Jeff Koeze's Blog Good Food, Good Business, and the Good Food Business

27Nov/090

Infrastructure for Locavores

In an article on heritage turkeys appearing in the Thanksgiving New York Times there is a telling comment:

Mr. Reese ran into problems this year when the slaughterhouse he had used shut, forcing him to truck his turkeys to Illinois and Ohio for processing, increasing his "costs by about 10 percent.

“Our turkeys are very expensive, not because of the turkey but because of the processing and shipping,” he said. “The problem is the infrastructure to support truly honest-to-God sustainable agriculture is not there.”

You don't think about needing "infrastructure" for small scale agriculture, but you do.  Here's how I learned this:  Two years ago a buddy and I went in on ten turkeys when he came upon a deal for some heritage-breed birds to raise.  When it came time to butcher them, we went up to the feed mill (20 miles away) to inquire about getting them slaughtered.

We heard that there was an Amish guy who would do it for a few dollars a bird.  Great, because he was our only option other than doing it ourselves.  The Amish don't have phones, so we had to drive another 25 miles further up the road to talk to him about it and set an appointment.  Then drive home.  Then drive the turkeys up there, then drive home.  Then drive up there to pick up the turkeys the next day.  Then drive home.

The next year we dialed back to 5 turkeys and did the butchering ourselves with the help of a neighbor.  This is far from easy.  (10 would have been a bit of nightmare.  More out of the question.)

This year, no turkeys.

By this story I mean to illustrate that local food requires an infrastructure of suppliers and services to really be practical.  This little story just covers slaughtering.  Depending on what you are doing -- and at what scale -- there can be issues with feed, seed, farm equipment, supplies, veterinary care, distribution -- the list is long.

As large scale agriculture has come to dominate, the infrastructure that makes small scale food production practical in many communities has evaporated.

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