Growing local organic food may be the best path toward economic recovery. It may also be key to building stronger and healthier communities.
"Our [struggling] economy is making a compelling case that we shift toward more local food," said Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis. "The current system fails on all counts and it's very efficient at taking wealth out of our communities."
Meter spoke at the annual conference of the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) held recently in La Crosse, Wisc.
The bank bailouts have stabilized the crisis but they haven't addressed wealth in local communities, he said. It's likely that change may come through food because it is the third largest household expense (12.4 percent or $6,133) and $1 trillion nationally. The average consumer spends $49,638 per year with housing the largest expense (34 percent or $16,900), transportation number three (17.6 percent or $8,753) and insurance number four (10.8 percent or $5,336).
"Everyone needs to eat and a local food economy forces us to think differently," said Meter.
Meter shared figures from his study of southwestern Wisconsin where 106,000 residents earn a total income of $2.7 billion. However, 30 percent of the people live below the poverty line. Out of 6,804 farms, 586 farmers sell less than $10,000 per year while 11 percent sell more than $100,000. Only 382 farms sell directly to consumers and 133 farms are organic. Such disparities result in lop-sided and unfair policies that need to be changed to meet everyone's needs, Meter pointed out.
The past 40 years have seen rising sales and new markets for farm products, he said, but the expense of running these operations is mounting faster than the income. In fact, there has been a steady decline in income every year since 1969 except during the OPEC crisis in 1973-74. That's the year former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz ramped up production and sold wheat to the Soviet Union.
However, overproduction eventually led to the farm credit crisis in the1980s, which resulted in much pain over family farm foreclosures including over 913 farmer suicides in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. For example, since 1969, farmers in southwestern Wisconsin made $166 million less despite the fact that they doubled their productivity. Meanwhile, they spent $429 million more equipment and chemical inputs.
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