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Wall Street vs. Small Farms: Put Your $$$ Where Your Mouth Is

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I believe we Americans and our corporate state called America have our priorities inverted when it comes to two commodities: food and money.

Money. Think a twenty dollar bill; Wall Street; corporate bailouts; your bank account; your earnings; corporate CEO compensation; the federal deficit; the cost of the Middle East wars; prices at Wal*Mart.

Food. Think a fresh, tasty summer tomato salad; fast food tainted with e-coli; a great steak with caramelized onions; a chocolate souffle hot out of the oven; mad cow disease; a sweet cantaloupe; melt in your mouth sushi; a microwave dinner.

We think of money as expensive. We think of food as cheap. We crave money. We stuff our faces. We'll do almost anything for money. We don't worry about our next meal.

Geordie Kerr, a young farmer still on the fence about his inherited position in the family business of four generations, told me a story about one of his customers. This customer was amazed that one prosciutto (thinly sliced cured ham) Proscuitto di Parma at $19.99 a pound could be so much better than another proscuitto for which he paid $14.99 a pound. I'll tell you the punch line to this story later.

When we shop, we Americans tend to want it cheap. We shop price, price, price to nearly the exclusion of all else.

Price is the reason we shop at Big Box Stores and eat at McDonalds.

Price is also the reason you cannot find an American-made men's dress shirt, or pants, or socks without a diligent search of the internet. It's why we drink wine from Australia. Why all our electronics are made in China and, I venture, why I have to return some of them because they're defective.

Price is why lead-based paint was used to make play things for our children. And, it's why almost nothing we eat is grown locally. Why much of the better food is imported. And, why so much of our food is now mass produced and subject to recall for fear of death and disease.

Price is not value. Price is not cost. This is why young not-sure-he-wants-to-always-be-a-farmer Geordie doesn't like working his farm stand, Kerr's Korn Stand, where he sells nearly all of his fresh grown produce. Reason?

People want to haggle with him, down from fifty-cents for an ear for the sweetest freshest white corn on earth. Or, they balk at $2.99 a pound for his just picked "Fourth of July" tomatoes that sparkle in your mouth. And, it's where if he could only get a bit more for his crops, he would definitely commit to farming as his passion.

But right now he can't get that twenty-five cents more an ear or dollar more a pound.

He weighs the long hours against the time he'd like to spend with his family. "It's difficult getting a balance between family and work," he says.

I'm thinking that's true for nearly all Americans. By far we are the hardest working people on earth right now. But we heavily reward the money changers and give short shrift to our farmers.

We've declared money is more important than food. Hmmmm, what's wrong with this picture? Which one can't we live without?

If Geordie could get that twenty-five cents more it would mean a decent livelihood. Like all of us, he loves his wife and little girl. He knows they deserve some of the things money can buy, like higher education and decent healthcare. "My wife loves the Jersey shore," he tells me. "Unfortunately, farming is about working long hours all summer."

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Chaz Valenza is writer and small business owner in New Jersey. He earned his MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. His current feature film project is "Single Point Failure" an insider's account of how the Reagan Administration (more...)
 

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Our local farmers market has not grown in several ... by Robert N Smith on Sunday, Aug 16, 2009 at 9:24:05 PM