grist for the mill

In 2006 when Edible Boston was just starting up, “local” in relationship to “food” was not a phrase that was often used. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Oxford American Dictionary added “locavore” to its pages.  Seems so strange now that both have permeated our vocabulary.

When I started this magazine my mission was to educate my readers about local food. help people learn about the seasonality of our food. Why we do not have tomatoes and corn in June! How to do the education? Well, through stories of the people actually producing the food. Celebrating how wonderful food is when it is fresh, local and produced by people you know.

I have to say, we’ve been successful. The demand for local food has skyrocketed. In a few years our state went from one or two winter farmers markets to close to 30. The number of farmers in the state has also increased over this time period. All very positive for both the producer and the purchaser.

Fast forward to 2012. the movement has been so successful that terminology like “local, fresh and farm grown” are being used everywhere by everyone. Campbell’s soup’s newest ad campaign used the phrase “farm fresh vegetables in every can.” to the best of my knowledge; all vegetables are grown on farms and are at some point “farm fresh.” Lay’s potato chips has a billboard campaign showing a farmer standing in front of his potato field.   Yes, potatoes are grown by a farmer in a field on a farm but usually on a multi-thousand-acre farm somewhere in the world, not necessarily in your community or your even state.

Domino’s Pizza’s ad campaign has diners sitting in a room which then loses all its walls and exposes them to a farm field, implying that the ingredients in the food they ate came directly from the farm.  Every restaurant, whether it is fine dining or fast food, is claiming that they are using locally grown, fresh, natural ingredients in their dishes.

Is this good or bad? On the positive side, maybe we are making headway in teaching a new generation that tomatoes, corn and other products do not originate in a freezer.

On the other hand, the messages are distorted and I believe will do a disservice to our local food community. Why must tomatoes be so expensive at a farmers market when they are used on my pizza which only costs $9.99? How can a whole bag of potato chips only cost $1.99 when a pound of potatoes at the farmers market costs $3.99?

I’ve been asking myself “What can we do to move things back in the right direction?” the conclusion I’ve come to is to shift the focus of the magazine a little. We will always celebrate local food and its enjoyment, but now i think it is time to focus directly on the producers. We need consumers to understand that our local food producers need to earn a fair living and food needs to be priced accordingly.

In the pages that follow you will read about a young generation who wants to farm, wants to help provide us with local produce but are struggling with how to afford to do it. And about dairy farmers who are committed to keeping their farms full service dairies in their families’ tradition.

My hope is that through these stories the people will become real, hence giving due value to their products.

Ilene Bezahler