An Acts Matter Essay by Matthew Domingo
Matthew Domingo of Farm to Fork Events, an Ashland-based company that produces farm dinners and tours, was interviewed by Geoffrey Riley on JPR's Jefferson Exchange recently, and when Domingo told listeners that the cost of a five-course, wine-paired, sit-down dinner and farm tour was $75, a Facebook discussion was launched in which people expressed their views on the cost of buying locally produced food.
One person posted that "Local food is for the rich elite only." Here are paraphrased responses from dozens of people:
• Farm dinners are special experiences such as going to the theater or concert, and not intended as everyday expenses. People could trade their services to attend a farm dinner.
• The cost to produce a farm dinner is high because of the time, effort and money required to source and prepare local food, rent equipment and pay servers and suppliers. Also, donations are made to local organizations that promote farm education and local food use (see list at www.farmtoforkevents.com).
• Small-scale production and organic ingredients are more expensive to produce than commercially grown food.
• Individuals can support local farmers by buying locally grown food at markets or directly from farmers or by joining a CSA.
• Other ways of raising awareness about the local food movement include hosting free gardening workshops in someone's backyard, speaking to students or organizing meals in which locally grown and prepared dishes are passed among friends.
• Farms and organizations offer free educational farm tours and Ashland-based Thrive (541-488-7272; www.buylocalrogue.org) hosts events such as barn dances with $5 lunches and a $20 farm tour and lunch.
• Food made from locally grown ingredients is available at casual dining spots, some food trucks and food carts.
An Acts Matter Essay By Matthew Domingo
As a chef, family farms' advocate and food and wine event organizer, I frequently hear a question that both frustrates and motivates me: "Is local food elitist?"
In my experience, there are a multitude of ways to consider and respond to this question. There's the argument that if you eat with the seasons and take advantages of times of surplus, the prices of local produce and conventional produce are not that different. As a chef, I've found this to be mostly true.
There's also the argument that points to misguided governmental food subsidies (built into the Farm Bill) as the cause of the price discrepancies between locally grown goods and the cheaper processed goods that are ubiquitous in the American supermarket. In my opinion, this is a huge underlying issue that has yet to be properly addressed by Congress.
One can go on and on, talking about things like lack of infrastructure and distribution options for locally grown products or the "local-food multiplier," which shows that dollars spent on local businesses circulate in the community and benefit more businesses and employees.
But despite all of these compelling arguments, for me, the answer to the elitist question is very simple, and it all comes back to the idea of community. I challenge anyone who believes that local food is elitist to meet farmers in our community. Visit their farm and see their operation. Ask them about their methods and their motivations. Ask them about their families and their own day-to-day concerns. Ask them about their profit margins.
Then compare all of that to your own circumstances and ask yourself the question, "Is this local farmer any different than I am?"
I believe that anyone who engages honestly in this exercise will realize that local food and local farmers are the antithesis of elitist. These people are engaging in a noble and revolutionary endeavor. They are working in concert with the land and the elements, feeding people good, clean food, and creating a sustainable future for our local communities. They are heroes in my book.
Matthew Domingo is the founder and director of Farm to Fork Event Co., an organization that creates unique food and wine events intended to engage Oregon's communities in the local food movement. He lives in Ashland with his wife and partner, Erin Daugherty.
Acts Matter is a series of essays written by community members about issues in Ashland.
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