changing, thankfully!
    Another is the money divide. There are people with a whole lot of money looking for something to buy. THOSE are the ones buying $100/lb coffee. A whole lot of other people can barely afford dinner. Some of the latter are learning to “grow their own” again, which I think is lovely. When our local coop has “chick days”, there are more and more people buying chicks. More people growing local cows and goats too, where they can. If I’m willing to drive 200 miles or so, I can get my yearly beef/pork/lamb/fish for the freezer, and it’s way cheaper than the store version. Trick is to know where it is. Loads of local eggs, except I have my own in the back yard. Chickens provide fertilizer and garbage disposal too.
    Our local market, BTW, now marks the local produce, that it IS local and also the farm. Which I think is cool. The price is about the same. I don’t think they make money much off produce anyway, which I think is sad. We eat more produce than anything else, and we grow a lot of what we eat. I want to support the grocery stores too though, and that’s a quandry.

  3. Bernie, as a small, local farmer, this is an issue I struggle with. I’m appalled at how cheap food is in the supermarkets–shipped thousands of miles–versus how expensive food is at the farmers market where I sell our stuff. The truth is harsh: The big boys, the large, mechanized farms, have figured it out. They have learned how to be efficient in a way that we small guys just can’t because we cannot afford the labor or the equipment.

    Eggs in the supermarket range from $1.69 per dozen up to $4.99 for “organic” to $5.99 for “organic free-range.” We just have 50 chickens in our yard that get regular old feed from the grain store (definitely not “organic,” which costs 100% more), and the farmers market had decided that we’re all going to sell our eggs for $5.00! On the one hand, I blanch at the price and realize I would never be able to afford to buy “local” food. On the other, I know I’m still not going to make much money off those chickens, versus what we’ll make from our vegetables and apples (which also have to sell at a premium, or no little local farm).

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