Farming has suffered terrible image problems for decades, beginning with the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression years, and then growing awareness of the plight of migrant farm workers beginning in the 1960s. A vanishingly small fraction of 1% of US children have aspirations of being farm workers when they grow up. But without more farm workers, the bio-intensive agriculture that is necessary for Agrarian Urbanism is unlikely to happen. For this to take place, agricultural work has to not only have an extreme image makeover so that it is considered a really cool thing to do, but it must also be made economically viable for US citizens.
The New Paradigm
Fortunately, there is a new economic model for agriculture that is viable. This is Goodfellow Farms on New Providence in the Bahamas. It is a 5-acre farm with 5 farm workers, and they sell an amazing amount of produce. Its founder, Ian Goodfellow, says there are three essentials: It must be bio-intensive, which is 20-50 times as acre-efficient as row-cropping. It must raise higher-value produce, such as organic fruits and vegetables. And it absolutely must sell to a local market, because getting sucked into the global industrial food chain means certain economic death at living wages or better because the industrial food chain must allow WalMart to sell at everyday low prices. Local markets also reduce the transport cost to a small fraction of today’s ingredients that usually need a passport to get to your plate. Local food that doesn’t need to spend three weeks in the back of a truck also doesn’t need to be genetically engineered for toughness and picked green. Instead, it can be heirloom local varieties that are far more delicious and nutritious.
Once the economic problem has been resolved, the next question is the “cool factor.” Anything that includes the words “farm worker” is a toxic term. The other end of the farm-to-table path, however, has a very good vibe today. Any term with the words “culinary” or “chef” has a chance of becoming the subject of a new reality show. Simply put, culinary is cool. Agriculture (in particular, bio-intensive agriculture) must be re-branded as part of the culinary process, not part of the desperately impoverished heritage of farm workers.
The Culinary Origin
This bio-intensive farm serves Chef Thomas Keller's world-famous French Laundry restaurant, which is just across the street. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley got local food right in 1971; Thomas Keller made it explicit at French Laudry with the garden in full view of those arriving at the restaurant. Farm-to-table obviously originates at the farm. And a nourishable place is one where you can look out onto the fields and the waters from which much of your food comes. Growing food is part of the culinary process and must be re-branded as such.
The term “craft” has great resonance today, from craft beers to craft foods of many tastes. “Craft agriculture” is certainly a candidate term for what to call food lovingly and locally prepared in small batches, such as they do at this craft farm in Normandy.
For those not living in farm villages, there should be shops in towns and cities selling regional delicacies. Actually, this already happens in many parts of the world, such as this shop in Honfleur, in France's Normandy region.
If you’re cooking, then craft farms and regional food shops are where you can shop. But if you want someone else to fix the meal, then look for farm-to-table restaurants that use ingredients from farms in the region. Once rare, they’re popping up all over now. Menus will change through the year according to what’s available, but that’s more interesting than dishes made from the same old genetically engineered stuff from thousands of miles away all through the year, isn’t it?