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If good food is too expensive for good people, isn't there something wrong with our system?

For good food, we need to follow nature's lead. And we can. So, why don't we? Let's take a closer look.

Fresh fruit at a farmer's market

Quality food should be a right, not a luxury, not an elite resource reserved for the wealthy. The mentality that we need to feed the world equating to quick food, grown with harmful inputs -- growth hormones paired with antibiotics, pesticides and fungicides, desiccants like carcinogenic Round Up to expedite harvests -- is unfair, unjust, and colossally lazy. The rhetoric that surrounds all of these bad decisions includes finger-pointing and name-calling, a "what do you know?" attitude, and a "know-it-all" position that farming without all of these inputs is impossible at the scale that we need. That simply isn't true.

Good food is expensive. It's the number one complaint I hear about farmer's markets. Healthy food from a local farm comes with a price tag. And farmers bust their butts -- getting up in the middle of the night to drive to the market three times a week, unloading, engaging with customers, loading up again, and driving home to the farm -- to go to those very markets where they can get a fair price for their products. That retail price is what saves them. Wholesale for the small farmer is rarely profitable. Just ask the dairy farmers who sell to a co-op. The price for their milk fluctuates with supply and demand and as a dairy farmer in Florida, you may be competing with cheaper milk coming into your state from Michigan. Tell that to your cows who produce the same amount of milk regardless of what milk tank trucks cross their state lines.

Farmers who produce food on the grand scale -- dairy, corn, soy, wheat, beef, chicken, pork -- are on a treadmill servicing debt. They produce "cheap" food on feedlots and in oversaturated soils that are empty shells of their former selves, having had so many inputs and "cides" that they no longer flourish as nourishing vessels for plants or animals. The cycle is toxic, literally and figuratively.

A family in a garden growing good food

We have forgotten to pay attention to our best teacher. Mother Nature has for millennia perpetuated life and evolution on the back of some of her most powerful cycles. Plants are not meant to survive on land without animals. Animals fertilize and aerate soils, they carry seeds from one place to another. Nature does not open up the earth and rake every organism to the side so other plants can thrive. One plant supports the others in their growth and battles against pests.

In a very simple backyard example, you can plant marigolds with tomatoes to keep the aphids at bay. On a larger scale, a farmer can plant cover crops between seasons to infuse the soil with nitrogen and other elements necessary for optimal plant growth. In Indiana, one corn and soybean row crop farmer replaced $800 of synthetic fertilizer per acre (for 6,000 acres) with $80 in cover crop seeds to accomplish the same thing AND leave the soil stronger as a result. How does that not make sense?

A farm with a verdant pasture with animals

Similarly for animals, in nature, one species does not thrive alone. Herds of cattle or bison are followed by birds, and smaller mammals. Farms that mimic this integration, prosper by increasing the immunity of their flocks and herds. The forage and soil health is elevated by this natural process of nitrogen exchange and carbon sequestration. On my own farm, the chickens follow the donkeys into the pasture as they unearth bugs. In turn, the donkeys are free of flies and ticks. The pasture is rich from the pressure of hooves driving decomposing manure into its particles. It's easy to see and free for the taking.

When I look for new opportunities to engage you on the topic of farmers and the hidden power they wield in the arenas of your health, the environment, communities, and our economy, I seek out low-hanging fruit. Farmer's markets are one of those fruits. You likely have one in your community. Maybe you go there on occasion and quite possibly as a regular. (I have a free guide to farmer's markets if you're interested that includes tips, hidden benefits, creative ideas, and worksheets for upping your game.)

a chef pouring oil over tomatoes

Just recently, looking for a new idea, I started talking with chefs. Who better to talk to about food -- and by extension farmers -- than chefs? Did you know that we buy over 20 million cookbooks a year in the US? And if the popularity of the chef TV shows is any indication, we are a society enamored of the "Yes, chef!" culture behind the best dining rooms in the country. What I found is a group of people with unsurpassed passion and knowledge about food, pure ingredients, and the quest for sourcing the best food in the world. It's been a fun experiment, the results of which will unfold shortly.

But here is something else I learned. It was a concern brought to my attention by an elite chef who has worked in some of the best restaurants in the world. This brings me back to the beginning of this post. Some of the best food in the world is reserved for elite restaurants, restaurateurs, and chefs who cultivate an exclusive relationship with their farmers. Do you want the best lamb? Buy all the lamb one farmer can produce in a year to feed the chefs in your restaurants. The farmer wins because you are a consistent, steady market and you pay a good price because you have a consistent, steady market of diners behind you. Maybe you grow the most delectable yellow tomatillos. The restaurant buys them all for sauces and fermenting and delighting their customers. You are also delighted.

wine glasses on a table in a fine restaurant

Here is the problem. Don't get me wrong, these are the restaurants that I dream of trying. I am thrilled that these farmers have lucked out with such perfect sales outlets. But what of the people who can't spend $300 on dinner? What of the customers who are left to pick over the pesticide-laden strawberries in the plastic clamshell in the grocery store? The red ones that were picked green and even when washed tested positive for toxic levels of harmful anti-fungal and blight killers. Is that fair? There is something wrong with our system. A lot of somethings.

Comments encouraged.


Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.


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