Too Much Green For Sustainable Green? – Section Four

4808842781_c9085142d3_bAt Stuart Family Farm, farmer Bill Stuart admits that cost can be problematic and is something this family farm in Bridgewater worries about.

“The prices are hurtful. We have tried to find ways to be affordable,” Stuart said.

Another common misconception is that farmers, stores, and restaurants that charge more for sustainable food are ripping people off, but like Stuart many are aware of the problem of the expensive of sustainable foods.

Jason Sobocinski, of Caseus Fromagerie Bistro in New Haven, Conn., sources almost all of the restaurants food from farms within 100 miles of the restaurant. Sobocinski says he knows it is more expensive, but worth it for the health, environmental, and taste difference.

“We’re all about sustainability,” Sobocinski said. “But in the end it’s because sustainable local foods just tastes better.”

Sobocinski believes people should be, and often are willing, to pay more for sustainable food because the difference is in the quality and the taste.

“We put out really delicious food. Not hard to do when working with amazing products we tirelessly source.”

Still Sobocinski sees the price problem first hand and has had trouble convincing his own family members of the worth of the higher cost of the food.

“The proof is in the taste of the food. I made a simple asparagus dish for my wife’s grandfather a few months back. He was bewildered by it. “how’d you make this” he insisted? I got the asparagus from the market this morning, it was picked earlier this morning I told him. I’d simply sautéed it for maybe 20 seconds with some brown butter, salt and pepper and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice. He couldn’t believe it.  The next week my wife took her grandfather to the farmers market to buy asparagus. When he saw how much a bunch went for he was again in a state of disbelief.”

“Too much money! It’s a problem we just seem to be making worse and worse. It’s not that people don’t want local sustainable foods, they just don’t want to pay for them. Until our ideals of food change in America the problem will continue.”

If people like Stuart of Stuart’s Farm and Sobocinski of Caseus, both of whom produce popular sustainable food, know the price is a problem, the question remains: why do prices remain unaffordable to thousands of Americans?

Environmental groups are fond of saying that as the demand of organic, local food increases, prices will be brought down. That has yet to be seen and there is only so much the Stuart Family Farm and other farms across the country can do to be affordable.

Farming is expensive, especially, local, sustainable and/or organic farming. There are the agricultural subsides that all too often seem to benefit the industrial farms. Smaller farmers even face an uphill battle to get certified as organic, animal welfare approved, or any one of the other certifications, as they do not have the time or manpower to deal with the paperwork. These costs of farming can grow exponentially high, even before adding the cost involved with producing and distributing the food.

For decades, it was a common misconception that the billions of dollars in farm aid the government paid out was in fact helping the small family farm. But as awareness of sustainable agriculture has grown, so has awareness of the problems of federal farm aid. Today, one of the worst kept secrets in Washington remains that the billions of dollars in farm aid do little to benefit small farms.

Investigations into farm aid by Michael Pollan, The New York Times, and The Washington Post have continued to shed more light on government subsides. According to a 2006 investigation by The Washington Post, farms with revenue of more than $250,000 receive more than 54 percent of government subsides and account for 60 percent of US agricultural production, but only seven percent of the farms in the United States.

Seven percent of farms in US account for 60 percent of US agricultural. That’s an impressive number, but in fact it’s farms like Bill Stuart’s in Bridgewater, Conn., and Pauline Lord’s in East Lyme Conn., that account for majority of US farms. According to the US Department of Agriculture small family farms make up nine of every ten farms in the US.

A recent food safety bill stalled in Congress as exemptions for small farmers were met with opposition from big farm companies that have the money to lobby Congress.

In Bridgewater and East Lyme, Conn., both Stuart and Lord cite government subsidies as one of the reasons farming is becoming harder, and why they say they are worried about losing the small family farm.

Stuart cities many local farms in Bridgewater that have been bought out because the price developers are offering is hard to turn down, and young farmers who simply cannot afford to pay the taxes associated with owning the land necessary to farm.

Connecticut Farmland Trust is a non-profit organization in Connecticut that works to raise awareness about local farms also protect farmland. Founded in 2002, Connecticut Farmland Trust got involved with Dinners at the Farm four years ago and works at the events.

According to Connecticut Farmland Trust Connecticut looses between 7,000 and 9,000 acres of farmland each year and the trend is towards loosing significant amounts of land. Of Connecticut’s 300,000 acres of farmland, they say only 40,000 acres are protected.

In the past five years Connecticut Farmland Trust says more people have become aware of the importance of saving farmland and have celebrated the land from the perspective of the food.

Connecticut Farmland Trusts tries to awareness about farms through speaking engagements and a seminal event on the first Sunday after Labor Day called Celebration of CT Farms, where chefs from 30 restaurants cook at a different farm each year. On average 700-800 people attend.

Still, the organization says the economy has been a mixed blessing. On the positive side for farms, especially dairy farms, the real estate market has slowed, meaning that there have been less applications for subdivisions. But at the same time, a slow economy has meant fewer donations to organizations like the Connecticut Farmland Trust, which farmers rely on to save farmland. Donations come mainly from individuals and family foundations and those have been harder to come by.

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 and Three.

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