Tough times ahead. Get to know your food.

It’s going to take some time to build relationships and develop skills. A seed takes longer to germinate than ordering take-out.

It’s time for some straight talk. At the risk of being inflammatory, I’m going to tell you what I see is going on in farming and food and encourage you, right now, today, to take a step closer to the source of your food. I am not talking about panic-buying food. I’m talking about getting to know your food a lot more intimately, and there’s no better time to start than today.

Grandma survived the Great Depression because her supply chain was local and she knew how to do stuff. True story. Another true story is that during WWII, 20,000 people in Holland died of starvation, mostly in cities. The ones who lived had a connection to a farm in the country. That’s another way of saying that they knew their food relationally. I know this story of the Dutch starving intimately because Hue’s parents were in Holland while the Nazis blockaded the cities from getting food and fuel from the countryside.

Hue talking to some of the 104 pigs we rescued this summer from a confinement house before euthanasia. For a video of them dancing on grass for the first time, click here.

Hue is pictured here with the pigs we rescued this summer from grotesque euthanasia in the pork factories when the supply chain broke down and there were no processing plants for millions of U.S. farm animals to go, so they were killed in place in their fecal concentration camps by untold suffering (suffocation, extreme heat, gas, etc.; the previous link is to some incredibly well-done independent journalism).

Back to “normal” means back to basics

This is real stuff, folks. While we all attempt to “go back to normal,” all the signs are pointing wildly and clearly to one truth: Our stability and health are tied much more radically to our source of food than the veil of our instant-gratification culture has allowed us to see.

I am not telling you this today to sell a bunch of food. I’m telling you this today because I see what’s coming and I want to help you before you are in crisis. The time to get acquainted with where your direct sources of food are is this week. Do you know someone who grows something? What are you going to learn to grow? Time to start.

The time to start isn’t today because tomorrow is necessarily uncertain (although in a larger sense, it always is). The time to start is today because getting close to your food takes longer than ordering a movie on Netflix. You are going to have to make friends, learn new skills, build relationships in your community. That takes time. Start today.

All the signs I’m seeing with input costs means there are some really tough times ahead. I know that there are people in suits who spend lots of time with their fingers to the wind in economic models to tell you what I’m about to say in much more technical terms, but consider this the boots-on-the-ground version.

Input costs are going up radically. Time to radically simplify your food supply chain.

I just got off the phone with our fencing supplier. I’ve been trying to nail down our budget for this year to build and repair fences, and the gates are big bucks and we need a lot of them, so that number needs to get planned for in our FY2021 budget (for those who think that all farmers do is run tractors and work with cattle, well, that’s a column for another day…).

Our fence supplier is also a feed dealer, and he told me that in his 38 years in this business, he’s never seen input prices go up as fast for as many weeks in a row as what we are seeing now. He said last week his grain prices per ton increased by $60. That’s more than he makes selling per selling a ton of feed. He said his commodity clients understand, but the folks who come in and buy feed by the bag are hurting when he tells them that their horse feed just went up $2/bag, and don’t understand that he’s not pocking that money.

Markets are whacky — your food stability and health sovereignty is in your reach

The reason, of course, is international commodity markets are going nuts. China is buying massive amounts (in some cases double over last month) of grain due to weather-related crop failures.

Yesterday we got an email from a local meat packing plant that prices are going up. They’ve tried to hold the line as long as they can, but in one year’s time the daily cost of gloves for one employee has gone up from $0.68 to $2.08. Knives that used to cost $12 each now are $16.

Every single input cost, in every industry that I’m aware of, is going up, if people can get it at all. Supply chains are massively destabilized and volatile. And that takes awhile to show up on the grocery store shelves, but it’s coming. Price increases can be absorbed for a while but not indefinitely.

For Thanksgiving 2006, I bought this 30.5# turkey at the farmer’s market in New Orleans after asking the farmer what was his hardest-to-move bird. Getting close to farms can mean something as simple as buying what that farmer needs to move and developing relationship.

Do you have a skill that someone growing food needs? Can you build? Do web design?

So I’m going to ask you again: Where is your food source? What are your resources to grow something? Can you partner with someone who is growing something to help him or her with skills you have and develop a relationship that will keep you closer to the source of your food?

What are you going to do, today, to take a step closer to what’s on your plate and how it got there? When are you going to start participating in what nourishes you?

My first garden in 2007. It was perfectly kept until I had a baby and got a cow in the same year… Then the tomatoes didn’t always get watered. The rest, as they say, is history.

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2 COMMENTS
  • Scott Lawson
    Reply

    Suzanne- your words disturb my complacency, and I’m grateful to you for it. Short-term market instability is likely a precursor of longer term unsustainability. We have to do so many things differently. I will ruminate on some of your ideas this week.

  • Suzanne Nelson Karreman
    Reply

    Scott, thank you so much for your brave words. Just thinking on these things is a real start. Because you can’t really contemplate them without starting to make subtle changes in how you relate to the world. We are here when you need us, and we need folks like you to keep doing what we are doing.

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