Few choices we make compare in impact to how we vote with our food dollars.
In an ever-expanding globalized society, small farms and businesses face increasing challenges contending with large-scale, corporate competition. According to a recent US Department of Agriculture report, “Today’s farms are fewer and bigger.” This has been part of a dramatic restructuring of the way food is grown over the past 150 years, which has led millions of farmers worldwide to migrate to cities, increasing the rate of poverty, and siphoning dollars away from workers’ hands and into the pockets of corporate shareholders.
The agriculture industry alone represents almost $800 billion yearly for the US economy, while food accounts for 13 percent of American household expenditures, third only to transport and housing costs. While it may be hard to change where we live and how we get around, contributing directly to local economies and farms through our food choices sends a clear message: out with the middle man, in with the farmers.
To add to the benefits of supporting local food, planetary health and biodiversity are greatly supported when we purchase from nearby farms. Historically, local farmers kept seed stocks and grew crops that were hardiest and best for their farm’s location. This led to a wonderful variety of crop types, flavors, and seasonal variation responsible for much of world’s unique culinary culture.
Yet today, most large-scale industrial agriculture operations utilize but a few seed varieties for all of the food produced, and have pushed out the little guys—seeds and farmers alike. According to the New York Times, even large organic producers can unfortunately be guilty of this issue. While organics are a far cry better for the plant than conventional counterparts, an increased pressure from large organic purchasers has led to a focus on consistency and uniformity over variety to support large scale distribution.
Closed loop economics fixes many of these challenges. Purchasing from a small farmer in your state can directly support livelihoods, which ultimately comes back to the buyer in the form of healthy food, stronger local economies, and the knowledge that we have contributed to a creating a healthier global society.