They‘re turning the front of City Hall into a Victory Garden full of food. They’re taking citydwellers on local food trips throughout the Bay Area. And while some of the events are free — including a concert that appropriately (for SF) features a Grateful Dead band member — others are a tad on the pricey side. $160 for a “slow dinner” in Walnut Creek, $140 for the “bounty of the Russian River,” a “slow journey” in our area. That sort of thing.
On one hand it’s a little annoying that as a local farmer growing heirloom varieties of produce, I can’t afford to fully participate in the “largest celebration of American food in history.” Slow Food Nation trips and dinners, at those prices, aren’t in my budget. On the other hand, I charge my customers at the farmer’s market more than Safeway does because I’m trying to earn a living. So am I really allowed to complain? (Please note: it would not cost you $160 to cook yourself a lovely slow dinner from my farm stand. I’m just pointing out that I do benefit from higher prices for local, farm-fresh, organic produce.)
This little conundrum begs a bigger question: Must slow food necessarily be expensive food? What about the expanding grow-your-own movement? I wholeheartedly support it, especially for people who can’t afford to throw down $30 at the farmer’s market every week. (Not to mention, it’s a great thing for people to be outside in their gardens, and a great form of exercise.) But what if the grow-your-own movement grows such that it drives down farmer’s market prices — can small farmers survive on lower prices for fresh organic produce? At the same time, this might be a far-fetched idea (it would require a lot of Americans to change the way they live and how they allocate their time), especially with costs of conventionally-grown food rising thanks to higher fuel prices. At some point in the future, there might come a time when the local food economy expands even further because it’s actually more cost-effective than transporting produce from Argentina and trucking it in from the nearest American port.
Also, when it comes to farmer’s market prices: if you’re really shopping on a whole food (not Whole Foods) basis — no processed, added-value stuff — I find that you can eat pretty cheaply… and even spring for organic, most of the time. Emmett and I pretty much live off a few basics that we buy in bulk: beans (various types), lentils, quinoa, rice, flour, sugar, salt, oil. We make our own bread (and bagels!), except when we trade for it at the farmer’s market, but we do buy pasta. One of these days I’m going to have to add up the cost of weekly groceries at my house (including the value of the food we grow ourselves) and try to compare it to a more processed diet. (OK, so we’re not perfect: we don’t make our own soy ice cream.)
But back to the big themes. Is it possible to have a Cheap Slow Food movement? How much do farmers need to be paid for it to be worth their time?
(I don’t have the answers, I just ask the questions.)
(The picture above is a mix of our beans, with some of the garlic we grew tossed in, and a bit of olive oil. The yellow ones aren’t quite ripe yet, but the purple ones are beautiful! They’re kind of like the turkey that comes with the little pop-up button: when the purple beans turn green, you know they’re done.)