A man named Carlo Petrini, in his attempt to create an easily understandable explanation of the role consumers share in shaping agriculture and food, created the term ‘co-producer’ to reference everyone who eats but does not farm. His analogy does a good job driving the point home: even if you haven’t ever set foot on a farm, and never intend to do so in the future, your food buying decisions so influence the growing methods that you’re like a partner in the production practice.
Isn’t that empowering? In this age of doom, gloom, and trillion dollar problems, it’s easy to feel like we’re all riding the roller coaster to Noplace Good and there isn’t a thing that can be done. Yet, according to Petrini, the routine act of purchasing essentials for living puts you in control of every acre used to grow your food.
Naturally, the closer you are to the source of your food, the more accountable the farmer needs to be. Long-distance supply chains allow for vagaries to solidify into facts and corners to be cut, but a farm welcoming customers onto the grounds needs to practice what they preach. I think you’ll find that most agrarian entrepreneurs devoted to close customer relations would do a good job regardless of buyer proximity, but you get the point: if you’re shopping directly from the farm, authenticity is paramount for the farmer.
So, what do we have at the end of this mini thinking session? 1) Empowered customers who are in the copilot’s seat navigating food production with inspired and driven farmers possessing a passion for continually doing the best that they can. 2) The need for those farmers to be in the locality of customers to shorten supply chains and build trust between land steward and consumer. Combine these two and we see a community taking an active and interested role in revitalizing the farms surrounding town, which will in turn take an active and interested role in revitalizing the town acting as a hub of local commerce. That’s a powerful reality, and it takes place as a result of simple decisions instead of politicking, legislating, bickering, and good old fashioned inertia.
Returning enterprises to what Joel Salatin refers to as ‘human friendly scale’ enables us to plant a business back into a community. Human friendly sized businesses produce something for the village without offending citizens with size, stink, traffic, or any other offenses associated with industrial scale. They also sidestep monopoly: the whole point of being good at being small is to avoid growing so large the personal touch is broken, so, when a deliberately small business reaches capacity before demand is met, there is room for another similar enterprise to rise up and fill demand. Opportunity for all, and it doesn’t require government oversight.
Anyone who has ever plunked a pebble into the center of a puddle has watched the ripples travel outwards from the splash, encounter the perimeter, and reverse course to collide again in the middle of the pool. That’s how a rural economy should function: a prosperous town sends money to the immediate surrounding farmland, and, when the outer limits of its impact are reached, the funding returns to the center of town in the form of life-giving food to fuel human scale industry that generates wealth that pulses back out into the farmland. That’s sustaining. That’s intimate. In fact, such a reality can and will have a greater impact on your surrounding environment than the biggest check you can write to the biggest environmental organization you can think of. If every town followed suit, the whole world would change.
I think that’s where we’re headed in 2019. It’s difficult to say why, but there is a feeling in my gut that this is the pinnacle year Clarion shifts heavily in a revitalizing direction. Many will say it’s fantasy and return to the daily grind, but, from my perspective, we’ve primed the powder kegs to set off a major, long lasting change.
New York City dropped a ball on New Year’s Eve.
Clarion lit a fuse.