We've consistently maintained that the best way to understand where your food comes from and to know what it is you are eating is to get to know your local farmers. Making that connection isn't difficult — head to your local market and say hi, ask questions, develop relationships — but it does require a little personal investment of time and interest. In our “there's an app for that” world, expediency often wins out over meaningful humantistic connections. So the California Agricultural Communications Coalition has come to your rescue with knowacaliforniafarmer.com, a website that allows you to forgoe the gooey mess of developing relationships and ostensibly get a better understanding of California farmers via a slew of catalogued video interviews.
It's a great idea, one we've been wanting for some time — more on this in a minute — to help us better put faces to fields. But it doesn't take much to sense the marketing machine churning in the background.
The catalog of videos — 179 total so far — focuses primarily on large corporate operations, most of them multigenerational family farms. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But are these folks really feeding us, or the world at large? We would have liked to see some of that video production money go to smaller outfits, especially those working with low marketing budgets, running organic, biodynamic and permaculture operations and directly connecting to consumers at local markets or through CSAs.
Southern representation, defined as anything below Bakersfield, also is disappointingly weak and we have yet to find a familiar face or name in the bunch. But we'll cut the CACC a little slack. There's a lot of literal ground to cover — we are a gigantic state — and they only began the cataloguing process in earnest earlier this year. If you're a local farmer looking for a little play, there is a handy registration form to fill out.
Small farm and local farmers market vendor absence aside, there's a note of defensiveness in some of the videos, which may highlight the real reason for the existence of Know a California Farmer. It's akin to the giant corporate juggernauts like McDonald's and Lay's parading pastoral, high-production-value commercials about the “local” farmers who provide their beef and spuds. Let's be clear, big isn't necessarily bad, unless you're beholden to millions of gallons of pesticides, giant monoculture devoid of riparian oases or rank and overcrowded livestock housing to make your profits. Assuming, of course, those things are important to you. The CACC is making the assumption that they're not or, if they are, trying to convince you that conventional farming — referred to as “traditional” in some of the videos — ain't all that bad.
That said, we all have to eat, and the CACC seems to be pleading with the public to quit knocking the state's larger agricultural operators for not being more sustainable. And most are ready to listen, but the CACC probably shouldn't be surprised when an increasingly agriculturally and environmentally savvy consumer base sees the forest for the trees, and demands a little more green from its greens, both at home and around the world. In the meantime, we're starting our own Know Your Farmer series here at Squid Ink. Look for it in the coming weeks, and if you know someone you'd like us to highlight, just give us a heads-up in the comments.
Felicia Friesema is a Master Food Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension and Co-Leader of Slow Food USA's Los Angeles chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaFriesema.