As the local food movement becomes more popular, many agricultural and economic experts are beginning to question whether small, local farmers and businesses will be able to hold up in a capitalist economic structure, and whether they should even be elevated from a small-scale movement at all.
The local food movement has been praised for its ability to forge connections between farm and table and to give consumers a better sense of where their food comes from. Additionally, consumers are beginning to realize that local produce tastes better and is more nutrient-dense than the produce that arrives at their supermarkets in the back of a truck. This heightened sense of connection, however, comes at a steep cost, causing tension between the farmers who would like to bring in maximum revenue for their efforts and consumers who are accustomed to buying the cheapest food possible.
Are the higher costs worth it? Joanne Neft, former agricultural marketing director for Placer County, argues that, while consumers may pay a higher price up front for their local produce, they may be saving much more in terms of future hospital bills associated with high obesity and diabetes rates, as well as from the consequences of environmental degradation.
Despite the health and environmental benefits to the local foods movement, however, critics have argued that the movement will never be able to make a universal difference unless it is adapted to work in the capitalist marketplace, which comes with its own set of issues.
Steven Dambeck, a farmer and co-founder of Apollo Olive Oil fears that integrating the local foods movement into the capitalist market structure will reward the local food producers, and they will then choose to compromise quality for a lower, more competitive price. This adaptation to the capitalist marketplace would, he claims, distort the movement’s values, as occurred with the organic farming movement.
In the coming years, agricultural experts, economists, and environmental advocates will have to work together to come up with a system that achieves a balance. The local movement must maintain the small-scale feel that is essential to its core values, while giving it a set market structure that will make local foods a more feasible global solution for health and environmental issues.