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The Best Candidate Every Day of the Year: Your Local Farmer

by Nik Novak | WFU Member

I have been told nearly all of my life that I shouldn't talk politics. It's ugly business, this political talk.  It's impolite, distasteful, argumentative, divisive.  Politics makes people uncomfortable. Especially here in the Upper Midwest.  But I have never been one for following other people's rules. And I find it more than a little disconcerting that we would leave political discourse to those we find most distasteful—the politicians. After all, theyrepresent us. So why should we, the citizens, shirk our individual and collective responsibilities and not stand up for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors?

Politics, as I was told by my civics teacher (Mr. Jeff Fisher) 25 years ago, is merely the art of getting stuff done. And like anything in life, we get out of it whatever we put in. Look around you. At home.  At your job. In your community. Our doing bears results.

Politics isn't just reserved for elections.  It certainly doesn't only occur on a Tuesday in November every four years. Or on a “shit-show” of a Tuesday in April. In fact, I would argue that less gets done on those select election days than nearly any other. When it comes to party politics, global trade deals, and never-ending wars, we have almost no say at all. We hold our nose and dutifully vote, because we are supposed to.

Conversely, and with little attention or fanfare, we vote in other ways, repeatedly, throughout the year. This voting that we do on a daily basis is far more consequential, and far more satisfying, if we stop to think about it.

Every day we make the decision to eat.  What to eat. When to eat.  How to eat.  And whether to eat alone or with other people.

When we make these decisions, we are exercising our rights—as individuals, as citizens who reside in interconnected communities.

Every time we take a bite, we are changing how a place looks and feels; we are deciding who gets paid; we are selecting which businesses succeed and which ones fail.

Politically speaking, that's a lot of power.  Maybe then it matters to you, when you learn that, of every retail dollar spent on food today, the farmer gets, on average, 14.6 cents.  Back in the 1980s, the farmer got 37 cents on the dollar.  Within my lifetime, the average farmer's income has been cut by more than 60 percent, while costs (and debt) have increased almost as dramatically. Here in Wisconsin, we’ve lost more than 2,000dairy herds in the last three years. Our state leads the nation in farm bankruptcies.

I don't like these numbers. You don't either.  And not being able to talk about them, for fear of being considered political, pisses me off even more.

But rather than throwing up my hands, because I am powerless on a global stage or in a voting booth, I choose to act locally. I choose to hunt, fish, gather, and grow my own. Because I like to. Because local food tastes better. I also choose to buy from local family farmers, because family farmers are my neighbors and my friends — fellow citizens who work like hell every day, all day long, to care for animals, build soil, protect water, restore habitat, increase flavor, preserve genetic diversity, improve nutrition, and teach others about a dying way of life.

When we purchase food from people we know, when we grow it and cook it ourselves—we are voting with our dollars to keep that money here — in our community.  That's the “Triple Bottom Line”: profit for the Land, profit for the People, profit for the Community.

In a Triple Bottom Line economy, the shareholders are us.  Those of us who live and eat well within familiar places, surrounded not by strangers, but by neighbors who take care of the earth and one another.

So go ahead.  Be political.  Eat local food.

Nik Novak is a writer, a teacher, a stonemason, a farmhand, a storekeeper, and—most infamously—the Meat Guy at Just Local Food Co-op. He is a member of Wisconsin Farmers Union and lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. 

For further reading, see Tim Wu's book The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Guilded Ageand Austin Frerick's article “To Revive Rural America, We Must Fix Our Broken Food System”:

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