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I enjoy reading our local parenting magazine, but in every issue there are one or two articles that I am better served by not reading carefully, or simply skipping. I need some way to tie myself to the mast. But I was getting low on blog material for the day, and thought this would be a great place to stir up the juices. And boy did it.

One article in the April issue was called, “From the Farm to Your Table: The Benefits Community Supported Agriculture Farms Offer Families.” Of course there are benefits, but let’s examine some of the comments from the article.

A farm membership allows kids to see foods in their natural state, unpackaged and unprocessed, and to discover that some fruits and vegetables do not need anything extra to taste good.

I wished I could bring my camera into Wegmans and not have them toss me out of the store. As soon as I walk into the hugest supermarket I have ever been in, I am confronted with nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables. They are there in all their glory, unpackaged and unprocessed. Not only that, they show me fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world – what a fantastic educational experience for my kids and other families. Who knew what a blood orange looked like? Or a kiwi? Or those giant pumelos (enormous grapefruits) or literally hundreds of fruits and vegetables all laid out beautifully for us to see, including recipe cards, nutritional information and suggestions for safe keeping and storage. Further, Wegmans has a huge raw fruit and vegetable bar which makes fresh juices and vegetable medleys from all of these things, no sugar, no additives, nothing but the actual fruit and veggie. And they do all the work, including cleaning it. Wow! AND on top of that, I can go a few aisles over and see what other cool things can be done by processing these very things. Fresh figs in aisle one, fig newtons in aisle 8. No, Wegmans has not quite figured out how to sell me a pea pod right on the vine growing out of the ground, so I guess the local place has that going for it.

On top of that, washing dirt off bunches of carrots and radishes and heads of lettuce as you make a dinner salad feels (Wintercow emphasis) much healthier than opening a plastic bag of “triple washed” lettuce.

Who really cares if it is ACTUALLY healthier, if it feels like it then that is fine. You know there was a confectioner in NYC during the 19th century TB outbreak who did not believe she was the source of the contagion. It just did not “feel” like it to her. And I had a steady job through this great recession, it just did not “feel” like there was a great recession. I actually cannot get myself to comment any more on this.

A CSA can open you up to trying some new foods that you might not look twice at in a supermarket, like endame … before we joined our CSA we subsisted mostly on corn, peas and carrots …. however with all of the new vegetables we get from the distribution shed our horizons have expanded considerably! Most of us now happily eat things like broccoli rape, kale and squash.

So let me get this straight. People prefer to have food put in front of them and have that be the way they “sample” rather than having options from hundreds of fruits and vegetables? That’s cool, but then I am not surprised to see all kinds of people loving the idea of government telling them what’s good for them, even to the point of banning the use of flat sheets when making hotel beds. But generally, I just don’t see how you “don’t look twice” at all kinds of things when you enter  a supermarket. Maybe you don’t look twice at endame, but you sure as heck have a better chance (at a better price) of sampling something different from Wegmans. In fact, one reason I go to my Wegmans is to see what weird stuff they are deciding to put in front of me each week.

But here is a bigger point. Aren’t “corporations” excoriated for trying to influence us? Aren’t food companies regularly crushed in the public for trying to get us to eat what THEY want us to eat? That’s cool, but I don’t then see how when a local farmer does the very same thing … it is … virtuous? Something ain’t right.

Heirlooms (tomatoes) don’t look or taste anything like grocery store tomatoes which are usually perfectly round and the same shade of red.

They’re killing me! The very first place I ever saw an heirloom tomato was in a grocery store. And by the way, those really round tomatoes are really nice for putting on sandwiches and hamburgers, especially if you are a neat freak. And cutting them seems to be a bit easier too. I just love how if something comes from a big farm and a big store, then it just has to be worse. Now I grant that my home grown tomatoes are much better than anything I get at the store.

Kids will come to understand hat food doesn’t just arrive magically on store shelves; it’s actually the result of a lot of hard work.

If this is a lesson that CSA teaches, and does it well, I would be in favor of taking my income from me to support more people joining CSA’s. Seriously! Isn’t this what we, as economists, try to persuade people about our entire economic system. It is what Leonard Read called the “Miracle of the Market” … but I doubt that our dear authors would consider it a miracle when it occurs outside the farm. And that’s too bad.

CSAs involve a level of trust on both sides … because shareholders invest their money in the winter, prior to the growing season, and farmers then make a commitment to provide their customers with produce, even if something goes wrong on the farm.

Isn’t this what is so great about futures markets and insurance markets? But beyond that, the reason that supermarkets and the division of labor in general are awesome is that they function like a giant risk reducer, certainly for consumers, but even for producers. For consumers, if there is a frost in Florida, then we are still able to get oranges from elsewhere. Same for producers. If for some reason its local consumers have a change in tastes, it still has the ability to sell its produce all over the world. And this process in fact requires no less trust than the process described up above. ALL transactions require a good deal of trust. Now, what I think our author is talking about is something other than trust. It’s not trust that we need when we give money to a CSA and hope that a tornado does not ravage the food we are hoping to get. We need luck. We only need trust when the food actually IS there and not ravaged, and have to hope that the farmer makes good on his contractual commitment.

Belonging to a CSA shows kids that farming is a viable career option … the average age of the farmer is 56…”

I never saw an economist in my life yet here I am. I am sure many students who become web designers or drug researchers never saw those folks in their lives either, one might reasonably ask what incentivizes us to choose these professions. Sure, seeing farmers every once in a while does remind us that we need farmers (perhaps). But my kids see janitors every day and they see our garbage men every day and they do not tell me how much they dearly want to do those jobs. Why not?

Here is a great one … when you are part of a CSA …

it’s exciting to go to the distribution site and fill your bag with “free” fruits and vegetables. But beware, because once you’ve taken them home, you’ll actually need to do something with them, either eating them right away or preserving them to eat later.

For some reason, chowing down endame for 9 days in a row does not sound like my idea of a benefit. Indeed, how uniquely fresh and delicious is it after 9 days is out? It is hilarious to hear how wonderfully tasty local food is, and it IS (I can attest to it), but really only a day or two after you eat it. How is local food so much better after it has been canned (using those nasty preservatives perhaps) or frozen for months? I think that bland endame from Wegmans, but flown in fresh, is probably better than the 9 day old endame that I HAVE to eat because I have so much of it.

There’s much more in that article. Yes, I understand that these things are voluntary. Yes, I understand that sometimes the food is tastier (perhaps cheaper, perhaps more expensive). But the awesome-ness of CSA does not have to involve a slamming of what the supermarket does, or defending it based on imaginary benefits that are not really part of it. I really do sympathize with small farms, I like them, I patronize them, I like living near them. But it is not “supermarkets” versus small farms. These guys are good for each other. I’m tired of the silly pitting of one versus the other.

4 Responses to “I Wonder if Some Folks Have Ever Been to a Supermarket”

  1. Greg says:

    I used to pick sweet corn for a road side stand in Avon. My boss was probably around 56. How’d I end up here?

  2. Speedmaster says:

    A few weeks ago my 4th grade daughter had a field trip to Wegman’s, I tagged along. When we were in the bakery dept. the tour guide spent 20+ minutes extolling the health benefits of whole grain. He called it “nature’s prune.” Think about that for a minute.

  3. Harry says:

    Ha ha.

  4. Michael says:

    I was part of a CSA once for the cheaper prices on fresh veggies (and I was renting, so no garden option). It also does make sure you have plenty of vegetables in your diet (since I’m the type who’d rather eat stuff than let it spoil). However, some veggies were expired before receipt. That summer, I also began to miss broccoli, one of my favorite veggies, since they didn’t grow any and I had too many other veggies around the house. So probably won’t do it again, especially since I have a garden option now.

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