No, this isn’t another cap-and-trade post. I’m talking about the yummy kind of markets.
As we grapple with ways to reform food production in this country, one problem that crops up is the loss over time of the old farm-to-market networks that fed cities before air freight and transcontinental trucking took over. So even if we wanted to (or, more ominously, were forced to) re-regionalize our food distribution system, the infrastructure no longer exists.
This desire, by the way, is not motivated simply by a need to reduce food miles — a misleading measure for sure. I and others have talked at length about the misplaced focus on food miles as a way to guide food distribution. Rail, for example, is an especially good way to move food long distances — especially compared to the option of driving huge fleets of diesel trucks even relatively short distances (which is why rail freight stimulus is such a great idea. Right, Ryan?).
But as we explore ways to reform industrial agriculture and its reliance on fossil fuels in food production, more, smaller farms inevitably come up as an alternative — and for that sort of system to work, they would need to be proximate to population centers. Speaking of the food miles argument, it’s likely that, using our existing infrastructure, exclusively procuring produce from farms within, say, 75 miles of urban centers would cause the transportation component of agricultural carbon emissions to go way up. So, there’s a lot to do before anything like this could happen.
And thus we come to the point — a means to counteract my recent gloom-and-doom posts. Ready?
A produce distributor that supplies weekend-only farmers markets in Miami has begun opening its warehouse to the public several days a week. Okay, I admit it’s not exactly a game-changer, but it does point to a few small positive developments.
First, it hints at the potential of old-style, large-scale "greenmarkets" as an alternative to standard supermarket distribution. Second, it’s good for the farmers since it eliminates some of the middlemen and allows them to demand a greater share of the retail price. And third, in this case it actually does represent a re-regionalizing of agricultural output, if only on a small-scale.
The distributor I’m talking about is supplied by a single large organic farm, which typically sends the bulk of its produce up to the Northeast. The farm made the decision to divert some of its output to the local market thus saving on transportation costs, of course, while reconnecting more solidly with its nearest urban center.
True, it’s a long way from this to locally-sourcing a majority of a city’s produce. And even in the best-case scenario this sort of thing will be a seasonal phenomenon for most of the U.S. (although parts of the U.S. are guaranteed longer growing seasons, thanks to you-know-what. For example, my home state of Penn. will soon be the new Va.). Still, it gives us a place to start.