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How My Little Blog Out-Reported the New York Times

How My Little Blog Out-Reported the New York Times

On Monday I wrote up a post on the much heralded New York Times article,While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales. This kind of story is the bread and butter of the fast evolving food blogosphere, of which Year of Plenty is a very small part. A large media outlet like the Times does the original reporting and then it gets echoed throughout the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and Facebook Friend-Feed-Frenzyverse. It received so much attention that I initially wasn’t going to bother linking to it, assuming that everyone had already seen it. But when I got around to actually reading the Times article, something didn’t seem quite right. The article was factually correct in its reporting but cryptic in the way it described the relationship between the USDA and the Dairy Management Corporation. It hinted that the U.S. taxpayer-funded USDA was pulling the strings on the Domino’s marketing campaign.

This subtle hint in the article was turned into the brash assertion all over the internet that U.S. taxpayers were not only paying for the $12 million campaign with Domino’s for extra-cheesy pizzas, but that the USDA, and therefore the government, was running the ad campaign. While I highlighted in my post some smaller blogs that reported the story this way, Bill Bishop at the Daily Yonder gives a good summary of how this played out among some of the most influential people and news platforms in America:

Food writer and journalism professor Michael Pollan tweets that “our tax dollars (are) at work promoting Domino’s pizza.”

Kerry Trueman (co-founder of EatingLiberally.org) states on the liberalHuffington Post that Domino’s Pizza is selling gobs of cheese with the help of a “government handout.”

The Atlantic says the “government wants to fatten you up with cheese.”Paul Waldman at The American Prospect writes a government agency uses “taxpayer funds” — “your tax dollars” — to promote double melt cheeseburgers.  Matt Yglesias writes a headline saying “Tax Dollars Going to Subsidize Cheesier Dominoes (sic) Pizzas,” adding that this is the kind of “government spending…we could entirely do without.”

Because of previous stories I’ve done on the agricultural checkoff programs, these assertions didn’t sound quite right. So I did something that Michael Moss,“ace New York Times Reporter” didn’t do; I made a couple phone calls and actually talked to someone at Dairy Management about the program. As far as I can tell, in all the reporting that’s been done on the story, I’m the only “reporter” that talked to Dairy Management to better understand their relationship to the USDA. I also talked to a representative of United Dairymen of Idaho to get a better understanding of how the checkoff system works.

Moss explained in the article why he didn’t have those conversations:

The Agriculture Department declined to make top officials available for interviews for this article, and Dairy Management would not comment. In answering written questions, the department said that dairy promotion was intended to bolster farmers and rural economies, and that its oversight left Dairy Management’s board with “significant independence” in deciding how best to support those interests.

The crux of the whole story is the nature of the relationship between the USDA and Dairy Management and Moss didn’t speak to anyone at either entity? He apparently got a written response to questions from the USDA. This may be a case of the USDA and Dairy Management not doing their job of accurately explaining the nature of the relationship, but I’m baffled that I could get through to them to ask probing questions and he couldn’t.

So is it possible that I did a more thorough job of reporting on the relationship between the USDA, Dairy Management, and taxpayers than the New York Times?

I’m flattered that the “So Good” food blog seemed to think so. In assessing the reporting on the USDA and Dairy Management the blog says;

The most accurate breakdown of this organization’s role in this story can be found in this post on Year of Plenty, Newsflash: Dairy Industry Wants You to Eat More Dairy – What’s So Controversial About That?

I’ll let you read my blog post to decide if I did a more thorough job, but I do know that because of those phone calls I didn’t take the “tax-payers paying to promote cheesy pizza” bait, like so many others.

There are a couple of lessons for me in this;

1. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

2. Don’t believe everything you read in the New York Times.

3. When it comes to food politics and debates about food systems, the problem is not the demonization of food, as the Daily Yonder proposes. The problem is the demonization of people. In this case the demonization of people at the USDA and Dairy Management as evil cheese-conspirators.

If this is the problem than the solution is to talk to people and give their perspectives a genuine hearing. In other words, to be in relationship with people. In my case, when it comes to writing about food, that means being in relationship with small local farmers and large scale farmers, conventional and organic, following Grist and #agchat on Twitter. It takes all perspectives to get the story straight. Go here for a recent post on why living in an agricultural region like Spokane where I am in ongoing relationships with people involved in all aspects of the food system makes me a better food blogger.

One of the grand lessons from our year-long experiment in eating local is that relationships with people involved in bringing food to market is the key to developing just and sustainable food systems. This includes farmers, but it also includes business people. The core crisis in the food system is a break-down in the relationships between people involved with bringing food to market and those sticking the food in their mouths. Relationships breed accountability, pride, quality, health, and sustainability. A vaccuum of relationships creates paranoia, pollution, corruption, unhealth, shoddy practices, and most of the other ills in the food system. That’s why I am committed to eating locally and promoting local food.

My diagnosis of the situation is more than just about good reporting and blogging. (Warning: If you don’t follow my blog this is going to sound totally random.) It’s actually rooted in my Christian faith and my role as pastor at a Presbyterian church. My focus on relationships arises from my understanding of Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. In my judgement, this call to be in relationship with people is the key lens through which to see everything, including food. In my upcoming book I have a chapter dedicated to explaining this perspective. I hope it will be a helpful contribution to food debates that too often get bogged down haggling about food miles, carbon footprints, or cheesy marketing campaigns.

Food Fight, Ctd – In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet

Food Fight, Ctd – In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet

A recent Chicago Tribune article had one of the more thorough treatments of the debates between industrial agriculture pragmatists vs. local food idealists.I was intrigued to hear about an upcoming book;

…economist Hiroko Shimizu and University of Toronto geographer Pierre Desrochers are finishing a 2011 book, tentatively called “In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet,” that argues locavorism is a misleading marketing fad that, among other problems, ignores the threat it poses to the current affordability of food and to the economic health of developing countries.

Food security can suffer if “you put all your eggs in one local basket and something goes wrong,” Desrochers said from his Toronto office. “I also have a problem when local food activists want to promote food that is either not economical or cannot compete with foreign food in that area.”

Go here for a brief article of the same name by Shimizu.

The whole Tribune article is worth a read but I should clarify one point regarding the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets. The article offers that as a counterpoint to farmers market elitism but early reports are that while many markets take food stamps, few consumers are taking advantage of it. Unfortunately, this has been true at the Millwood Farmers’ Market where we haven’t had a lot of food stamp transactions this summer.

Go here for my response to these debates.

Food Fight: Washington Post Foodie Ezra Klein Defends Industrial Agriculture

Food Fight: Washington Post Foodie Ezra Klein Defends Industrial Agriculture

6a00e5500a0b5588340134876e98f9970c-500wiEarlier in the week influential blogger Ezra Klein of the Washington Post wrote a short post dismissing the influence of the local food movement and heralding that “Industrial farms are the future.” He wrote;

Despite the dreams of many foodies, I can’t think of a major industry that went from small, decentralized production methods to large, scaled industrial production — and then back again. Are there any examples I’m missing? Maybe so. But for now, I think of the preference for farmers markets and small producers as being mainly important in sending certain signals about production methods and branding preferences to Big Ag than in actually creating some sort of viable alternative.

In the article he references an article from the Guardian in the UK where Jay Rayner argues;

Words such as local, seasonal and organic have become a holy trinity. But these are merely lifestyle choices for the affluent middle-classes, a matter of aesthetics, and nothing to do with the real issues.

If we are to survive the coming food security storm, we will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming. We need to abandon the mythologies around agriculture…and recognise that farming really is an industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale, but which can still be managed sustainably.

Ezra Klein is a farmers’-market-shopping, meatless-monday-eating, full-on-foodie so his little post created quite a stir. Tom Philpot at Grist offered up the highest profile retort. He mainly takes down Rayner’s editorial and tisk-tisks Klein for passing it off as meaningful commentary. He writes;

Rayner’s argument goes like this: a) because the U.K. relies increasingly on food imports, and b) U.K. supermarkets demand flawless, uniform fruits and vegetables, forcing farmers to “grade out” much high-quality produce, and c) U.K. consumers have come to expect dirt-cheap food, then the nation “will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming” to avoid looming famine.

Really? The same line of reasoning could more logically have led Rayner in the opposite direction: that Britain’s food problems stem from a globalized industrial food system consolidated into the hands of a few powerful companies.

Yesterday, Klein offered a little bit of an apology for citing the Guardian editorial, which he admits is weak, but he sticks to his guns when it comes to the future of food being industrial;

…I’m increasingly less convinced that small and big are, in the overall scheme of things, terribly useful dividing lines for the future of agriculture. Whether one could hypothetically imagine feeding the world using decentralized production methods, I don’t see much reason to believe it will happen. At the same time, small farms can be run wastefully and large farms can be run sustainably.

When I say that the food movement is sending important signals to America’s agribusiness giants, I mean it — forcing them to innovate in organics and compete with Stonyfield and think about the success of farmers markets are types of pressure that could lead to really important transformations in how they do their business. And those are transformations that might then be copied by large producers in other countries. That’s why I think the most important role of the food movement is potentially changing the behavior of players like Nestle and ConAgra, and creating some large companies that demonstrate how a different ethos of food production can be brought to industrial scale.

Andrew Sullivan just pinged this dialogue so I suspect it will get a lot of play on blogs and editorial pages in the coming weeks.

This little food fight touches on so many different aspects of what I blog about here that it’s a little hard for me to decide where to enter in, but let me pick one aspect of the debate and see where it leads.

Klein mentions the hypothetical question as to whether it’s possible to feed the world through decentralized production methods. It’s typical in these debates for defenders of industrial ag to assert that it’s not possible to feed the worldusing organic or local methods and others reply that, actually, you can. Klein dismisses this line of argument as irrelevant. He says it’s not going to happen. He asserts that we have never seen “a major industry that went from small, decentralized production methods to large, scaled industrial production — and then back again,” which is what would need to happen in the case of food. The industrial cat is out of the bag and there is no turning back. All we can hope for is mega-corporations that are responsible and responsive to consumer demands for more sustainable and local food.

He takes the the pose of the realist and on one hand I agree with him. I often say (I just said it yesterday in fact), that real substantial change in food distribution will have to come through changes to big retailers like Walmart. For an example of how this is happening with potatoes go here.

But I disagree with Klein’s and Rayner’s foundational assumption – that the production of food is best viewed as an “industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale…” For one, there is mounting evidence that food production does not work better on a mass scale. It’s only over the last 75 years that food has been imagined as an industry and practiced as such. We fed the world for millennia with small, local and organic agriculture. Modern industrial food practices are a very recent innovation and the long term consequences are still unknown.

There is no doubt that modern technologies have been a boon to the task of feeding people around the world, but there is something different about food than making cars or forging steel. Manufacturing cars is a product of the industrial revolution. Eating food arises out of the very nature of the created order. For all of history food amounted to more than the shallow categories of industry. Food was culture, family, provision, and for the three major religions of the world, a sign of God’s grace.

In the Genesis account of creation the first words out of God’s mouth to Adam and Eve are, “You are free to eat….” Not far behind is the warning, “You must not eat…” After their disobedience, God proclaims judgment, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19). Even in judgment there is a grace of provision.

It’s funny to me how casually we throw around the phrase “saving the world” in debates about sustainability. Isn’t it so obvious that “going green” is a veiled, modern-secular way of entering into the territory of apocalypse and salvation, the ancient categories of the human quest for life and meaning and God. Food goes deep into mysterious and hallowed places of human existence. Food cannot be reduced to the limited categories of industry and it does great damage to imagine it exclusively as such.

There is one thing I agree with in the Guardian column. Rayner says that the local, seasonal and organic food movements are a matter of aesthetics, and have nothing to do with the real issues of industrial practices and pragmatics of feeding the world. He’s right in pointing out that what drives the local food/sustainable food movement is, something beyond the pragmatism of calories and food miles, something more intangible. Aesthetics is a rather dismissive way of putting it. I would say that it arises out the human search for meaning and hope.

One last comment. Rayner claims that it’s only the well-off middle-class who have the luxury to dismiss the reality of food as industry. In my experience it’s actually the impoverished 2/3 world that understand the reality that food is more than industry. To the majority world food is culture, family and life. Most of the world gets that those are “real issues” that are relevant to conversations about food. Wealthy westerners are actually the innovators of the exclusive view of food as industry and profit margin. It is our particular single-minded lens that is foreign in the world.

The insurgent foodies in the western world are attempting to lift up other issues that are very real, issues that touch on aspects of human life that industry can never reduce and control, and issues that impact and change industrial practices.

As I see it, the task is not to de-industrialize food, the task is to re-enchant, re-annimate, and re-new our imaginations around food, which by necessity means to re-connect with the land that supplies us with food (and perhaps the Creator of the land), and along with that to re-connect with the farmers who farm the land.

Federal Food Safety Modernization Act Could Put Small Farmers Out of Business – Do Something to Help

Federal Food Safety Modernization Act Could Put Small Farmers Out of Business – Do Something to Help

I’ve been hearing rumblings about the the potential onerous impact of theFederal Food Safety Modernization Act on small farms for awhile now. The upshot is that it would impose regulatory requirements that would be untenable for small direct to consumer farmers to handle. It could be a huge setback for the growing movement of direct to consumer sales at Farmers’ Markets. One farmer I talked to said that if this legislation passes as it’s currently written he will retire.

There is currently an amendment from Montana Senator Jon Tester that would exempt farms who sell direct to consumers. Ellen Gray, Executive Director of WA Sustainable Food and Farming Network sent the following information for people in Washington who want to advocate for small farms;

PLEASE CALL SENATOR  MURRAY Toll Free: 1- 866-481-9186 Very quick…just tell the person answering the phone that you a constituent and you want her to support Tester’s Amendment. Her office knows about the issue. They  just need to hear from more consituents!

PLEASE CALL SENATOR CANTWELL Toll Free  1-888-648-7328 again, you can just leave a message..very quick..

ASK THEM TO SUPPORT SENATOR JON TESTER’s AMENDMENT  TO S.510, The Food Safety Modernization Act. The TESTER amendment exempts farms that sell directly to the consumer. Without this amendment the federal legislation will have a huge negative impact on local small farms that sell at farmers markets, to Food Co-ops, CSA customers and local processing facilities!   PLEASE MAKE THE CALL NOW because our friends in Washington DC think the bill could be voted on the Senate floor tomorrow or friday. See below for more info.

If you’re not in Washington go here for the contact information for your Senators.

Almost Half of Western Washington Bee Colonies Suffer Collapse

Almost Half of Western Washington Bee Colonies Suffer Collapse

I ran into Jerry Tate from Tate’s Honey Farm at the Rocket Bakery this morning. I asked him how his bees are doing and he said they are great, but added that Western Washington Beekeepers are really hurting. I probed for more information and he explained that based on the research of the state beekeepers association, 45% of Washington bee colonies have collapsed (died) west of Ritzville. By contrast, only 25% of colonies to the east of Ritzville have suffered that fate, which is about average for beekeepers since the rise in recent years of varroa mites and the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. The survey included all state beekeepers with over 1,000 colonies.

Jerry’s hunch is that the late supply of nectar in the Spokane region helped eastern Washington bees whereas western Washington bees didn’t have as much available late in the summer. From what I’ve read, the onset of colony collapse usually has a multiple factors that conspire together. It’s a good lesson in the complex nature of the environment. We’d like to think there is one innovation that will fix everything, when it’s actually the systems and the interactions of a variety of factors that need to be addressed.

One bit of trivia I learned from Jerry is that many western washington beekeepers send their bees to the Dakota’s for part of the summer. He also mentioned that California bees also come north and spend some time in Washington before heading east to the Dakotas.

Jerry and others from the state association will meet with the state Secretary of Agriculture tomorrow in Olympia. Our state’s economy is incredibly dependent on tree fruit, especially apples, and without bees to pollinate the trees there won’t be any apples.

Hello, My Name Is Craig and I’m a Recovering Conventional Consumer

Hello, My Name Is Craig and I’m a Recovering Conventional Consumer

I enjoyed being a part of the Food & Faith Forum this past Saturday put on by the Faith and Environment Network. One of the highlights for me was meeting one of my heroes, Fred Fleming of Shepherd’s Grain renown. Fred co-founded the co-op that markets grains grown using no-till practices, and a wholistic approach to agriculture they call Sustainable Agriculture, which falls somewhere between Organic and Conventional farming.

I got a kick out of Fred’s introduction. He said, “Hi my name is Fred and I’m a recovering conventional farmer. I’m 10 years into my program.” He echoed the sentiments of the other farmers who are in recovery mode, having been driven by the rapid rise in technology into unsustainable practices that erode the land and make them reliant on expensive and harmful chemicals. They are stepping back and experimenting with a more holistic approach. I admire Fred’s efforts because not only are they innovating sustainable practices they are also innovating a sustainable business model.

I had a chat with Fred about the Inlander editorial that was critical of their efforts. My response is here. Paul Haeder’s basic gripe is that they use Round Up to control weeds and that they invited a rep from ADM to a farming summit who had never been to an actual wheat field. Hint Hint Hint – Shepherd’s Grian is in bed with ADM, the agricultural death star, the evil industrial food complex. What Paul didn’t understand in his critique is that it’s not ADM that has Shepherd’s Grain in its tractor beam, it’s Shepherd’s Grain that is drawing in and converting ADM.

According to Fred, the Spokane ADM mill on Trent that processes almost all the flour in our region, is the only ADM mill in the country that allows a grower like Shepherd’s Grain to process their flour separately. Fred explained that this unusual arrangement has captured the imagination of ADM’s management and as a result Spokane’s mill is seen as a kind of model of the future. In a world where everything is rapidly commodifying, in Spokane, flour is decommodifying and consumers like that and that makes corporate offices of multi-national corporations take notice. It’s actually quite remarkable and it’s all happening right here in Spokane.

In order to innovate more sustainable food practices, it’s going to take folks like me and you stepping forward and saying, “Hello, I’m a recovering conventional consumer.” But it’s also going to take farmers like Fred because consumer demand only goes so far.

I’m reminded of what Vincent Miller says, “Consumer culture seems endlessly capable of turning critique into a marketing hook.” The flour we buy from the store is essentially all the same, just marketed in different ways. For example, Bob’s Red Mill is milled in Spokane with all the other flour (Western Family, Stone Buhr, Gold Medal, etc.) and then shipped to Portland and run through their stone grinders so they can capture our consumer imagination with the phrase, “Stone Ground”. If we want more than good feelings that come from marketing hooks, actual different food in the package, we should celebrate when an ADM executive makes his first visit to a wheat field. Fred Fleming gets that and we’re all better for it.

Something Glenn Beck and Barack Obama Can Agree On

Something Glenn Beck and Barack Obama Can Agree On

Joel Salatin of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc. fame is profiled in the November edition of The American Conservative. Mr. Salatin and his 500 acre Polyface Farm in Virginia is one of the centerpieces of Michael Pollan’s reporting on sustainable alternatives to the massive industrial food complex. But here’s the thing, this darling of the Berkeley/Whole Foods/Prius crowd is a dyed in the wool conservative and a Bob Jones University graduate to boot. He refers to himself as a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist lunatic.”

These quotes from the article caught my attention:

He wants a big-tent local-food movement. While two decades ago, most customers at his farm store were “liberal, hippie, tree-hugger types,” he now estimates that an even number are traditional and libertarian conservatives. Surveying his customer parking lot, Salatin says, “It’s absolutely typical to have three Obama bumper stickers alongside three that say, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart.’” He is encouraged by the movement’s broad appeal, but laments that he cannot convince more of his fellow churchgoers not to “stop for happy meals on the way home from the pro-life rally.”

Salatin, who grew up going to natural- food stores, found this hostility from the Right troubling. Today, he is delighted that so many conservatives have joined what he calls the “heritage food movement.” (He chuckles, admitting that this is a subtle “slam” at the Heritage Foundation and other conservative think tanks that he claims are in bed with agribusiness.) As for Bob Jones, it has evidently changed its outlook. The university recently honored Salatin as “alumnus of the year.”

Concerns about food short-circuit political divides in some wonderfully mischevious ways. Farmers’ Markets may be the most politically diverse gathering in the community, with Glenn Beck conspiracy theorists rubbing shoulders with neo-hippie peace activists. The recent Whole Foods CEOcurfluffle highlighted some of this diversity and forced the question, “Is it OK for conservatives and liberals, who disagree on so much, to agree on food and work together in that agreement?”

I sure hope so. In today’s intense, hyped up political landscape, a good potluck with arugala and country style pork ribs (and of course grandma’s jello salad) could do us a lot of good. There’s something about gathering around food that makes us more human.

The Story of the Industrialization of Food In One Handy Chart

The Story of the Industrialization of Food In One Handy Chart

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Workforce chart from flare, data visualization for the web.

This chart is fascinating in so many different ways. It takes the reported occupations of the U.S. labor force between 1850 and the year 2000, and brings the data to life through this image. I love the image because it clearly shows the dramatic changes in the way food is produced. We’ve gone from over 50% of the U.S. workforce involved as farmers or farm laborers in 1850 to just a little over 1% in the year 2000. Go here for the full-sized interactive chart.

Chicken Dignity

Chicken Dignity

I’ve been in research mode with my farmer friends trying to learn about the differences between locally raised meat products, and those that are mass produced through big agribusiness. The basic premise of our experiment is human dignity, and the belief that it is important to know and care for the people involved in bringing our food and other products to market. But as I learn about the processes of bringing meat to market, I’m reminded that I need to add another dimension of dignity to our premise; chicken dignity.

Rich Mouw, one of my mentors, helped me understand this dignity when hedescribed the comments of a man at a gathering of Mennonite and Dutch Reformed farmers;

Colonel Sanders wants us to think of chickens only in terms of dollars and cents,” he announced. “They are nothing but little pieces of meat to be bought and sold for food. And so we’re supposed to crowd them together in small spaces and get them fat enough to be killed.”

“But that’s wrong! The Bible says that God created every animal ‘after its own kind.’ Chickens aren’t people, but neither are they nothing but hunks of meat. Chickens are chickens, and they deserve to be treated like chickens! This means that we have to give each chicken the space to strut its stuff in front of other chickens.

I like the idea of a “strut your stuff” test for human and chicken dignity. If a person doesn’t have a chance to strut their human stuff in making, growing, and producing a product, then something is wrong. Of course chicken dignity is a different kind of dignity, but it deserves strutting nonetheless.

In my research I was talking to Dave Mcculough, from Susie David’s Cattle. Dave has a herd of 16 grass fed cattle that he shepherds north of Spokane near Mt. St. Michael. He also has a big chicken coup with some hearty hens that provide us with eggs. In the midst of learning the ins and outs of the beef industry over the phone, he told me about the way his huge bull cow was playing with the calves out in the field yesterday. He praised the steer for being so gentle, and said the scene would have made a great picture; a big bull, getting worked over by a little calf, strutting his stuff, and everyone enjoying it, including Dave. There’s a lot of dignity going on in that picture, both human and cow.

So stay tuned for more on the virtues of grass fed beef, but let it be known that the best part, as far as I’m concerned, is the strutting.

For more on chicken dignity go to the post on Happy Chickens.

“Putting the Farmers’ Face on the Food”

“Putting the Farmers’ Face on the Food”

Thirty years ago some folks in Japan responded to the decline in small farms by innovating a direct relationship between farmers and the consumers. They called it “teikei”, which literally means, “putting the farmers’ face on food.” American farmers have taken their lead and created what are commonly called CSAs or Consumer Supported Agriculture. This usually means you sign up to get a weekly box of veggies and farm fresh food in exchange for buying a subscription  from the farmer for the growing season. Go here for a more detailed run down on the history.

I personally think CSA is a dreadful term for such a cool arrangement. I much prefer “putting your farmers’ face on food.” That says it all to me. Even more exciting would be to put the faces of your farmer’s whole family on your food. In the Spokane area we have just such an opportunity this year with the Elithorp family from Deer Park, WA.

John and Cindy Elithorp and kids moved to the Inland Northwest a couple of years ago from California where they had over 20 years of experience farming and marketing at local farmers’ markets. They have 100 acres of land in Deer Park and have been selling at local farmers’ markets the last couple of years. They are famous for their small Mediterranean cucumbers and their kids grow and sell beautiful sunflowers to help raise money for college. I can’t think of people’s faces I’d rather have on my vegetables.

I learned the harsh reality of making a living as a farmer when they had a weird freeze in the middle of last summer and lost most of their winter squash. One of the reasons the number of small farmers has declined is that it’s not easy to make a living with all the inherent risks of the marketplace AND the climate. The great thing about signing up for a “put your farmer’s face on food” program is that you become partners with them, giving them a steady source of income while getting a steady source of quality produce. Another major benefit with the Elithorps is they use natural practices and avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers.

People ask me what is the best part of our experiment and it is definitely the relationships we’ve developed with the people who bring our food to market. We’ve gone from consumers who were primarily self-interested in our consumption, to an experience of consumption where we feel like partners in a community of consumption and provision. As the Japanese would say, we’ve got faces on our veggies now.

The Elithorps will be providing boxes of veggies from June through September. Their boxes will include Mediterranean cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce, herbs, onions, green beans, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, peppers, watermelon and cantaloupe. Basically whatever is in season. A full box costs $400 for the season which is a little more than $20 per box and a half box costs $250 for the season. You can pick the boxes up each week at the downtown markets or the Millwood Market. They only have 50 shares available so don’t miss out. Go herefor the full run down or email them at elithorpfarm@juno.com.

Go here to find a “face on food” program in your community if you’re not in the Inland Northwest.