It pains me to say it but there are some very real connections between BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and the recent "pink slime" fiasco that need to be aired. I am not saying that "pink slime" (lean finely textured beef or LFTB for short) represents anything like the public health hazard that potentially BSE-infected meat could represent. Regulations are now in place to ensure that specified risk material is removed from every beef carcass so it does not enter the human food chain, and that the feeding of ground-up cattle remains back to cattle has been banned since 1997. However, it's hard to ignore the fundamental similarities of the two incidents and, more importantly, the underlying circumstances and mindsets that led to the adoption in both cases of some highly questionable industry practices -- practices that most people would have almost certainly have opposed had they been given the chance.
In 1994 the USDA counted 1,755 farmers markets in the United States. At last count, there were 4,685. Across the nation, direct marketing is increasing twice as fast as total agricultural sales (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service). President Obama just announced that he wants to start a farmers’ market at the White House.
So, what’s all the fuss about farmers’ markets? One of the main reasons is that farmers and consumers actually get to meet each other. Food usually travels hundreds, even thousands of miles to get from farm to table, making face-to-face contact between eaters and growers an all-too-rare event. However, the recent wave of farmers’ markets opening across the nation is changing that. President Obama also explained the possible health and economic benefits of his proposed D.C. farmers’ market: “[It] is a win-win situation. It gives…D.C. more access to good, fresh food, but it also is this enormous potential revenue maker for local farmers in the area.” This touches on one of the other great things about farmers markets: the farmer gets to keep the entire retail dollar of his or her product (after taxes, of course). Outside of direct marketing, the average farmer keeps just 20 cents of each retail food dollar (according to the USDA Economic Research Service), with the remainder going to processors, distributors and retailers.
Care2.org and LocalHarvest.org are hosting a farmers’ market popularity contest, “Love Your Farmers’ Market” in which farmers, customers and fans can vote for their favorite market. Winner gets $5,000, with cash prizes for second through fifth place. At the time of this post, two of the top five markets have Animal Welfare Approved farmers as regular vendors! To cast your vote for your favorite farmers market, go to care2.com/farmersmarket/.
Vote by September 17, 2009 to get yours counted!