Eating local: Do farming cooperatives make sense?

October 4, 2012 § 4 Comments

Dave and I are working toward growing all of our food here on our little farm.  So far, we haven’t quite made our goal.  This season, with most of our tomato plants being destroyed by an unbelievable grub population, a drought that prevented our fruit trees from producing any fruit at all, some sort of weird blackberry blight (probably caused by the drought, but who knows?), and Dave inadvertently cutting down most of our herb plants, we’re not making much progress on self-sufficiency.

Not to mention that I want chickens and Dave doesn’t…he’s afraid of predators, and I really can’t blame him, seeing as how we have roving gangs of coyotes, plus ospreys and eagles that snatch up fowl (plus cats).  So, we aren’t even collecting our own eggs.  Except for the pastures that we rent out to the neighbor for cattle, our little farm isn’t terribly productive these days.

The only renewable resource that’s really going well for us with this season are wildflowers, and we can hardly eat those.

Although we’re planting more vegetables this fall (we have two growing seasons in our region), there’s no way we’re going to be able to get through the winter on our resources alone.  We need help.  I’ve considered joining a cooperative, which allows us to buy in to a local farm.  In return, we receive a share of the farm’s locally grown fruits and vegetables.  In theory, this sounds like a good idea…we give a farmer $45 a week, and the farmer gives us a bunch of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats.

Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?  These days, we’re easily spending that much money (or more) every week in the produce section of our local grocery store.  But, think further…the farmer isn’t exactly local.  He’s 2 hours north of us.  Once a week, he drives to a neighborhood coffee shop, where he delivers produce boxes (cardboard boxes purchased from an international box company), filled with produce that he grew on his farm, plus some meats that he raised and smoked, and some fruits that he imported from Mexico…wait a minute…Mexico?  So, it appears that it is not all exactly “local,” although, to be fair, Mexico is a 6-hour drive south of us, which is sort of local.

It would be nice to join the coop, but we wonder if the  transportation costs outweigh the benefits.  As an engineer, I consider the cost benefit of every decision we make in our household, and right now I am wondering if mostly local, all healthy outweighs what I am purchasing in the grocery store.

I love the idea of a crate of vegetables/fruit/meat every week, but dislike the idea of the packing crate being from Peru (or wherever it comes from), and my fruit being from Mexico.  While I wish Mexico great success, I also wish to support our community.  Meanwhile, I’m concerned about some truck driver, travelling 2 hours just to deliver a few crates to me and my neighbors.

Is it worth it?  What would you do, in my situation?  Would you buy the (mostly) locally grown food, or stick with the grocery store?  The prices for the farm food, via a cooperative, are really about the same, although I probably get a little more choice with the grocery store option.

Do you think a cooperative is worthwhile?  And if, so, how are you liking it?  I don’t care much about the selection, since Dave and I are pretty imaginative, and we can craft a decent meal from just about anything.  However, does choice matter much to you?  How much of a stickler are you with regard to using a menu?  are you willing to make substitutions?

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§ 4 Responses to Eating local: Do farming cooperatives make sense?

  • df says:

    This is a really interesting post Libby. I’m not sure what I’d do in your shoes. We have so many local farmers from whom we can source meat, eggs and some produce during the year that it’s hard to know what we’d do if they were farther flung. We’re now producing most of our own veggies in the prime growing months, but certainly not enough to supply us year round, and we’re only just getting going on eggs, so I’m still very conscious of needing external suppliers.

    I guess I might try giving your co-op (which we’d call a CSA) a try, and see how it goes, actively comparing it to what you can source locally from your grocery store(s). See what you think after a trial period and then go with both your gut and whatever other analytical factors you tend to consider. I’d be really interested to know what you end up doing as you continue evolving what you do on your farm.

    • Libby says:

      Those are good suggestions. Eventually, I’d like to try running a farm stand from our own farm. Someday we’ll grow enough to be able to support ourselves, and more people. For now, though, I’m thinking that I will sign us up for the coop for a 6-month trial. By the end, we should be able to at least grow enough to support ourselves.

  • I have these same struggles when I go to our local farmers market….It disturbs me to see apples with the same stickers on them that the grocery store uses. Sure, they were probably grown semi-locally in Eastern WA (4-6 hours away), but they were not grown HERE in MY community, and they were definitely not grown by the person selling them. That bothers me enough to not buy them …..

    • Libby says:

      Yes, that bothers me, too, especially when I see that the farmer’s market apples are priced much higher than the grocery store apples.

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