Do you eat local whenever you can? Are you restaurateur or chef who sources products from local farms? Then you should care about the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Here’s why: the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has funneled over $83 million into over 600 small farms and food businesses in 98 North Carolina counties since 2001 and the General Assembly is considering eliminating it even though it doesn’t depend on taxpayer dollars. Farmers and food business owners have been speaking out loudly in support of the program, and they need all of our help to convince the General Assembly not to eliminate it.
Have you ever wondered why our urban areas—the Triangle, Triad, greater Asheville and the metro Charlotte area—have such booming local food scenes? Why does North Carolina have such an outstanding national reputation as a leader in supporting local food producers? Well, part of the reason is North Carolina’s strong heritage of small family farms, another factor is the creativity and business acumen of farmers and chefs and retailers forming new alliances to serve their customers’ desires, but the rest of the story is the funding support from the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has strategically invested in innovative farm enterprises throughout the state. The vast majority of these investments have come in grants of $10,000 or less!
Have you heard of these businesses? Each of them can credit the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission as an essential part of their success. Where would our local food scene be without them?
• Eastern Carolina Organics
• Farmhand Foods (don’t forget their Sausage Wagon)
• The Harvest Moon Grille (both the food cart and the restaurant at the Dunhill)
• New River Organic Growers
• Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center
Check out this handy spreadsheet that shows over 600 projects. You can search it to see if any of the farmers you know are on the list. If they aren’t yet, let’s make sure this program is around so they can take advantage of it in the future.
So, if you’re a locavore—an eater, a chef or a restaurant owner, or food retailer—and you want to continue to have more local food options available, you need to contact your Senator today and add your voice to the voices of the farmers who are fighting for this vital program. If we want our farmers to continue growing the food we love, we owe it to them to make sure they have the best tools available to innovate and grow their farms.
See CFSA’s action alert or the Rural Advancement Foundation’s action alert for more information about contacting your legislators.
If you have questions about this important issue and would like to discuss how to show your support, contact me at email@example.com.
by Matt Lardie
Here’s a dinner table topic: local is not always sustainable, and sustainable is not always local. Discuss.
Oddly enough, that realization came to me while reading Amazon.com reviews for a cookbook I was considering purchasing—not buying locally, I know, I know, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense. See, I tend to divide the “buy local” group into two camps: those that make an earnest effort to keep their dollars in their community, and those that treat “buy local” as less of a lifestyle and more of a religion. I’m guessing you can tell which group I favor.
Personally, I fall in the earnest local spender group—I do my best to patronize farmers’ markets, local restaurants, and independent businesses. I’m not perfect, however, and the occasional trip to Home Depot, ground beef from Kroger, and oil change at Wal-Mart is part of my life. Do I feel guilty about it? Sure. Should I feel guilty about it? Probably not.
Let’s do a case study—which option is better: buying organic produce trucked in from California at a chain grocery store or buying conventional produce at my locally-owned supermarket? I can keep my dollars in the community, keep my neighbors employed, and also support a system that relies heavily on industrial chemicals to grow my food, or I can choose produce that has not had as negative an impact on the environment yet left a large carbon footprint in getting to my dinner table.
The simple fact of the matter is that we live in an increasingly global society, a trend that is about as likely to reverse as Sarah Palin is to become a vegetarian. Who are we to deny communities in emerging markets the opportunity to sell their wares across the globe and improve their standard of living? Those handmade baskets from Ghana you purchased, the ones from a rural cooperative? They were still flown here on a plane. Does that mean you shouldn’t have bought them? That those women don’t deserve access to American consumers?
Bringing the focus back to food, I’d also like to pose the fact that just because something is grown here in North Carolina does not mean that it is sustainable. Smithfield pork—need I say more? Tobacco, poultry, peaches—all local commodities that traditionally involve high off-farm inputs. On the other hand, that pound of coffee you purchased at your local co-op probably helped support rural communities across Latin America and Africa, was most-likely organic and shade-grown, and very likely had little negative impact on its environment. Unfortunately, it had to be flown here.
Back and forth, back and forth. My point is not to answer the question, but to start the discussion. That second group I mentioned, the Church of Buy Local, often gives very little wiggle-room for compromise. They preach and they harangue and they very often judge, but I’m here to say that life is about compromise, that you can buy local, regional, and international, and still be sustainable. As global citizens, we have just as much responsibility to participate in the worldwide market as we do in our local communities, and while our dollars often have a bigger impact locally, they are still important to millions of struggling workers in emerging markets across the world. As Americans, we are fortunate enough to have a myriad of options for any one thing that we might want to buy, and as long as you remember that local is not always sustainable, and sustainable is not always local, I’m confident that you will find that middle ground upon which we all should be standing.
Matt Lardie loves food. He loves to grow it, cook it, eat it, and learn about it. You can find his musings on the local food scene, agriculture policy, and his culinary adventures on his blog, Green Eats.
Last week the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture and the North Carolina Farm Bureau teamed up to announce an initiative to save the stateâ€™s dairy industry. The program, Dairy Advantage, comes in the form of a 28-page report on options and strategies for small dairies to compete in the modern milk marketplace. Search the entire document and you know how many times the word â€œorganicâ€ comes up? Zero.
Thatâ€™s right, zero. There are at least seven dairies in NC that have been certified organic in the last year, all of them small conventional family dairies that converted to organic with the help of the Organic Valley Family of Farms and the CROPP Cooperative. Here are seven success stories, living proof that organic milk can be produced in our region, and that our dairy farms can take advantage of the growing market for this healthy, wholesome milk. These dairies are role models for other family farms, especially in the mountains and foothills of the Carolinas where farm and herd sizes naturally tend to the optimal size for organic operations.
And yet the Dept. of Ag. and the Farm Bureau donâ€™t even mention organic dairying as an alternative for saving our dwindling supply of family dairies. Not to mention raw milk options, which are verboten under the stateâ€™s antiquated public health dogma.
Why the disconnect? Itâ€™s tempting to assume a conspiracy, and yet itâ€™s really more likely that the reason is somewhat less sinister, if no less disturbing. The agriculture establishment in the Carolinas is just not used to thinking in terms of sustainability. The (mostly) men and women who run that establishment have been trained in a conventional system, based on conventional agribusiness wisdom, for a generation. That wisdom predicts that only a food system modeled on industrial processes can survive. Theyâ€™re not used to thinking about an agriculture that isnâ€™t dependent on massive subsidies, synthetic controls, concentration and monoculture.
When I met Larry Wooten, President of the NC Farm Bureau Federation, for the first time, he said to me that he wasnâ€™t opposed to organics: â€œConsumers should have a choice,â€ he said. The leap that hasnâ€™t been made in the Carolinasâ€™ ag establishment is that farmers should have a choice, too; that thereâ€™s hope for sustaining, and renewing, our dwindling supply of farmers and farmland in the new sustainable ag paradigm.
Thatâ€™s why CFSA is dedicated to being a Voice for Sustainable Ag, and we are putting more of our resources into the effort. When policy-makers hear the stories of sustainable ag success in our communities first-hand, when they learn about the income that local food systems can provide Carolina farmers, they want to get involved. Thereâ€™s no stigma attached to organics anymoreâ€”the market ($17 billion in the US) and the consumer participation (52% of Americans bought organic food last year) and the buzz (â€œlocavoreâ€ wasÂ Oxford’s â€œwords of the yearâ€ in 2007, http://blog.oup.com/2007/11/locavore/) are impossible to ignore. So thatâ€™s why CFSA and its members are working on policy at the local level, to help more officials and opinion-shapers understand how to bring the benefits of sustainable local food systems to their communities.
Our website redesign, this blog, and even the new online food guide are all ultimately geared toward bringing more consumers, farmers and business into the sustainable food movement, and activating them to press for change. So spread the word about this site and CFSA, and help our collective voice grow louder.
To learn more about NCDAâ€™s â€œDairy Advantageâ€ plan, visit http://www.agr.state.nc.us/markets/commodit/dairy/dairy_advantage.pdf.
For an interesting exchange on the prices paid to organic milk producers, check out this recent series of posts over at Grist, http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/3/10/6475/66460
For the latest update on Monsantoâ€™s efforts to upend the market for hormone-free milk, see http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=84227&m=1FNU326&c=mdxcfimlghpcovs. (This is actually a case of sinister motives!)
And if you are interested in the raw milk issue in North Carolina, keep tuned to these pages for an announcement of a bill to overrule NCDAâ€™s requirement that raw milk sold for pet food be dyed gray.