Stuart and Lord say that land is only one of the issues facing farmers across the country. The price of producing sustainable food is higher than industrialized food.
“Expensive, let me tell you,” Lord says about the organic feed White Gate Farm buys for chickens.
Raising organic and/or grass feed meat means needing more land to rotate where the animals graze and it means money spent on expensive organic food. Sustainable farming avoids the soil degradation, which is so often a problem on big farms, but it requires caring for the land, which adds to the overall price of farming. Sustainable, organic produce, which White Gate also produces, means expensive and creative ways to deal with pests such as netting, watching carefully for bugs, and even inviting bats at night into the area.
Growing the food is only one part of the equation. Stuart Family Farm meat is animal welfare approved. Animal Welfare Approved, founded in 2006, audits and certificates family farms that raise and slaughter their meat in humane ways, including requiring animals to be raised on pasture or range, prohibiting dual production, awarding approval only to family farmers, charging no fees to participating farms, incorporation standards for high welfare of farming.
While Animal Welfare Approved doesn’t charge Stuart Family Farm a fee, the organization requires yearly visits to the farm for audits as well as stack of paperwork that requires time, which takes away from time spent on farming. It also means Stuart Family Farm meat is brought to a slaughterhouse outside of Albany that is also Animal Welfare Approved. The closest slaughterhouse to Stuart that is Animal Welfare Approved is over two hours a way. Bringing the animals to and from the slaughterhouse is a couple day affair, which also adds to the cost of farming.
Certified organic farms face a similar certification process. In addition, each organization that certifies farms and produce as organic does not necessarily share the same definition of organic. For example, becoming USDA certified organic doesn’t mean the same farm is automatically certified as organic by the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association. Figuring out which certification process makes more sense for the farm, filling out the paperwork, being audited, are all time consuming processes that add to overall cost of producing organic and/or sustainable food.
These are only a few of the many issues local farmers deal with. Droughts, blights and other natural events that crop up in any given year add to the price.
Distributing the food is also costly. White Gate Farm runs a year round farmer’s market on the farm. The market is two days a week and the farm sells all the food it produces. That requires staffing the market, but other farms that travel around the state to different farmers market pay a fee for their booth as well as the expensive of staffing the booth and getting the food to and from there. There is also no guarantee that once at the farmers markets farmers will sell all of the food they bought.
Jason Sobocinski from Caseus says people trying to buy sustainably on a budget can often find the best deals at farmers markets.
“Try to be smart about it”, Sobocinski said. “ If you’re going to the farmers market don’t buy any pre-packaged good. Bang for the buck they are not that great. Look to go at the end of the market when most farmers are looking to make deals. No farmer wants to take produce home from a market. Make them an offer.”
While Sobocinski is right that farmers don’t wants to take produce home, when they don’t get full price they end up losing money or even pass the cost for the loss on to the consumer in the price of a different product.
Attempting to distribute to local stores can be even more difficult. Small local owned stores and restaurants such as Sobocinski’s Caseus will often buy directly from local farmers, but getting their food in local Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, Big Y, and other corporate owned supermarkets if not impossible is often expensive and time consuming.
Stuart doesn’t sell his meat at any of the supermarkets, but he does make weekly drop-offs around the state of Connecticut, selling his meat to a restaurant in Greenwich, Conn., on one side of the state and to another restaurant in Stonington, Conn., on the other. While on those two ends of the state he drops off meat to residents who pre-order it.
Running his own distribution adds to his farming cost, but Stuart says going through one of the big corporate owned supermarkets just isn’t possible.
Grass fed beef also matures slower than grain fed beef. On average, grain feed beef goes to slaughter after just 18 months, whereas grass fed beef doesn’t go to slaughter until the age of four. The additional maturing time adds in additional costs to the price of the beef.
It may help customers to understand the additional costs associated with growing, producing, and distributing local food, but the real question is whether those associated costs are worth the benefits.
At that August farm-to-table dinner under the stars in East Lyme, Conn., many of the dinner patrons spoke about the reasons they chose to pay $150 a ticket to attend.
Anne Penniman, whose Landscape architecture and Site Planning firm donated to Dinners at Farm, said her reasons for supporting at Dinners at the Farm included the preservation of agricultural land, the local food, and artisan dinning.
Another dinner, patron Deanna Dominguez of Stonington, Conn said she and her husband attended as an anniversary gift to themselves. She said she didn’t even realize it was a charity event until they got there, but after knowing that the ticket price didn’t seem so high.
But spending $150 at one dinner in the company of like-minded individuals is vastly different than making the effort to buy all local sustainable produced food year-round.
Over the past decade the environmental movement has begun to include food. We constantly hear buzzwords such as eating sustainably, locally and organically. The pros and cons of local food are debated heavily, as is their expense. This piece, broken up into several different parts, traces the production of farm-to-table food in Connecticut, its benefits and cons and provided thoughts on whether our the local food movement is scalable. Read Section One, Two, Three and Four.