While I am staying in Ames, I am enjoying the fresh fruits and vegetables of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in which the Flora’s have a share. All throughout the growing season, the weekly share can be picked up at the church, organized by the Farm to Folk Collaborative, which serves as an intermediary organization in order to connect the local producers and consumers. Different CSA farmers and other local producers offering ‘a la carte’, deliver each Tuesday after which the Farm to Folk people take care of assembly and payment handling.
Now I know my way around, I picked up their share at the church this week. It is a share of the Small Potatoes Farm, based in Minburn, southwest of Ames. I had onions, kohlrabi, carrots, squash, potatoes and kale. All the certified organic produce of the Small Potatoes Farm finds its way to the customer through CSA shares. The nature of the CSA model, based on a direct and trusting link between producer and consumer is the closest you can get to an unambiguous ‘honest’ product. It is both organic ánd local. But in the market place both ‘organic’ and ‘local’ can obscure different meanings and practices.
Organic can be produced in an industrial way within the limits of the label. Much of the organic produce in supermarkets is coming from industrial-size farms or companies with farms, which often have an organic line next to conventional production; organic is just another market. The local, at the other hand, has no regulation as to what sustainability standards should be applied. Local produce can come from small scale, but conventional farms, can include the use of pesticides and herbicides for example.
Since organic production has become an industry too, the ‘local’ is often elevated above the organic because the local – by its very nature – cannot be incorporated easily into the centrifuging forces of global commerce. Buying local is an act of opposing corporate food chain powers by going back to a less asymmetrical peer-to-peer relationship between buyer and seller.
A popular platform for these relationships is the farmers market. There are 18 farmers markets in Greater Des Moines (the city and the surrounding counties including Story County in which Ames is located). Saturday, together with Rick, Stacy and Tillie from the Small Potatoes Farm, their worker Brian and his friend, we visited the Des Moines farmers market, one of the biggest in the country. It is huge. Over 200 stands with a variety of products, from vegetables to ‘Dutch letters’ (??), a peculiar S-formed pastry letter, from clothes, to ‘Frisian Gouda’ cheese and from bread to garden equipment.
Vegetables are promoted as ‘fresh’, ‘without pesticides’ or ‘local’. But that does not necessarily apply to all vegetables at one particular stand. I bought some tomatoes, thinking that I bought local produce. I found out later that it will take a few weeks more before tomatoes can be harvested in Iowa. I have no idea where my tomatoes came from. Being a conscious consumer is hard work.