Friday, January 27, 2012

Food Supply, Real "Farms", and Realities

I was talking to my kids (in the car, where we do our best talking - all facing the same direction somehow facilitates conversations), explaining to my son that he needed to find a ride to his wrestling tournament.  I told him that I would normally be his transport, and not miss it for the world (we'll go later that morning), but that some folks were coming to get a quick tour of the "farm".

I heard the disparaging tone in the repeated word, "Farm..."  (I was spared the eye-roll because, as I said, we were in the car, all facing forward .  Thank goodness.  Eye-rolls drive me bananas.)

My reply was, "To people who live in cities, having chickens and sheep is a farm.  Even if we know better." 

It made me think that even though we've been on these 7.5 acres for nearly 16 years now, usually with some kind of livestock - horses, chickens - it was the sheep that made it feel like a "farm".  I remember as my husband was videoing our first lambs, he said, "Now, it feels like a real farm." 

I suppose real farmers or ranchers would get a good laugh at us.  We both grew up in the suburbs, really;  I, at least, was exposed to horses through riding lessons, earning lessons through stall cleaning and feeding.  But, we are certainly nowhere near where I would like to be with producing our own food.  Some weeks, we do better than others.

85% of the food eaten on the Big Island is imported.  This is the biggest island and fairly sparsely populated when taken as a whole.  There is a lot of land available for food production - even large cattle ranges.  It seems both shameful and scary to me that such a large percentage of our food is imported. 

I had a Big Island rancher sit down with me at a family dinner and explain the economics of beef production in Hawaii.  It is cheaper to ship off the yearlings to the mainland to be finished in feed lots on the cheaper grain there then it is to raise a steer to market weight purely on grass.  Grain doesn't grow well here, so if you wish to put on the rapid weight gain grain gives - you would either need to import the grain at high fuel cost or ship the cow to eat cheaper grain.  It takes twice as long to finish a steer on grass alone. 

There is a relatively vocal and growing push for "eating local".  This has undertones it may not have for people outside of Hawaii, but taken at face value - eating food that is produced in the Islands, including grass fed beef is becoming somewhat popular.  It is also somewhat elite, unless you grow your own, because locally produced vegetables and meats are often sold at a premium in natural food stores.  The Big Island is fortunate to have many, many farmer's markets - although I have heard rumors that not all that lovely produce is actually grown locally, that some of it is shipped in by wholesalers from Asia.

Beyond all the fad-like rhetoric, the political overtones, what have you, the fact is that for my family, eating local is a matter of economy.  I honor all my other commitments, like paying my mortgage, buying gas so I can get to work, feeding my animals, keeping the lights on, etc., first; the food budget is what's left over. 

That means when someone asks me what I am doing this weekend and I say, "Probably gardening and baking," what she hears and what I mean aren't probably the same thing. 


Leigh said...

Interesting post Nancy. I can understand how your costs would be so much higher. Still, economics plays a part elsewhere as well. Locally grown food is becoming more expensive I reckon because of the fad value. As with most good and useful things, it always ends up that only the wealthy can afford the very things we all ought to be doing.

Chai Chai said...

The last paragraph in this post is wonderful!

NancyDe said...

Thanks Chai Chai.

Leigh, the word "local" in Hawaii has a connotation of ethnicity/skin color rather than simply meaning location. There is a whole history in that word.

However, to give you some idea of even the cost of cheap imported food - a gallon of milk is $5 here. 2lbs of cheese is $10. A 50 lb bag of layer pellets is $20+. A bale of hay (the small one) is near $30. A jar of peanut butter runs about $6. Fruit is usually $3/lb, although sometimes on sale you can get $2/lb. Bananas are usually cheaper, though. I don't even buy cereal anymore - it hit $9.50 for a bag awhile ago.

Fortunately, I can get a 50 lb bag of flour for just under $20, which means I can make bread and waffles and such for a lot less than the store - only white, though. Whole Wheat flour only comes in 10 lb sacks at $20.

Farmer's markets are still a bit cheaper than the store, but even they have to creep up to cover gas and the high taxes our state imposes on businesses.

Pomaika`i said...

Your FARM { a label of pride, in my book }demonstrates so many positive attributes, as you and your husband raise so much more than livestock, crops, and produce. Your children are receiving an outstanding upbringing and a world-class preparation for their futures! They will realize these truths many times over.
You have been at the leading edge of a trend that I hope becomes much more common. "Island-grown" or "local" ought to be a source of pride, to be encouraged whenever possible. It just makes sense on so many levels.
You have my permission to show this note to your kids, of course.

NancyDe said...

Barry, I would absolutely be proud of the title "Farm" but with my garden in shambles and nothing to show for myself but a few eggs, I don't feel I have earned it.

I am sure my kids will be happy the future....