Grist writer and North Carolina farmer Tom Philpott, commenting on an American Prospect article, explains why consumer choice isn’t enough to bring about an organic, locally grown, sustainable food system:
the example of a New York State farmer named Morse Pitts. He sells the bounty of his 15-acre Windfall Farm in the Hudson Valley at Manhattan’s famed Union Square market, where his eggs command a steep $14 per dozen and “some of his greens go for more than $40 per pound.” Yet even though his weekly market stand teems with consumers eager to “vote with their forks” (to speak nothing of their checking accounts), he nets just $7 per hour for his labor and plans to shut down his operation soon.
The problem, Rogers makes clear, is a widespread lack of infrastructure for supporting small-scale, ecologically minded farmers. The public resources that might do just that are siphoned off by the industrial food system, in the form of commodity subsidies and largesse to the corn ethanol industry. Farmers like Pitts have to pass on the costs of their ecological stewardship directly to their customers in the form of eye-popping prices, which still don’t add up to a decent salary, while industrial-scale farms can generally trash the environment with impunity, letting society as a whole, or distant communities, pick up the bill….
At this point, farmers like Pitts — whose experience aligns with my own efforts to farm in North Carolina — have plenty of conscientious consumers willing to pay the full cost of their food. What they need now are conscientious policymakers willing to take on the agribusiness and food-processing interests that profit most from the current situation….
Voting with your fork, it turns out, is not enough. We can’t just “be the change we want to see” in the food system; we also have to get out there and organize for policy reform: to become, in short, a countervailing force that challenges the power of the food lobby.