A utilitarian quandary & the “eat local” movement
As a rural small business owner with a big vision to positively impact a future where sustainability is concerned, I think a lot about the measurement of sustainability and the way I interact with the marketplace at large. In order to see great change, I must reach out to a market that is far beyond local to my own. Will these changes have greater impacts that outweigh the negative effects of reaching beyond my locality? I sure hope so.
I have a spring, summer and fall cellar share at my local CSA (Swift River Farm) https://www.swiftriverfarm.org/csa. I try to buy seasonal vegetables and fruits, and local whenever possible. I always check for products locally before resorting to the online market, seeking to build up my local economy and businesses before forfeiting to the faceless, online abyss. When I finally do give in to the invisible internet market, I ask myself…do I truly NEED this? Usually the answer is no, not at all, but more commonly with my business the answer is yes.
I know all of the challenges associated with the concept of utilitarianism, which rates acts in their utility for effecting greater good positively. There are many problems with this concept that we don’t need to explore for the purposes of this blog entry, but the idea feels charmed from a far and overall is welcoming to the calculated type. I wonder if being a stalwart and never deviating from your values outweighs the long term good if it means your business doesn’t succeed? I know that I can make great change from a rural location where education is invaluable, economic growth is necessary yet tandemly frowned upon if unconventional. This is a truth for a demographic of folks averted to changes that influence their ability die in the same place they fell in love with decades previous.
My product is a gourmet seasoning. I am working on having local farmers grow many of the herbs and spices I need to build my line of products, but for now I source my herbs from Starwest Botanicals (west coast local), but hardly local to Idaho. This company is one I admire with shared values and good business practices both where humans and environment are concerned. Starwest is large enough to offer competitive prices for a startup like mine, rooted in rural territory. I source my crickets from Cowboy Cricket Farms https://www.cowboycrickets.com/ in Belgrade Montana, which it turns out is closer than Idaho’s first cricket farm EcoBalance in southern Idaho. Of course, I would love to work with both farms, as I strongly believe we need to bolster each other in order to make a common dream come true. Good business is shared business.
Eat local, amen. You are never as powerful as when you spend your dollar in your own town, and you are never as connected as when you feed your children food grown from the soil they play in. Why on earth have we devolved so far away from the local food systems that maintain the true balance that only nature can achieve? By now most people are aware that when your farmer down the street grows vegetables in an organic manner that maintains biodiversity and soil health, the food is more nutritious and delicious. When you pay that neighbor for their labors, they pay it back into the local food system, or at least the local economy which starts to thrive. The food doesn’t get in a truck, so no need for chemicals that preserve or keep pests out, and no need for the petrol that gets the truck (in my case) way out into the middle of everywhere. Local farmers make more money when you pay them directly, cutting out the middle man and decreasing the time food is subject to oxidative damage, other people touching and interacting with it etc. From a public health perspective, it is clear that people are usually the dirty disease spreaders…not food. There are many, measurable and otherwise positive effects of eating locally and participating in your local economy.
I am so lucky to live in a rural community where individuals are still operating (more or less) in a specialized world. We COULD sustain on the barter system. We somehow failed to be as shaped by urban technology, but concurrently use it as a resource. This is a culture of DIY-ers who can use the internet as a resource but not be owned by it’s addictive spells. This culture is one that shuns social media in exchange for a face to face interaction at the farmer’s market. If the greater world collapsed we may be the last to know, and simultaneously thrive as a result. I know the gal who makes it possible for her husband to raise a small number of very healthy cows that eat grass throughout their lifespan by (what a goddess) caring for three sons and a daughter. I am friends with our local CSA owners/farmers who are currently undergoing the strenuous process to obtain organic certification. I personally know the guy I would run to if my son cracked his head open. We are chock full of tradesmen, farmers, biologists, healers, and others who could contribute to the local tribe’s overall wellness.
And yet…people still turn to the ease and free shipping of Amazon Prime. Our local ranch supply store is challenged by the corporate monster Murdoch’s and you are pressed to find local beef in our market even though everywhere you look there are cows pooping. This community has the great opportunity to use other failures and successes as a template to map out a path to healthy, mindful growth. Despite discouraging setbacks where a school bond doesn’t pass, likely because of folks who move to rural Idaho because the taxes are so low aren’t invested in the future of the town…heck the world, it is all connected yes? I actually heard someone who asked about my product in Teton Valley say this “I won’t be around when we actually HAVE to eat crickets, so don’t waste your breath”. Her children stood beside her and listened.
Eating local is incredibly important, yet we are all connected despite our isolation. The turds from the cows raised here will inevitably wash into the Salmon river, which will run it’s course through the wilderness to it’s destination in the salty sea. When I vertically integrate my business, I will serve crickets to people in Boise, Missoula, New York City, Shanghai? We have a unique opportunity and imminent responsibility here in Salmon, Idaho, where folks complain that “There used to be jobs here, when the mine was still open. There used to be work here, when we could cut all of the timber down and the logging industry was booming here.” We are at the edge of the largest protected wilderness area in the lower forty-eight, curtesy of Idaho’s (last?) great senator Frank Church. I digress.
I think it is possible to be completely involved and supportive of local food movements and economies, while simultaneously working to evolve the way people think about food for more sustainable outcomes globally. I will continue to ship my product out of the Lemhi valley, hoping that whoever is measuring outcomes, sees mine as a positive one. However, I am not blind to the reality that sometimes to make impacts you have some unintended and undesirable outcomes along the way. I suppose this is where I shield my heart with utilitarian values and believe my intent is pure. We cannot become immobilized by the fear of doing wrong, we must move forward with a kind heart and embrace humility because we are imperfect. And when we mess up we own our failures to rise to the occasion and solve the problem, because we have many opportunities to participate in the movements that are important to us.