With increasing regularity, people question the veracity and intent of companies comprising the food industry. Many seek alternative sources for their daily nutritional requirements and look to production within 100 miles of their homes. Upon attending farmers markets, one question gets asked repeatedly by the consumer--how can we afford such expensive local foods?
To answer this question fairly, requires challenging some perceptions. The first clarifying the meaning of the word expensive.
Most consumers buy fresh produce and meats from their local grocery stores. With some limited exceptions, large corporations own and operate the vast percentage of these stores. These corporate entities report to their boards of directors and stockholders much more than answering to the buying public.
Given light of this fact, the stores primarily focus on lulling consumers into believing they receive high value for the money they spend. Marketing techniques, like loss-leaders and bait-and-switch approaches, allow stores to reduce prices on many foods with much higher true costs of production.
After decades of paying lower-than-cost for many foods, consumers faced with the true cost of food production often experience sticker shock. At this point, the perception of expensiveness relates to the money paid at the time of purchase.
In reality, consumers pay much more for the foods they take home from the grocery store without realizing it at the time. Getting food from producer to consumer requires many interactions of the food industry as well as from the government. All of these "middle men" add layer upon layer to the true cost of food.
Governments actively support farmers and producers with a number of subsidies. Government agencies, both at the state and federal level, actually pay some farmers to under- or over-produce. This helps control the price of such foods in the marketplace. The consumer often fails to realize that the subsidy money came from their tax dollars.
Some of the food produced in this country gets transported thousands of miles from its point of origin to the final destination of the local grocery store. The cost of this transportation gets reduced with the sheer volume of food transported. How often does the consumer choosing tomatoes from the produce department factor long-haul transportation effects on the environment?
Food processing also affects the perception of expensive local foods. The more corn, wheat and soy beans farmers grow in this country, the more food industry experts find ways to incorporate them into the food supply. Breaking down these food stuffs into elemental parts, provide the building blocks for food companies to develop any number of new, different and extremely cheap foods.
Though possible to continue indefinitely, this discussion concludes with the cost of compliance issues. Many of the fees, licenses and regulatory expenses applied to the largest food corporations get unilaterally implemented at the smallest local farms, as well. Some of this legislation seems to help the corporations maintain dominance in their given food niche.
Locally produced foods support nearby farmers and their families, not corporate dividend payments. As businesses grow and prosper, job creation increases providing opportunities for folks to find meaningful work nearby their current homes. The environment also benefits from local food production. It may appear the cost of that farmers market apple is higher than a similar one found at the grocery store. One must ask themselves of their willingness to buy inferior products, which are truly more expensive over the long-term.