What's the weak link in integrity food? This has many permutations, like what's the weak link in local food or what's the weak link in helping ecological farmers stay in business. The themes are all related: how to create a land healing, nutrient dense, human respecting, community encouraging food system when all the inertia in regulation, insurance, finance, education and marketing is opposite all those things.
Last week I had a wonderful brainstorming session on that topic with the director of the Charlottesville Food Hub, which has been banging away at this for about 15 years. They're primarily a produce facilitator and of course Polyface is primarily a protein producer.
If we could boil down our conversation to one thing, it was this: more customers. That would solve lots of things. Both of us feel like toddlers. Too big for diapers but too small for big boy pants. That's an awkward situation, as any parent can attest. If each of us had another $1 million in annual sales, we'd enjoy some economies of scale that would sure help our core enterprises.
I deeply appreciate the many efforts by different NGOs to help new farmers get on the land or facilitate value added efforts with kitchens. That's all great. But at the end of the day, we need more people pursuing integrity food. The willingness to settle for junk, to settle for pretty branding that's all hype (like industrial organics at Wal-Mart) is ubiquitous.
Whether someone leaps away from inferior food or leaps toward integrity food, the desire shift is the weak link in everything. Financing projects, producing great local product--it's all easier with a few more customers. In the last week, twice I've encountered local chefs who say they won't buy from our farm because it's now too big. Too big? How are we supposed to enjoy any economies of scale in processing and distribution if we can never pass some magic sales threshold? I wonder if those chefs ever buy anything from U.S. Foods or Sysco?
So my question today is simple: how do we stimulate desire to truly change food buying habits?