Locally Raised - Why Should You Care?
Does it matter where your food comes from? Most of us probably don't give much thought to the companies and people that raise the food that we purchase in the grocery store. Perhaps this is because in the U.S. food has been so plentiful and with few exceptions could be assumed to be safe. However here are some issues to consider:
1. What is the impact on the local economy?
At one time Southwest Missouri was the tomato capital of the world with over 60 tomato canneries in and around Springfield. Up until 30-40 years ago, the Ozarks was also the feeder pig capital of the U.S. with 20,000-30,000 feeder pigs sold each week in West Plains, Missouri alone. The Ozarks landscape used to be dotted with thousands of small dairies that are now all but extinct. What happened and why? Times change, the population increased and the need to produce as much food as cheaply as possible became the rule of the day. Today tomatoes are grown largely in Central and South America, crated with ethylene to preserve the color and shipped in to the U.S. Feeder pigs are grown in confinement operations in the Great Plains, Iowa, and Indiana in farrowing houses that handle up to 40,000 sows each having 18-19 piglets per year in a space no bigger than that taken up by your refrigerator. Corn production in the corn belt increased by 500% per acre using synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and combines that cost more than most single family homes. The upshot - Springfield, Missouri, once a breadbasket of the world - now has a three day supply of food on hand. If the trucks stop coming in, the Ozarks has very little means to feed itsself. The loss of a great deal of agriculture in this area has had a profound effect. The sale of animals and produce to other parts of the U.S. and around the world grown on the water and natural resources of the Ozarks at a latitude ideal for farming, was an ecnomic boon. Today the flow of cash and capital of southwest Missouri citizens that purchases the food and fiber to sustain us is a one way stream away from the lands that used to produce those same commodities. Locally produced foods, while a niche market at this time, is hopefully a return to times when food security was not an issue.
2. Is the source of your food important?
Today beef that is sold in local grocery stores and restaurants may come from many different animals originating from several different countries. The meat from these animals is mixed together, packaged and sent all over the U.S. This has made it nearly impossible to identify the actual source of tainted meat in the event that a customer becomes sick. This prompted the USDA to promote a National Animal Identificaiton System (NAIS) that would allow meat to be traced back to its animal or ranch origin. Due to a variety of concerns including the difficulty in implementing such as system, intrusion into a farmer's privacy and cost, the NAIS was met with much resistance and abandoned in late 2009.
Customers who purchase beef from ONB not only know the farm where their beef came from but we can identify the specific calf that was the source of the customer's beef. We know the calf's exact genetics, age, diet, performance, illnesses, and treatments. The calf is processed in a USDA inspected abbatoir and is labeled with the ONB name to ensure that you are getting the product that you ordered. We feel that the more you know about your food and where it comes from the more confidence you can have that it will be the beef you would want to feed your family and friends.
3. Does local food have to be more expensive?
In a word - no. There is a lot to admire about the commodity food industry. They have achieved a level of production and efficiency that is remarkable. Consider that in the past 130 years the U.S. has gone from having 70-80% of our population engaged in production agriculture to less than 2% today. This was only possible with the industrialization of agriculture - a concerted effort to make farms larger and more efficient so that an economy of scale was achieved that allowed fewer and fewer people to grow the food and more and more people to enjoy the food. Industrialized agriculture needs one major input to maintain this economy of scale...cheap oil. Petroleum is necessary for nearly every phase of food production. It is used to make the fertilizers used on most commondity agriculture farms. It is used by the trucks and tractors used on the farm to sew, till and harvest livestock and crops. It is used to transport the livestock and crops from sparsely populated areas to regional processing centers. It is used to process those raw materials into foodstuffs for human consumption and it is used to distribute those foodstuffs to the grocery stores that we all frequent. Thus while the economy of scale that industrial agriculture has achieved provides it with great efficiency, it stands on the rather tenuous pillar of cheap oil. The more expensive oil becomes, the higher the input costs for agricultural commodities, and the higher retail food prices will climb.
That appears to be the distinct advantage local food sources have over industrial agriculture. The food that is grown and harvested in the community that stays in the community does not have far to travel - thus using less petroleum. If that is coupled with the utilization of low input farm management practices such as pasture based livestock production, holistic and organic management principles, locally produced food can rapidly close the cost gap that industrialized agriculture enjoys due to its economy of scale.