For many years, many small farmers have championed the benefits of local food production based on claims of supporting the local economy, freshness, and quality. Recent books by Michael Pollan and others have given the concept a wider audience. Now, I believe the biggest producers have noticed and will soon be marketing their products as such. Following are excerpts from a speech that Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association gave at his “State of the Industry” address.
After years of becoming more corporate-like and delivering fresh produce to consumers cheaply and abundantly, the produce industry is heading in the opposite direction – meeting its customers face to face. People are moving back to basics, away from industrial agriculture and back to smaller stores and local foods and trying to find the face behind their fresh produce.
“Cheap and plentiful eventually has a price,” he said, noting that consumers are more fearful of their food – and producers haven’t benefited all that much either. Producers now get about 17 cents of the consumer dollar, down from 41 cents in 1940.
At the same time, consumers are realizing they want the freshness and taste of local foods, the open space farms provide and the other benefits local foods contribute to the community – including a greater sense of security. “It’s become a social movement as people are pushing back against industrial agriculture and the over-reliance on excessively processed foods. The next big thing is not more microwavable pizza.” Silbermann said that a “perfect storm” has engulfed the produce industry, combining elements from rising input prices, a shortage of labor, concerns about food safety and a growing interest in local, sustainable food systems.
I think that Mr. Silbermann is a very astute man, and his talk reveals just the extent and possibilities of a new type of food system based on local production – coming from the leader of an industrial food organization, it is particularly informing and encouraging to those in the trenches.