Prospering through a greater role in food
Increase in number of food products offers opportunities
Oregon rancher Connie Hatfield often visits urban grocery stores in her role as co-founder of the Country Natural Beef cooperative. When she tells customers that she is from a ranch family, they inevitably thank her for producing the naturally grown product. “And then, they tell me about their grandpa who used to have a ranch,” she says. “But there aren’t as many of those stories as there used to be.”
for almost all Americans, food is something you buy, not grow
In the last half century, as food production has become mechanized and centralized, the quantity of food produced by each farmer and rancher has increased dramatically, and the number of farmers and ranchers has declined precipitously. For almost all Americans, food is something you buy, not grow.
The success of our agricultural system has led to a dramatic decrease in the cost of food. Today, an average American spends about 10 percent of income on food, compared to 40 percent in the 1930s. The relatively low cost of food permits Americans to be more selective, and many choose to spend more than 10 percent.
This willingness to spend has encouraged new food products. Supermarkets just three decades ago carried 15,000 products; today, they carry more than 50,000. Many of these new products cost more because they are local, gourmet, ethnic, organic or sustainably farmed. Most come from rural areas.
This issue of Community Vitality is dedicated to sharing some success stories about how rural communities can prosper through a greater role in food systems.
Everyone has to eat. As we build and strengthen our rural communities, let’s make sure food is, both figuratively and literally, on the table.