By Clotilde Hryshko
The following is the CSA newsletter I gave out during pickups the week of 8/30/10.
Last year I finally found a blue flesh/blue skin potato that tasted great and was versatile in the kitchen. I celebrated Labor Day with the CSA by giving them to you that week. I continue the tradition again this year. These Purple Majesty potatoes are excellent for potato salad, mashed, roasted, fried or any other use on a (expected) cool Labor Day weekend. It’s also my not so subtle way of reminding you to honor the physical labor of others.
I received my Vermont Organic Farm and Food Guide yesterday. It lists all the certified organic producers/processors in the state of Vermont. It also contains some informational PR including a list of “reasons to choose local and organic”. The reasons given are as follows: environmental health, open space, the local economy, food safety, and climate (climate change). Notably lacking was any mention of labor issues/workers’ rights.
NOFA-VT (Vermont chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association) is our states certifying agency. With the organic federal program in place, NOFA-VT gets their certifying status through the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). This also means that state standards can not be stricter than USDA standards or federal law. Agricultural employees are exempted from many labor laws – 8 hour work day, overtime pay to name a few. This translates into the fact that organic farmers can not decide as a group that they want their certifying agency to adopt stricter labor standards for a farm to be certified organic.
I am not pretending to know whether or not VT organic farmers would be prepared to vote for stricter standards. While it would be nice to have that option, it would also be a way to help publicize the issue. While farmers getting retail price have a little more control over what they charge, the real “invisible hand” is the wholesale price. Everyone is competing against the cheapest land, inputs and labor pool (national and international) in fresh or frozen food. Don’t forget to factor in subsidies and currency values/devaluation. The race to the bottom is difficult to decipher.
I think this is illustrated by the bumper sticker evolution of 20 years in the farming/consumer world. It started with Eat Organic until people felt ‘organic’ was co-opted by the corporate organic food industry. We moved on to Buy Local trying to emphasize local farmer solidarity but then supermarket chains and Frito-Lay used them in marketing campaigns. To emphasize the importance of farmers Who’s Your Farmer tried to register with those who discussed who to use as doctors, lawyers, accountants etc. But just like celebrity chefs, this was just emphasizing who was trendy without knowing methods of production. Currently I am at Know Your Farmer. It makes it local and leaves the choice to you- you act on what you care about. Nobody is out there babysitting this issue to make it easy.
Enjoy your watermelon and prepare for winter squash, leeks and the other harbingers of autumn. For now, I will willingly continue to self-exploit. Best – Clotilde
(Photo Credit: Marya Merriam)