A reader of this blog family--that's the way I refer to all of you who subscribe to these Musings--sent me a wonderful news piece about Stark Island, one of the channel islands off the coast of France.
Only about 6 square miles in size, the island enjoys 50,000 visitors a year to its unpaved and roadless beauty. But the island has a problem. Its final dairy farmer retired and their historical legacy of Guernsey milk is over.
What does an island do when its last dairy farmer leaves? Well, if you're Stark Island, you create a plan to attract one. The island has dedicated 40 acres, a house, guaranteed two-year wages and other perks to incentivize a new dairy farmer. The new farmer has to put skin in the game by bringing the cows, which of course must be Guernsey.
The chocolatiers and artisan restaurants on the island are as locked-in buyers for the dairy as much as the dairy is a locked-in seller. Hopefully someone will step forward and take advantage of the offer.
But as our reader noted, wouldn't it be delightful of other communities around the world, and especially here in the U.S., took this seriously the loss of local food security by courting a dairy farmer? Cities and communities around the U.S. lose farmers daily with nary a whimper of concern. The food can come from somewhere else.
Some folks wonder why here at Polyface we purchase piggies from local farmers who are not government-organic or may not adhere to standards we'd like. Re-starting these small farm outfits, sometimes as small as two or three sows, is part of maintaining the local food web. While we could go out of state to procure pigs raised to our perfect ideals, our local food community would continue toward insecurity. Keeping these small outfits going enables them to live for another day. We can gradually move them to our way of thinking, but in my view, half a loaf is better than none. Or said another way, 80 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.
I'd rather keep a cadre of viable farmers in the community--regardless of size--than lose these vital links in the chain toward security. A meal is simply the final link in a long chain and interwoven web of collaborators. Mutual interdependence is the name of the game, and when we lose players, we can't play the game anymore.
A foodshed is not just about green space. It's about active businesses working together on that landscape. Stark Island's experience illustrates a wise view toward foodshed maintence and one that deserves applause and duplication throughout the world.
Iowa currently imports 95 percent of its food. Arguably the most productive land in the world, this landscape of soybeans and corn is not neighborhood based. That such a productive area imports that much of its plated food is unconscionable. Of course, here in Augusta County, Virginia the same percentage holds true. It's a shame, and begs the question:
What if communities cared about the viability of their direct-market farmers?