Editor's Note: Farms and food

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4.24.12 “‘Organic’ has become a label, as it was destined to be. It’s a completely worthless word now. It has been perverted to suit the needs of industrial agriculture.” That from Wendell Berry, one of the fathers of the movement, in a 2008 interview. The organic food market is a $14 billion industry and much of its recent expansion has come from the addition of mainstream national distribution networks, like Walmart and Whole Foods. What began as an outgrowth of the back to the land movement has become a growth industry.

During graduate school I spent one summer working as an apprentice at Caretaker Farm. The love child of Sam and Elizabeth Smith, nestled into the Berkshire Mountains, Caretaker was a first generation organic CSA. I slept over the pigs, fed them and the chickens at dawn, and worked in the fields all day, unless it was my turn to cook in which case I could quit an hour early before each meal to get it ready and then take my time on the dishes before going back out. All that effort went into getting a couple full bags of vegetables per week to the fancy crowd that lived and worked around Williams College at a price local families could never afford.

From organic we got to slow food, buy local, and community supported agriculture. We want desperately to make our food and our land healthier, but we’ve never found a way to connect the purity of those ideas with the reality of a vertically aligned economy of scale capable of feeding our giant metropolitan areas. The solution? Well, it’s starting to happen around you. Small cities as centers of regional agriculture markets that produce both raw and finished products and bring them to consumers at prices that don’t make them luxuries.

Berry’s latest idea:
“Cities attract food products from the countryside the same way that a major stream attracts water from the smaller streams in a watershed. A foodshed would be the tributary landscape around a city from which the city’s food would come.” Now wouldn’t it be great if some of that corn subsidy money got spread out to fertilize all the fields on the farm?–Giles Morris

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