Does Buying Local Make Me Look Cool?

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I came across an interesting story today on NPR’s The Salt titled If Apple Made iMilk And Nike Sold Fruit: Designer Groceries As Art. It’s about an art project that explores how packaging manipulates perception. And while it is a well written piece and I think it opens up an important discussion, I have a few issues with the message it sends.

Photo: “Eggs by Versace” by designer Peddy Mergui from his exhibit “Wheat is Wheat is Wheat,” on display at Expo Milano 2015 in May. via The Salt.

Towards the end of the article, the author writes, “And yet, the uncomfortable truth of modern food shopping is that there is a booming market of luxury foods. And while they may not have designer labels, they are certainly steeped with a set of values. Why else would you pay $7 for a half-gallon glass bottle of local, grass-fed milk? Consumers aren’t just paying for the taste, but the lifestyle and values it embodies.”

I’m sorry – but really, this is a gross over simplification of why people make certain food choices.

Paying $7 for milk – or in the case of our farm $4 for a dozen eggs or $7 for a pound of grass fed beef represents the cost of production and the cost for us to bring those products to the market.

People buy things for all sorts of reasons – and in some cases it may be that you buy our grass fed beef because of the values it embodies. But there are many other reasons beyond that. When you buy from a local family farm like ours, you’re making an investment in your local community. And plenty of people enjoy the fact that they can establish a direct relationship with the people who are growing their food.

Local foods aren’t artificially more expensive. We don’t make up prices for our products because they have our label on them – and to my knowledge no other farmers do either.

A better question might be why is a half gallon of milk only $3 at the grocery store.

Industrial agriculture is afforded some benefits in that they are able to consolidate production, processing and transportation and pass those savings along. In some cases, they also qualify for certain benefits and incentives that help stabilize market prices and keep food affordable.

Food isn’t like luxury goods. There may be a teeny tiny segment of the market trying to capitalize on the food movement – but by and large, I see very little evidence that farmers are promoting a “cool factor” to get people to pay more than they should be.

On our farm, we come up with the price for any given product after we do a little math. What costs went in: feed, butchering, transportation, care, infrastructure (like fencing or waterers for example). We take a look at what the market prices are to make sure that we’re not totally off the map – we want people to buy our food, after all. And then there’s time. This is a business – Benson’s job. We have to earn income to support our family. The price you see on our meat and eggs is the result of all of those factors.

I read another great story last night that is a good complement to the Salt’s piece. In The $18.00 Chicken, a Michigan farmer eloquently explains the struggle that some small-scale farmers have when pricing product.

Benson and I appreciate the tremendous amount of support and dedication that each and everyone of our customers has shown us. It wouldn’t be possible – or worth it – to do it with out you. Southern Maryland’s agricultural industry is gaining significant steam and all the farmers I know are thrilled to be a part of this movement.

Hope you all stay warm – today was a shock for the system after the beautiful weekend we had. Can’t wait to see you all again in May.