Brickyard Farms is a ‘self-sustaining farm’ that uses organic methods. If that seems like double-speak, it is wording that allows us to find a description that is appropriate in legal-speak. For a small farm such as ours, the organic certification process is lengthy and cost prohibitive. The word organic is no longer owned by the farmers themselves, but by the government licensing process and corporate interests that want to ultimately control the food supply. There is a great deal of money to be made in food.
Val and I are often asked what it means to be a ‘self-sustaining farm’. Self-sustaining implies a sense of stewardship for the land, a continuance of purpose through its own efforts. We hope to leave the land that we farm better than when we found it. ‘Self-sustaining’ also involves maintaining a farm that is small enough to produce quality vegetables without the use of chemicals or pesticides for high yields.
I’ll never forget the first time I tasted one of our potatoes; I was shocked by its flavor. I had always thought a potato is a potato, is a potato. I had no idea how chemicals and pesticides affected food’s flavor. Until you’ve tried vegetables grown locally and without pesticides, you won’t believe the difference. Local food growers will tell you there is no substitution for produce that has been allowed to ripen fully before harvest.
Yet flavor, price and access are often at odds. Val and I noticed last spring that some vendors at the farmers market were going home with beautiful, locally grown asparagus that they hadn’t sold. When we arrived at one of the commercial stores to complete our weekly shopping, we immediately noticed they were selling asparagus for $.99 per pound; at the farmers market it was priced at $1.79 per pound. Local farmers cannot compete with volume pricing. They must compete with the quality of their goods and the support from their local community. On balance, if each family spent $10.00 per week of their food budget on locally grown food, $37 million would pour back into our Michigan economy.
Support for local farmers is critical if we are interested in providing choice in the foods we purchase. Educating customers to appreciate whole foods, not processed foods, is the ultimate goal of every market farmer. When we know how our food is grown, and at what stage it is harvested, buying local makes more sense. We feel by living simply and acting on our beliefs, we are giving people the option of eating affordable, pesticide-free produce. We believe that food of excellent quality can be produced locally and at peak flavor.
The average bit of food travels over 1500 miles to its destination. In terms of energy alone, this common practice is not sustainable. When food is picked before it is ripe, not only flavor but nutritive value is compromised. How many of us have had the beautiful red tomato that was gassed to imitate ripeness, without an ounce of flavor? I, for one, would far prefer a beautiful tomato with all the taste of summer, grown locally and shipped tens of miles to a farmers market with great care.