At Tampa Bay farm-to-table restaurants, you’re being fed fiction
April 13, 2016 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Farm to Fable Part 1: The restaurant's chalkboard makes claims as you enter from the valet parking lot. At the hostess stand, a cheery board reads, “Welcome to local, farm-fresh Boca.” Brown butcher paper tops tables and lettuces grow along a wooden wall. In a small market case, I see canned goods from here and produce from somewhere. Check the small print: blackberries from Mexico and blueberries from California. With the tagline “Local, simple and honest,” Boca Kitchen Bar Market was among the first wave of farm-to-table restaurants in Tampa Bay to make the assertion “we use local products whenever possible.” I’ve reviewed the food. My own words are right there on their website: “local, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious.” But I’ve been had, from the snapper down to the beef.

Farm to Fable Part 2: Tampa Bay farmers markets are lacking in just one thing: Local farmers
On this windy day, the vendors’ tents stretch down Madeira Way, some skittering east as if spooked. Gary Parke is a fixture here, his white awning peaked like a circus big top. Local Fresh Picked Produce, his sign reads. Pesticide Free. He’s heavy on strawberries this time of year, but on this day in February at the Mid-Week Madeira Beach Open Air Market, he also has bins of peppers, squashes and grape tomatoes. Tucked into the produce is a Sharpie-lettered scrap of paper: Yes! I’m the farmer who grew it. I talk to him four different times at four different markets. His story is always the same. His family runs Parkesdale Farms and has farmed 300 acres for three generations in Plant City. He broke off 13 years ago and did his own thing, called Parke Family Hydro Farms. He has 2 acres of hydroponics on Tanner Road in Dover, he says. In addition to markets in Gulfport, Ybor City, South Tampa and Wiregrass, he is a vendor at one in Kissimmee and another near Orlando. “I grow 15 different items,” he says. “Everything you’re looking at comes from the farm.” The address is on his Facebook page. I drive there, and I do find 2 acres of five-tier hydroponic stackers.

They lean crazily, bleached by the sun, tufts of 4-foot weeds bristling between long abandoned rows.
posted by Blasdelb (114 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
If it's Tampa Bay it really should be "swamp to table."
posted by My Dad at 3:23 PM on April 13, 2016 [15 favorites]


Duh.

Here`s how to tell if your farmers market veg are local. Is there like two things, maybe three (one of them must be kale,) for sale? Are they wilted and bug eaten and generally ratty? Do they have the gall to charge like nine bucks for a portion and a half? If you answered yes to all the questions, congrats, you have found locavore approved vegetables.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:23 PM on April 13, 2016 [22 favorites]


Do they have the gall to charge like nine bucks for a portion and a half?

You really need to stop going to the Niima Outpost farmer's market.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:26 PM on April 13, 2016 [26 favorites]


If you"re not careful with the truth, you're probably a liar.

At a small hamburger joint I saw to separate signs from two separate meat distributors displaying the "natural" source for their meat. I'd guess there's one distributor that they use, and those signs will remain on the wall no matter where their meat comes from.

This lying business is an opportunity for someone to set up a certification process for their food sources and make sure some of the lying stays at least a little bit in check.
posted by uraniumwilly at 3:26 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


If a restaurant offers particularly delicious-looking local options, I often quietly think, raccoons and blue fescue?
posted by Countess Elena at 3:30 PM on April 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


The farmers market in downtown Minneapolis sells bananas. To their credit, they're not asserting said bananas grew in Minnesota (there's some get out of jail free language on the website).
posted by hoyland at 3:39 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


OMG, this >>> IF YOU EAT FOOD, you are being lied to every day.

The food supply chain is so vast and so complicated. It has yielded extra-virgin olive oil that is actually colored sunflower oil, Parmesan cheese bulked up with wood pulp, and a horsemeat scandal that, for a while, rendered Ikea outings Swedish meatball-free.

Everywhere you look, you see the claims: “sustainable,” “naturally raised,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” “fair trade,” “responsibly grown.” Restaurants have reached new levels of hyperbole.

What makes buying food different from other forms of commerce is this: It’s a trust-based system. How do you know the Dover sole on your plate is Dover sole? Only that the restaurateur said so.

And how can you be sure the strawberries your toddler is gobbling are free of pesticides? Only because the vendor at the farmers market said so.


TL;DR: If you eat food, you are being lied to every day.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:45 PM on April 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


One of my rules of life: If the sushi seems like a good deal, it isn't.
posted by dudemanlives at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is why I insist upon seeing the customs declaration forms every time I order French toast.
posted by dr_dank at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2016 [40 favorites]


what is the point of just dropping into this thread and saying "duh, of course these businesses are lying to you"? Maybe it's not a huge surprise, but the actual investigation of what's happening is worthwhile, and I think we should take this sort of thing seriously and encourage regulators to demand transparency and buyers to sue when they've been defrauded.
posted by skewed at 3:51 PM on April 13, 2016 [77 favorites]


Yeah, except Florida is the state that elected Rick Scott twice. Regulation is not a thing one can realistically expect in any way at all.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


I grow stuff. Let me amend, I try to grow stuff. Mostly I grow stuff for the squirrels, bunnies ,crows and other critters, it seems. Point being, I've been trying to grow stuff for 30 years,I have a pretty good idea what can be grown here, organically and hydro and traditionally. And I'm forever amused by stalls at the farmers market with things like "local" mangos and avocados, which don't grow here. The soil and climate are wrong. Pecans, sure. We produce bushels, but mangos, in an area with hard freeze, not so much.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 3:58 PM on April 13, 2016 [12 favorites]


I saw a vendor at a farmer's market in northern IL non-chalantly peeling the little 'Grown in Washington, Fuji, [barcode]' labels off of apples and placing them very nicely into bushel baskets. I was too shy and flabbergasted to say anything to him, unfortunately.
posted by Fig at 4:09 PM on April 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


King & Prince’s Lobster Sensations product has a 12-month freezer life, a 60-day shelf life unopened and a 10-day shelf life opened.

“It’s like the cockroach,” said Michael Peel, longtime owner of the now defunct Crazy Conch Cafe, who worked around seafood for 34 years. “It will be here after a nuclear attack.”


And gosh darn it, when we say lobster, we mean real . . . um . . . locally sourced . . . styrofoam that someone dyed pink, evidently.
posted by The Bellman at 4:18 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


We have a bakery that claims everything comes from within 75 miles.
Literally, it's in the name.

They have very good chocolate croissants.
posted by madajb at 4:19 PM on April 13, 2016 [32 favorites]


If you're not careful with the truth, you're probably a liar.

Amen.
posted by lore at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2016


I'm sad to say that the only solution that I give any credence to for this sort of a problem is to pick two out of the following three: Not be in the big city, be lucky enough to absolutely know which restaurants/farmers that to trust (usually this is rooted in some sort of familial or other longstanding association), and, not least of all, pay a fair rate for said food, that is to say you can't expect local, perhaps even pesticide free blueberries to be delivered for your shopping pleasure on a bright (or rainy for that matter) Saturday morning to be cheaper than, or even anywhere close to, Walmart or maybe even Whole Foods.

Seriously, it's hard. CSAs help but even those are fraught with impostors/wholesellers that just repackage stuff from hubs and call it their own.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:22 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


“We buy fresh corn from them and cook it down,” said Pelagia sous chef Tim Ducharme.

When reminded that Zellwood corn isn’t in season now, Ducharme said, “Well, we buy fresh corn from someone.”
I imagine Mike Wallace smiling down from heaven.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:28 PM on April 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


I've never seen any farmstand here in New England try to sell something as blatantly ridiculous as citrus fruit, but there are some vendors who seem to always have very full carts of useful produce when everyone else is on the kale-and-parsley-train. I avoid them, though it's kind of too bad, because I'd be happy to buy from them (at normal wholesale prices) if they were just honest and I really needed an onion.

I know my CSA's legit because I've visited the farm and why else would my fridge be full of dirt-encrusted kohlrabi?
posted by nev at 4:30 PM on April 13, 2016 [15 favorites]


Yeah, I'm living in Vermont. Locavore restaurants are the big thing here, and many are very good indeed, but I will continue to wonder. I can believe in the local dairy, poultry, honey and apples, but New England is not famous for a delicious variety of local foods, especially in winter, and there was a big 19th-century exodus to the Midwest for a reason.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:33 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


I saw a vendor at a farmer's market in northern IL non-chalantly peeling the little 'Grown in Washington, Fuji, [barcode]' labels off of apples and placing them very nicely into bushel baskets. I was too shy and flabbergasted to say anything to him, unfortunately.

I was speaking to someone who claimed that when he lived in upstate NY, the farmers' market vendors would drive down to a Manhattan grocery store, buy fruits and vegetables on the cheap, and then lug it back home and sell it at a premium - to Manhattanites who would drive upstate to the farmers' markets.
posted by bitteroldman at 4:35 PM on April 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


madajb: "We have a bakery that claims everything comes from within 75 miles. Literally, it's in the name."

This was literally a plot point in an episode of the HBO series Bored to Death. One of the main characters opens a restaurant (in Manhattan!) that claims to source everything from within 100 miles. His rival one-ups him by opening a similar restaurant with the radius shrunk down to 50 miles. The main character can't figure out how he's doing it so he snoops around and catches one of his rival's flunkies getting ingredients at a supermarket. In his defence, the flunky says that the supermarket is within 50 miles.
posted by mhum at 4:40 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


. . . someone who claimed that when he lived in upstate NY, the farmers' market vendors would drive down to a Manhattan grocery store, buy fruits and vegetables on the cheap and then lug it back home and sell it at a premium - to Manhattanites who would drive upstate to the farmers' markets.

That's a funny story about dumb Manhattanites that is self-evidently bullshit. Produce is far more expensive in Manhattan grocery stores (rent!) than it would be at the clever country-bumpkin's local Stop and Shop. So why the trip to Manhattan? Good story though!
posted by The Bellman at 4:45 PM on April 13, 2016 [20 favorites]


I was in Michigan last year hunting for morels ( ok yield, need moar time).

They had a farmers market with very obviously local asparagus, I wanted to buy it all! Incredible things. The closer you get to a city the less likely a farmer is gonna make the hump to get you his produce.

One of my uncles used to farm some land as a hobby and would sell most of his produce to local groceries. "Run a stand? nah waste of time."
posted by Max Power at 4:45 PM on April 13, 2016


One of my rules of life: If the sushi seems like a good deal, it isn't.

See, I think it matters a lot what we're talking about and what reasons people have for making particular food choices (non-GMO, local, etc. etc.). For sushi I would say if you think you're getting a good deal, you're getting a good deal. I mean you find it delicious. You think the price is less than you would expect for that level of deliciousness, then who cares of it's tuna. Whatever it is, you find it delicious at a level that is more than worth the price. Will it suddenly be undelicious if it's not tuna? Then what's the problem?

On the other hand, if you imagine there's some health issue with GMOs, then it does matter if you're being lied to about that. If you're concerned about trucking and shipping food all over the place, then it matters.

But if this is about taste, then if your sushi and your mozzarella are delicious, I don't see why you should care if it's tuna or if the milk came from a cow or a buffalo. Not that that makes it ok to lie to you exactly, but "if you're getting a good deal" (i.e. you're paying non-tuna or non-buffalo or non-lobster prices), you have no reason to be feel cheated and if it's delicious then you have no reason to feel shorted. Not that that makes it ok to lie to you...I guess I think it's not ok to lie to you ever, but I can't quite articulate why it's a problem in a sushi/mozzarella/lobster situation.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:14 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Basically, I feel if that a restaurant who touts local produce has things I know can't probably grow here or that I am pretty sure this isn't the season for it, I give the side-eye.
posted by Kitteh at 5:20 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


And the section’s “Long Island duck”? It’s actually from Joe Jurgielewicz & Son, a duck farm in Pennsylvania. This matters. Long Island is an area long noted for producing some of the finest Pekin ducks in the world.

Chances are pretty slim anyone's Long Island duck is from Long Island. Most duck now comes from Indiana, California, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Duck raised in Long Island is considerably more expensive due to environmental regulation, the high cost of land, labor, electricity, and transporting grain from the midwest, so most of it is sold through specialty outlets, to high-end NYC restaurants, or shipped frozen to Asia where it can demand a premium price.

There is only one remaining duck farm on Long Island. I know the family that ran the second to last duck farm which closed in 2014. They are also mentioned in this 2003 NYTimes article when Long Island had a whopping 80 duck farms producing only 10% of our strategic duck supply.

The US duck industry began on Long Island, but it has almost entirely disappeared from there. Long Island duck is either a lie or is like French bread anymore.
posted by peeedro at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


The wierd thing is, even in Florida it's cheap to lie? I had your canonical postwar Florida grandparents and their yard produced a lot of food even though they were relaxed retired gardeners. We harvested volunteer tomatoes out of the compost pile pretty regularly (though not year round).

At the same time, the produce in the groceries was surprisingly mingy - first place I ever saw sweet corn shucked and sold shrink wrapped in Styrofoam.
posted by clew at 5:25 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Bellman: "Produce is far more expensive in Manhattan grocery stores (rent!) than it would be at the clever country-bumpkin's local Stop and Shop. So why the trip to Manhattan? "

I assume a more sophisticated version of the anecdote would have the vender going to the Hunts Point Cooperative Market, "the largest food distribution center of its kind in the world," located in New York City (the Bronx).
posted by crazy with stars at 5:26 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Then what's the problem?

The problem is fraud. It's not up to the seller (or anyone else) to decide that my reasons for wanting tuna and not some other fish aren't "good enough." It's my choice--or should be.

Not that I buy a lot of tuna.

When it comes to seafood, I try to be conscientious. The same goes for other food. I'm willing to pay more money for food that's produced in a way I think is ethical/sustainable. Unfortunately, the opacity of the food chain makes that difficult.

When I'm feeling cynical I suspect that it's just a way to keep people from making any choices that might impact the agribusiness's bottom line. But then I realize there doesn't need to be a conspiracy, just a profit motive to lie.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2016 [19 favorites]


Will it suddenly be undelicious if it's not tuna? Then what's the problem?

I don't want to eat endangered species, or indeed anything the Monterey Aquarium recommends I not eat, or shrimp harvested by slaves, and it is not OK to lie to me about sourcing even if the results are tasty.
posted by clew at 5:37 PM on April 13, 2016 [61 favorites]


The farmers market in downtown Minneapolis sells bananas. To their credit, they're not asserting said bananas grew in Minnesota (there's some get out of jail free language on the website).

That's when you find out Big Banana has incorporated a town called Minnesota in Hawaii.
posted by Talez at 5:39 PM on April 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


(I mostly eat apples and potatoes and lentils and kale, though my spice drawer would make King Henry pale with envy. Huh. They may well be adulterated and slightly toxic, but I wonder how many of them can be outright faked. Not that wooden nutmegs aren't a fine tradition of American food purity.)
posted by clew at 5:39 PM on April 13, 2016


South Florida is a more challenging place than you would think to do the locavore thing. Winter is easier than most places, but summer nothing grows. And the pests are ferocious down here, it's hard to do anything "organic" or "heirloom". And the weather's so unpredictable, heavy rain in particular spoils veggie crops. I belonged to a CSA for a couple of years, and I saw the vegetables growing in the fields so I know they were authentic, but Florida tomatoes and strawberries just don't taste that good compared to locally grown ones in North Carolina, where I used to live.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:42 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


We do get local bananas and other tropical produce though, and I have my own avocado tree. So it could be worse.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:43 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


A minor contrarian suggestion, I was poking around google maps looking for a coffee shop to kill time and notice a pattern I didn't recognize. Greenhouses, huge industrial greenhouses. So some food products that will fail in your backyard could be local.

Could.

(just what is in that discount sushi in the giant cases at walmart? I'll never know) (if it actually tasted good, well that'd really scare me more)
posted by sammyo at 5:49 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've definitely eaten in places where I was sure the claims about local/humane/etc were fake. I also know a few restaurant owners who are serious about being honest, and their margins are tight -- there is clearly a big financial upside to lying about ingredients.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Holy cow.

Old-timers like Gulfport’s La Cote Basque were dinged for advertising veal schnitzel dishes but having no veal in sight. “No packages commercially labeled veal (and) no veal invoices are present (but a) large volume of frozen pork chops and sliced pork” were observed. Wholesale veal can cost three times as much as pork. For pork-eschewing Muslims and Jews: Surprise.

Daaaamn.
posted by zarq at 5:50 PM on April 13, 2016 [19 favorites]


The farmers market in downtown Minneapolis sells bananas. To their credit, they're not asserting said bananas grew in Minnesota (there's some get out of jail free language on the website).

I give the Minneapolis farmer's market a pass because part of their mission to is alleviate the food desert in that area of downtown (things are a little better now with Lunds and Whole Foods, but those stores aren't necessarily accessible for the types of people who are hurt by food deserts). Since it's easy to sort the local farmers from the resellers (farmers don't sell bananas in MN) it seems like this doesn't rise to the same level as TFA.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:53 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is awesome and I wish someone would do it for Asheville. There is just. So. Much. holier than thou locavore organic folderol in this town and I have long suspected that it was more than half bullshit. I mean, if Appalachia was historically so awesome at growing food, why was it so desperately poor for so long? The big farmers market is pretty much all imported stuff , which is kind of an open secret, but there are still credulous newcomers who believe it's all local. Nowadays there are tailgate farmers markets in every neighborhood and I just...I have a big garden myself. You know what's growing in it right now? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Excellent musically perhaps but not really main course. So when I see full grown kale, tons of it, and big old beets and so on, not to mention peppers - please - I think it is just slightly possible that these things came from somewhere else. Florida maybe.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:16 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


Myself, I want to see a farmer's market selling locavore foods for say, Las Vegas and Phoenix. You know, sand and rocks.
posted by happyroach at 6:18 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Paging Carl Hiaasen...
posted by ocschwar at 6:20 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Jim Thorpe ( In NE PA ) had a Farmers Market every Saturday for three years that was locally produced items. I think the rule was 75 miles but most were much closer. Very good food. Chicken from right up the street where I lived. Contrast that with the bigger markets in Schuylkill County that considered local if you drove to Philly and brought it back.

Sadly the people of Jim Thorpe were mad that the umbrella rate for the rental of the spot was not tied to a percentage of sales of each vendor and as such the market shut down. If there's one thing a NE PA native hates is someone being successful on public land. But I digress.

Founding Farmer's in DC clams to be local. I have my doubts.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:43 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


happyroach: "Myself, I want to see a farmer's market selling locavore foods for say, Las Vegas and Phoenix. You know, sand and rocks."

Heh. If I recall correctly, the term "locavore" was coined by someone in the SF Bay Area, which is close enough to California's main agricultural areas to guarantee a pretty decent locavore diet. However, if one was going to be 100% hardcore about it (which, in all fairness, I don't think the originator(s) of the term really intended -- I think it was more of a guiding principle or thought experiment), it's still going to leave you wanting for things like chocolate, coffee, tea, coconut, vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper, etc... Probably mangoes and bananas, too, since I think the only California growers of those are down in by the Mexican border.
posted by mhum at 6:46 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


California also has the benefit of stout regulations around farmers' markets (and what can use that term). Booths must be staffed by employees of the farm, the food must have been grown by that farm, etc. There are a lot of names on banners at the markets that I recognize from riding my motorcycle around the hills and valleys, so I believe it, even if I don't know just how strictly it's enforced. (The market is pretty competitive, so I imagine: quite so).
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:50 PM on April 13, 2016


It's worth noting that Florida has literally none of those consumer protections. The produce sold in Tallahassee at the Market Square "farmers market" was quite often stored under tables in the same boxes out back behind the Publix. It was pretty shameless.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:51 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I live in St. Petersburg and have eaten at many of the restaurants mentioned in this article. While I'm not naive enough to have ever believed all the claims some of these places make, I am furious at just how brazen they are about pulling this kind of crap especially because my husband and I go out of our way to support local businesses. It's a good thing I love to cook because the list of local restaurants I'll go to now just got a hell of a lot smaller.
posted by _Mona_ at 6:52 PM on April 13, 2016 [12 favorites]


Gotham Greens in NYC grows lettuce, tomatoes and a few others on rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens. But they skip the farmer's markets and sell through Shop-Rite, Food Bazaar, etc. since those products are often the most perishable.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:15 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


It seems like a lot of the issue is that capitalism isn't capable of providing the kinds of outcomes that most people want, so a lot of lies get told. It's the same with for-profit colleges, and with the idea that if we just give everyone a college degree, there will be enough well-paying jobs for all. And as with all these situations, the weakest people in the situation are the ones who suffer - in this case, hapless eaters.

1. Producing enough "local" or even just organic/sustainable food to feed everyone who wants it at a price they can afford isn't possible with the way the economy works right now. Most people can't afford the "true" cost of that stuff. I think that a large part of its unaffordability lies in the wage stagnation of the last thirty years.

1a. Wage stagnation has been concealed, partially, by the increasing cheapness of food and clothes, but the food and clothes are shitty.

1b. Wage stagnation would be exposed if we had to face the true costs of non-shitty food and clothes.

1c. Hence lying. As a society, we can't address wage inequality in any substantial way, or enforce food and labor regulations. People don't like that and it makes them sad/grumpy/less likely to consume. But fixing it would cost money. So lies are told.

2. A certain kind of anti-capitalist pipedreaming is also present - the idea that human life would be just wonderful if we all ate locally, etc. Basically, the idea that if we got our heads right, we'd be happy - that the problem of capitalism can be solved by withdrawing, and it won't hurt. But in reality, many, many places don't have that great a local food selection most of the year. Things used to be pretty dismal in Sweden for small farmers, I am given to understand by relatives. California? Sure. China right around Shanghai? Sign me up - the finest food in the world. Minnesota? Eh.

What's more, I think it's totally reasonable to want to have chocolate and oranges and oregano and ancho chilies even if you live in Minnesota. It's reasonable to want some of the sweets of life rather than cabbage interspersed with rutabaga and then maybe a little rhubarb for a treat.

I feel like dreaming big is okay. I'd like to see a society without gross inequality and wage stagnation, where people all had access to truly sustainable stuff and where lies didn't need to be told. I'd like to see a society where we fix transport problems - whether that's electric cars or teleportation or super trains or whatever - so that moderate and appropriate amounts of non-local food can be moved around for all.

But I think that if we want to preach localism and sustainability while making it so that ordinary people basically cannot afford the real price of those things, we're setting ourselves up for just this kind of lie - no, we're making these lies an inevitable part of the system, because the system has a giant contradiction in the middle. You can't consume your way out of inequality.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 PM on April 13, 2016 [90 favorites]


A couple of years ago, someone at the big Vancouver farmer's market had a table covered in exotic tuber chips and was selling them for a couple of bucks for a small chip bag.

They tasted and looked just like Terra chips but he sold it well on the "housemade" factor.

I haven't seen him at the farmer's market in years now. Wonder if he got busted?
posted by wenat at 7:50 PM on April 13, 2016


Myself, I want to see a farmer's market selling locavore foods for say, Las Vegas and Phoenix. You know, sand and rocks.

We totally have those. My best friend from childhood volunteers at a CSA here in Phoenix, and many local families in my circle grow a wide variety of their own vegetables, citrus, and meat.
posted by celtalitha at 7:51 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another St. Petersburger here (side note: the lack of a restaurant in town called "St. Peter's Burger" is a constant source of disappointment). What I take away from this article is that taking someone's word about whether they're actually giving you local (or even Florida) food is sort of like taking your idiot friend's word when he says that it's perfectly safe to go swimming in that murky brown water or pick up that mangy-looking raccoon and cuddle it or drink that homemade cocktail that's currently flocculating in an alarming way or any of the other dumb things that people do in Florida every day.

The solution, though, is both simple and alarmingly labor-intensive: be aware of what's in season when and ask simple questions of the waitstaff. If they have a dish featuring Florida strawberries on the menu in August, ask them where those strawberries *really* come from. It's not as if they know a farm in some miraculous microclimate where strawberry season is the hottest part of summer. Fine. Strawberries are easy. What about greens, broccoli, corn, tomatoes, okra? Everything has a different sweet spot, and to get everything--fresh and local--in one dish at the same time seems like it would require some kind of planetary alignment.

The idea that we can have fresh local produce--any kind we want--all year round, even in Florida, seems to me to be fueled by a deep sense of egotism. If you grow all your own food, you end up canning, preserving, and pickling everything. But I can see how, if you ran a farm-to-table restaurant in, say, Buffalo, you wouldn't exactly find it appealing to put together a menu consisting of pickled carrots, apple butter, and four-month-old grits in January.
posted by lorddimwit at 7:54 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


In the summer if there is nothing to eat but Seminole pumpkin, okra, and Malabar spinach, then you can trust that your Florida farmstand is local.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:02 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


There is a donut shop called Sugar Shack that I went to recently. On the walls they proclaim "Handmade" and "No Machines". Looking through the door to their kitchen I see they have a large industrial mixer for making their dough.
posted by humanfont at 8:10 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Produce is far more expensive in Manhattan grocery stores (rent!) than it would be at the clever country-bumpkin's local Stop and Shop. So why the trip to Manhattan? Good story though!

Actually, from my experience as a Manhattanite, exactly the opposite is the case. I'm always shocked when I'm shopping out of town, like when visiting relatives in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania (or Florida). Produce is at least as expensive, and often significantly more, at the bumpkin's local Stop & Shop than it is at the Garden of Eden or West Side Market in my Upper West Side neighborhood. Lots of things are way overpriced in Manhattan, but produce isn't one of them—unless you're shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.
posted by stargell at 8:17 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


re is a donut shop called Sugar Shack that I went to recently. On the walls they proclaim "Handmade" and "No Machines". Looking through the door to their kitchen I see they have a large industrial mixer for making their dough.


I don't get what would be so appealing about "no machine" donuts. Mixers work really well. Actual chefs and bakers like to use them.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 8:19 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


At a small hamburger joint I saw to separate signs from two separate meat distributors displaying the "natural" source for their meat.
posted by uraniumwilly at 6:26 PM on April 13


Great. So now, in order to keep my curmudgeon status intact, I must claim to eat Unnatural foods in addition to Inorganic...
posted by mcrandello at 8:22 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


don't get what would be so appealing about "no machine" donuts. Mixers work really well. Actual chefs and bakers like to use them.

I think by "no machines" they're referring to the machines that cut, fry, and process the donuts. I'd give them a pass on using a big mixer.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:42 PM on April 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I was just at a restaurant that proudly explained that the bread was made by the owner, all the foods were local -- as I was ordering something with mango jam. I doubt it! (The mango jam, and the food in general (including similarly non-local chocolate) was very good.)
posted by jeather at 8:43 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Re: Phoenix and Vegas, there's local, and then there's ecologically sustainable. Which life in those areas pretty much isn't.
posted by gusandrews at 8:55 PM on April 13, 2016


You can include us among the naive and gullible - as recent transplants to Miami we just assumed all that agricultural land south of town and the frost-free climate meant we'd have nearly continuous access to good local produce. It didn't really occur to us that most of the year the climate is way too hot and humid for fruit & veg - even tomatoes, which I'd always sort of unconsciously associated with hot weather. And the stuff that is grown in the cooler months is shipped elsewhere (and isn't really great quality anyway). Aside from a brief window in early Spring, most of the produce we see at local farmers markets is from far far away.
posted by theory at 9:00 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Speaking of sustainable, one summer when working at the college library I convinced them we should grow heirloom veggies on the roof. I managed cherry tomatoes and some mini bell peppers. Cukes did not work at all, as I didn't realize we needed pollinators, and I grew them inside where they got powdery mildew. Watering all this was kind of an affair as there weren't any pipes up there. I was trying to figure out if we could use runoff from the massive industrial air conditioner, or whether that would give us heavy metal poisoning.

We'd end up with maybe two handfuls of cherry tomatoes at a time. One day, as I passed these around the office, a co-worker exclaimed (quite unironically) "Ooh! Sustainable!"

There's a lot of education the American populace needs about where their food comes from.
posted by gusandrews at 9:00 PM on April 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


Imperial Valley minus Colorado River water pretty much equals Las Vegas and Phoenix, farmability wise. If you could get the water rights to the precipitation on ten acres, you could garden an acre most years. It would be a lot of work to manage the water, but you would have hellacious bragging rights.
posted by ridgerunner at 9:05 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is a good exposé and I don't really understand the ho-humming. It's one thing to call your restaurant "locally-sourced" without doing a good job defining the term or the degree of followthrough; it's another thing altogether to say specific items are from specific farms that you have no actual distribution relationship with. That's crazy, straight-up fraud.
posted by threeants at 9:31 PM on April 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


The good investigation here made for fun prurient reading as the "gotchas" piled up. At the same time, it's depressing how our neighbors will work to try to take advantage of us in thousands of different ways through any and all niches that open up opportunities for f***ing us. Not people who are desperate and looking for a next meal - they're partially forgiven - but just weasels who know they can.
posted by ftm at 9:44 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


2. A certain kind of anti-capitalist pipedreaming is also present - the idea that human life would be just wonderful if we all ate locally, etc.

i wouldn't conflate all anti-capitalism with this...bioregionalism? you are imagining.

it is ownership, and the attitude of ownership, though, as the basis for an economic system that enables marketers to lie so effectively. if the exchange only happens between the buyer and seller, and the rest of us and the planet are always external, then yeah, what does it matter how the food was grown?

if the impact to the land were integrated into the economic system, you coul have accountable exchanges. but i don't see how you account for that without getting rid of the notion of land as someone's property, to destroy as the one sees fit, rather than a public good with its own integrity.
posted by eustatic at 10:05 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


you can't expect local, perhaps even pesticide free blueberries to be delivered for your shopping pleasure on a bright (or rainy for that matter) Saturday morning to be cheaper than, or even anywhere close to, Walmart or maybe even Whole Foods.

Before Farmers' Markets became fashionable, they were one of the cheapest places to buy vegetables and fruit - because there is no distributor or store owner, the farmer could make more per item even as we paid less. When we were on welfare, we bought almost all of our fruits and vegetables from a farmers' market, sometimes by the bushelful. Also, there were lots of little old Italian ladies buying bushels of tomatoes.

Now, these were certainly not organic produce, and I happen to live in a city surrounded by some of the best produce land in Canada. And the guy with the bananas definitely got those at the Foodland terminal (wholesaler). But the farmers we knew well and bought from for years really were farmers: I even worked for one, and visited her orchard. She always had the best apples.

I actually hate how fashionable markets have become. Instead of guys with trucks and their surly teenage kids selling you baskets of produce for a fraction of the grocery store price -- now you get little stalls, tiny amounts and huge prices. I don't see anything worth getting -- and they don't have half the selection than I used to see off the trucks.
posted by jb at 10:06 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


When I'm feeling cynical, I suspect this is the result of a significant potion of the market who've somehow been convinced that locavorism or non-GMO or whatever other trendy ideas are somehow sustainable, or moral, or healthier or whatever. Many, if not all, of these trends are based on beliefs that have been sold on not exactly the whole truth.

After a while, I can see how a vendor just gives up when his competitors are making bank selling absurd non-GMO organic rocks from the outskirts of the county. When vendors know that customers have information that may range from misguided, to not even wrong, this is the result. Customers getting what they want, good and hard.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:23 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I work on an certified organic (and salmon safe) farm that supplies lettuce and veggies to two seattle farmers markets. I have been reading metafilter for years and finally decided to pay the $5 and join so I could post the comment that Frowner beat me to!

Despite customer disbelief, it is actually possible to grow high quality no-spray (not even the organic approved stuff) sustainable certifiable organic produce (in some areas of the country), particularly if you value your time at $2/hr, use scissors at 10pm to cut slugs off your leaves every night of the week every week for 180days of the season, have years of experiance and grow twice as much as you sell so you can pick the best and eat/donate to food banks the rest. etc, etc. But just because its possible doesn't mean its the norm, even in regulated farmers markets.

You can either
1) live in small close knit community with materially inefficient economies of scale and a 1860's standard of living but with trust in the goods and services you buy from your neighbours, or
2) you can live in large interconnected global commercial markets with extensive regulations fully funded and aggressively enforced (including undercover agents, surprise inspections and shut-downs for violations) and pay 50% of your income in taxes
or
3) buy cheap mislabelled poison and be told to be proud that you got a good deal and love your freedom.

Americans have chosen in the ballot box and with their wallets or been tricked and bullied into option 3 over and over and over again. The planet will die before Americans choose 2. Some Americans are trying to get to the life-raft of option 1.
I wish them luck.
Now back to slugging with my headlamp.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 10:43 PM on April 13, 2016 [161 favorites]


^Now that's a freakin first comment folks.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:11 PM on April 13, 2016 [25 favorites]


It seems obvious that a lot of those farms have a cause of action for passing off or trademark infringement. But, of course, your average small farmer has neither the time nor the money to sustain litigation, and your average restaurateur probably isn't profitable enough to pay a judgement of any size anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:12 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Bellman: "That's a funny story about dumb Manhattanites that is self-evidently bullshit. Produce is far more expensive in Manhattan grocery stores (rent!) than it would be at the clever country-bumpkin's local Stop and Shop. So why the trip to Manhattan? Good story though!"
Before you get your snark up too strong, this is actually supremely plausible. The NYC Produce Terminal Market in Hunts Point that serves basically all of the grocery stores and 'Farmers' markets in New York City will do so at prices that are plenty than competitive with what you'd get from Sysco upstate. I'd bet the only thing wrong with the original comment is that Hunts Point is in the Bronx, where the last bit of food distribution moved from Manhattan in 2005.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:05 AM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Welcome, Anchorite of Palgrave, and thank you for my new favorite way to tell someone to stop loafing: "get back to sluggin!"

As for deals on sushi, well, yeah. Cheap sushi is fraught, even in Japan. It's not impossible to find a good deal on sushi, but there is very likely going to be a serious compromise made somewhere. Here in Japan, when you're seeing crazy prices on, say, chu-toro or whathaveyou, there is a very good chance you're getting illegally fished tuna (exceeding quotas, using illegal fishing methods) that's been dumped on the market at prices lower than legal fishing can manage. So there's that, outside of the "don't order seafood on Mondays" sort of problem.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:11 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since the article is talking about Florida, I feel duty-bound to point out that even if the food is properly local, it's probably being produced with slave labour. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been working to change that, with apparently some degree of success, but it's still pretty bad, even by the low standards of the modern agricultural industry.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:03 AM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is one of those problems that cries out for a federal-level solution, which is doubly frustrating because we've seen it happen: the "organic" label doesn't mean what it did twenty years ago, but it damn well means something, which is more than I can say for "locally sourced." I'd even settle for state-level regulation, because I live in the state that seems most likely to actually write laws with some teeth in them. But instead we get radio silence, because no one wants to pay for the luxury of knowing what's in their goddamn food.

I've seen small, local trust-networks developing in the last few years, and it is my only ray of hope. The farmer's market at the bottom of my street has one farmer who's there every weekend, 36 weeks out of the year. He had to pick up and move his whole operation three hundred miles northeast a couple years back, because land costs even in remote parts of Massachusetts are so back-breaking. Now he trucks in his produce in a big ol' biodiesel truck, four hours each way, three days a week. We're on a first-name basis, and we've chatted about restaurants in the area that he supplies. So, when I see his name displayed on a menu, I have a pretty good idea of what exactly they're serving, modulo the vast amount of stuff he doesn't provide because it doesn't grow in Maine. But that sort of knowledge doesn't scale. I can't share it with neighbors in any sort of productive way, and they can't share similar discoveries with me, and I don't know how to vet other vendors (even at the same market!) in comparable ways. And even if we could share information perfectly, it would still fall apart as soon as I went ten miles away.

Which means I'm circling back on Anchorite of Palgrave's first option, I guess.
posted by Mayor West at 5:51 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Despite (because of?) the Comic Sans, I love this chart that the NC Department of Agriculture puts out and displays prominently at the NC State Farmer's Market. Really helps with giving that side-eye to the strawberries-in-August vendors.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:09 AM on April 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm obviously appalled at the blatant misrepresentations, but I'm personally not that interested in having everything or even most things being locally produced. I want my peaches from Georgia, my sweet corn from the Midwest, and I think it makes sense to grow wheat in Nebraska, not in the rocky New England soil. It isn't clear to me that the environmental cost of transporting food outweighs the environmental cost of producing foods in areas where it may be less efficient. Also, while local can taste great (the veggies from my CSA are a prime example), that isn't always the case due to climate, soil, etc. I remember some summer visits to Vermont when my grandfather would serve sweet corn that he'd proudly tell us had been locally grown. As a Midwestern kid, I thought that was horrible corn. Much worse than what's grown in Iowa or Southern Minnesota.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:14 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I buy most fruits and vegetables from one of the many street fairs in Santiago, and rarely, if ever, give any thought to where they come from. I love, love, love being able to eat out-of-season fruits and vegetables and could give 2 (out of season) figs about where they come from.
This seems like fabricated outrage by a bunch of rich first worlders who need to consume in a way that makes them feel greener than their neighbors, even though they have a carbon footprint about 10 times the world average.
posted by signal at 6:38 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: producing only 10% of our strategic duck supply.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:42 AM on April 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


That's a funny story about dumb Manhattanites that is self-evidently bullshit.

The NYC Produce Terminal Market in Hunts Point that serves basically all of the grocery stores and 'Farmers' markets in New York City will do so at prices that are plenty than competitive with what you'd get from Sysco upstate.


I still think the story has a bogus whiff about it. Conflating Manhattan, the Bronx and NYC as a whole is very believable (e.g. how the definition of "the city" depends on where exactly in the tri-state area you are) but the Hunts Point Cooperative Market is by no means a "grocery store" and given that it's 60 acres large I don't think anyone is mistaking it as such.

Sure, maybe the person who originally told the story originally said "wholesale market" and that morphed into "grocery store" in the retelling. But if the original story really was "wholesale market" that's not half as entertaining a story in the first place.
posted by andrewesque at 6:49 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


i wouldn't conflate all anti-capitalism with this...bioregionalism? you are imagining.

Oh, not at all. If anything, I feel like it's just the opposite of what you might call utopian marxism - what you get in, like, poptimist sixties science fiction, where transit and distribution problems have been solved and super-sophisticated technology is used to allocate resources globally (or on an interplanetary basis....) so of course you're spending the year in Moscow to work on a [super futuristic poptimist thing] and you're eating, I dunno, mangoes.

Unless we can have proper, utopian anarchism, I am not into hyper-localism/bioregionalism. It seems very clear to me that in order to have any kind of complex society worth its salt, we have to have sophisticated transportation and communication that is environmentally sustainable, and I no longer believe that's impossible. It's impossible under the economic system we have, under the political system we have, under the system of power that we have - but then, so is anything decent at all. Under our current system, we're all just supposed to accept less and less, become more precarious and sicker and more unhappy, so that a tiny minority can live in a utopian bubble with their super-organics and their uber-for-laundry and so on. We're all supposed to dink around on our phones and computers and look at pretty pictures of expensive things and nice places so that we can bear to live the lives we're forced into, all so that things can get nicer and nicer and nicer forever for the 1%.
posted by Frowner at 6:51 AM on April 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


I love, love, love being able to eat out-of-season fruits and vegetables and could give 2 (out of season) figs about where they come from.
This seems like fabricated outrage by a bunch of rich first worlders who need to consume in a way that makes them feel greener than their neighbors, even though they have a carbon footprint about 10 times the world average.


Will you be able to get off your judgmental high horse if you just view this story as straight-up consumer fraud?

Look, I also eat plenty of out-of-season fruits and vegetables and things that come from thousands of miles away (I'm under no impression that when I make a Thai dish with fish sauce, dried shrimp and Thai basil in New York City in January that any part of those ingredients was grown or made locally at that time). I'm not convinced that eating local at all times is beneficial either -- I for one am not signing up for a endless diet of rutabagas and potatoes in the winter.

But that doesn't mean I want to be straight-out lied to when I'm at a restaurant or at a grocery store. Even if you don't care "one fig" about the locavore movement, even "rich first worlders" (which, I'm going to make a wild guess that 99% of Mefites are by global standards, by being able to post in fluent English in their leisure time on an Internet messaging board) have a right not to be lied to, as unpopular as that might seem.
posted by andrewesque at 6:56 AM on April 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Under our current system, we're all just supposed to accept less and less, become more precarious and sicker and more unhappy, so that a tiny minority can live in a utopian bubble with their super-organics and their uber-for-laundry and so on. We're all supposed to dink around on our phones and computers and look at pretty pictures of expensive things and nice places so that we can bear to live the lives we're forced into, all so that things can get nicer and nicer and nicer forever for the 1%.

You are completely correct, but yeesh, I didn't expect to get quite so depressed in a thread about an expose of fake farm-to-table restaurants.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:58 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Anchorite_of_Palgrave: "I work on an certified organic (and salmon safe) farm …"

"It's been 87 88 89 90 91 0 days since the last salmon attack."
posted by brokkr at 7:04 AM on April 14, 2016 [19 favorites]


And how can you be sure the strawberries your toddler is gobbling are free of pesticides? Only because the vendor at the farmers market said so.

Your purchases are unverifiable unless you drive to that farm or track back through a restaurant’s distributors and ask for invoices.


Tamans.com - my local farm-to-table online grocery store.
When you order food from them, they actually drive to the farm to pick up your food.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:06 AM on April 14, 2016


After a bit of googling still not quite sure what it is but "salmon safe" is a thing. Even for beer.
posted by sammyo at 7:12 AM on April 14, 2016


Despite (because of?) the Comic Sans, I love this chart that the NC Department of Agriculture puts out and displays prominently at the NC State Farmer's Market. Really helps with giving that side-eye to the strawberries-in-August vendors.

It would probably be even more helpful if it was updated month over month to show what is actually in season right now. I think people are less likely to look up each thing they want to buy on a long alphabetical list, but if they had an at-a-glance view of the things that were seasonal at the moment, they might be inclined to look for those things specifically.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:13 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I live in Asheville NC and frequent one of the farmer's markets near my home. While I see things that are obviously brought in from out of state, there's no attempt to hide that fact. Most of the vendors are people who have local farms and orchards or run small bakeries. The farmers make an attempt to clean up the produce but it's pretty obvious they're newly out of the ground. Those who sell meat are well-known around here (such as Hickory Nut Gap farm) and do their own butchering and freezing. We also garden in our yard. At this time of year, we haven't even planted yet (local lore says don't plant outside until mother's day because of weather). When we plant, we do tomatoes, beets, radishes, cucumbers, dill, and whatever else we feel like trying. I think the main thing is to know your locals and then you know where your stuff is coming from, and know your seasonal produce so you can't be lied to.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:15 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ah ok: "ensure healthy watersheds for native salmon."

Stuff that kills bugs fast must be pretty bad for salmon fingerlings.
posted by sammyo at 7:15 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Tamans.com - my local farm-to-table online grocery store.
When you order food from them, they actually drive to the farm to pick up your food.


Not disparaging this particular distributor, but I think the point of the article is that many people will tell you the same thing and unless you are doing the driving yourself, you cannot be 100% sure about your food and there is plenty of incentive to lie.
posted by Think_Long at 7:16 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


you cannot be 100% sure about your food and there is plenty of incentive to lie.

Agreed. They go to great lengths to make the process as transparent as possible, right down to the farmers sometimes being there when you pick up the food and doing talks about their methods of production. I'm not sure what else they can do beyond that. The sad part of it is that because of the bullshit surrounding food by restaurateurs and the FDA, is that they have to go to that length just to say "It's actually good food."
posted by prepmonkey at 7:34 AM on April 14, 2016


course you're spending the year in Moscow to work on a [super futuristic poptimist thing] and you're eating, I dunno, mangoes.

On an only tangentially related note, the winter I spent living with a host family in Moscow in the mid-90s is what made me into such a committed anti-locavore. I don't want to live off of root vegetables all winter!
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:38 AM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


"It's been 87 88 89 90 91 0 days since the last salmon attack."

No, no. Don't be silly. "Salmon safe" doesn't mean safe from salmon it means safe for salmon. It just means they try to keep the grizzlies away from the ladder.
posted by The Bellman at 7:51 AM on April 14, 2016


andrewesque: "Will you be able to get off your judgmental high horse if you just view this story as straight-up consumer fraud?"

Nope, I'm too busy pointing and laughing at said Rich First Worlders and the way they try to make up this narrative where they're actually 'saving the environment' because they bought some kale grown less than 50 miles from their condo, woohoo, instead of, you know, admitting to disproportionately, gleefully (and maybe disingenuously) propitiating its destruction.
I see sort of well intentioned but mostly clueless and under-informed rich people as a major ecological threat at this point, so any story of them getting screwed because of said cluelessness at least makes me smile a bit.
posted by signal at 8:00 AM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I just came across in this in my weekly homesick perusal of Creative Loafing Atlanta. Two food businesses actually decided to go all in and buy a farm to keep their farm-to-table ethos legit. (Full disclosure: I went to high school with Terry.)
posted by Kitteh at 8:23 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I see sort of well intentioned but mostly clueless and under-informed rich people as a major ecological threat at this point, so any story of them getting screwed because of said cluelessness at least makes me smile a bit.

Thing is, everyone has to eat. It's not optional. So trying to eat in a way that is very slightly less worse is a good thing.

I try to eat locally when I can. I work in a restaurant that sources the vast majority of our product locally--all dairy is within 100km, most veg and herbs are within 100km. Fish is usually Ontario, scallops, ok, they're from Nova Scotia. Yes chocolate, yes olive oil, neither are local. And I am only 'rich' on a global scale, certainly not on a personal one. So maybe I dunno, maybe dial back the scorn a bit.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I'm really not grokking the 'yay for fraud because rich people are terrible!' argument.
posted by bologna on wry at 9:21 AM on April 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "So maybe I dunno, maybe dial back the scorn a bit."

Sorry, my scorn against people who view environmental issues as solvable by a whimsical romanticizing of a return to an imaginary past, while maintaining all of the behaviors that actually caused the problem in the first place, is quite firmly entrenched.
So reading about the green-fad-of-the-month backfiring on the group of people who are largely responsible for our ongoing eco-apocalypse to be, at least, amusing.
I actually care about the shithole that we're leaving to my 8 year old son, so it's personal to me.
posted by signal at 9:25 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


By implication, not personal to me? Try again.

Have you considered that many of us don't think that environmental issues are solvable by a whimsical etc, and that nevertheless we are doing something rather than nothing?

Fraud is bad. And this fraud isn't being perpetrated only on the people you heap so much scorn on.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:27 AM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


The USDA periodically puts together maps of the major areas across the United States that each crop is grown based on the Agency's agricultural census. This may not capture all the smaller, family-owned farms in an area, but it can give you a good sense of where things in your grocery store are likely to be from, if they aren't imported.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:31 AM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I actually hate how fashionable markets have become. Instead of guys with trucks and their surly teenage kids selling you baskets of produce for a fraction of the grocery store price -- now you get little stalls, tiny amounts and huge prices. I don't see anything worth getting -- and they don't have half the selection than I used to see off the trucks.

Yes--when I was a kid, we got produce from the farmer's market because we were poor.

I see sort of well intentioned but mostly clueless and under-informed rich people as a major ecological threat at this point,

I guess it's easier to giggle and feel superior about that than to think about the actual large-scale and malicious threats to the planet's future?
posted by praemunire at 9:40 AM on April 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


"...we got produce from the farmer's market because we were poor."
Exactly. Ditto. What is more, I am still pretty poor, and what is still more, the people I buy my produce from are poor. I don't buy from the swank boutique farmers.

I am not in the one pergoddamncent. I buy from local producers because they're my friends.

Furthermore, the danger in throwing all my food dollars at Sam Walton so that the people in my area can no longer afford to grow food? The risk in that is blazingly obvious to me. Shouldn't that danger be even more obvious to people with kids to feed--and to teach how to get food in the increasingly precarious future?
posted by Don Pepino at 9:54 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I used to volunteer at a CSA here in LA and got to see shenanigans and willful ignorance on all sides. There's farms that misrepresent what they grow and what the processes are. There is an ever-evolving ambiguity to what "local" means (five hour drive?). There's a deluded blindness to the amount of labor that agricultural produce actually takes — encouraged, at least here, by the vast racial divide between high-end consumers and agricultural workers. There's the buzzword "biodynamic" that means all things to all people. There's the CSA members who flip the fuck out when they find out that the blueberries aren't organic, just no-spray. There's the CSA owner who misrepresents everything as "organic." There's the endless complaints about winter greens and beets — the desire to eat seasonal is not recognized as a constraint on food, but rather some magical door to extra varietals that you wouldn't normally see. There's the desire for seasonal food combined with a refusal to learn what to do with kohlrabi.

"Organic" and "local" can be useful proxies, but they're noisy as shit and people don't have any real clue about what they mean. Part of that is the fault of the lunatic woo fringe, trying to convince people that if it's not organic, it's poison. Part of that is not understanding that organic certification is set up to benefit huge co-ops like Organic Valley, not small farmers, who often can't afford the certification. Part of it is just social signaling — the most obnoxiously passive-aggressive product I own is some gifted "organic" coffee filters. The brand name is "If You Care." Like, I guess you could buy another filter, if you fucking hate the earth, Cheney. (They came with the pour-over.)

I've also heard about a fair amount of this shit from my aunt and uncle — for them, the way they saved the family farm was by getting out of organic farming and into doing inspections for organic certifiers. Like a lot of things, many of the rules are arbitrary, easily gamed and of dubious efficacy.

And on the larger macroeconomic level, remember that this sort of fraud and anarchy is what a lot of ALEC/Koch libertarians want — Alan Greenspan, our former neoliberal Fed chief, thought that food and drug regulation encourages this sort of thing because it removes the responsibility from the consumer to thoroughly vet their food (and drugs) and imposes a false patina of government regulatory imprimatur. (Of course, as with all libertarian policy failures, the response is that we just haven't deregulated enough, since people still broadly trust the FDA and USDA to ensure that their meat or ketchup or Quaaludes won't kill them.)

But what, a single mom is supposed to drive five hours to verify that the tomatoes some "farmer" is selling aren't just from Publix?

I will say that this is why journalism is a public good, and why the Tampa Bay Times is one of the 10 best papers in America. Their investigative features are top notch, and they have a history of doing this sort of work really well. When people talk about threats to the newspaper model, the ability to have someone else go and check these farms in a reliable way is one of the things that's likely to be lost. (It does make me want to investigate all the farms at the LA markets and check out local restaurant claims, because damn, I'm willing to bet there's a lot of fraud there too.) One of the things that could be done is to provide "bounties" (or grants/prizes/rewards, in a more politic phrasing) for organizations that expose things like consumer fraud to the public. I know that the inevitable backlash would be that it's empowering more tort lawyers who are ruining America, but it seems like a reasonable counter to shit like Michigan passing a law that you have to prove criminal intent in cases like this, which makes fraud (and environmental abuses) much, much more difficult to prosecute.

"I actually care about the shithole that we're leaving to my 8 year old son, so it's personal to me."

Dunno, from the tone it seems like maybe you care about schadenfreude more than your 8-year-old son.
posted by klangklangston at 11:02 AM on April 14, 2016 [31 favorites]


YES: "If You Care," then you'll pay an enormous markup for UNbleached paper towels or whatever (which should obviously be cheaper than bleached) just because that yuppielicking name and package design gives you a rock hard cleanconscience boner. I went to Poland in the 80s. Every week you went to the paper recycling co with your week's worth of daily newspapers and turned them in. They handed you back unbleached 100% post-consumer recycled toilet paper. No money changed hands. No branding or packaging accompanied the toilet paper. Nobody on either side of the transaction was required to "Care."
posted by Don Pepino at 11:20 AM on April 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


For all people snicker at the words "Garden State" on the New Jersey licence plate, it's there for a reason. In the right parts of the state, at the right times of the year, you can absolutely buy stuff straight from little farm stands on the side of the road. The little stands in summer advertising corn are probably selling from the fields you can see from the road. (Corn in the summer, holy cow, the corn in wagons or the backs of trucks with hand-written signs. That stuff didn't travel far.) But, as mentioned above, anyone who's had a real garden can tell what is in season and what isn't for your area. Sell me zucchini in the beginning of August and it's local. In the spring or fall, maybe if you have a greenhouse, but I'm giving you the side-eye, mister.

I do miss the garden stand of my youth, where old Miss Venezia would give us a call whenever a new crop came in so her regulars could get first pick of the harvest. The farm was a ways out of town, but they sold from a stand in front of her house. When there was a harvest, they were open. When they ran out, they were closed. I'm not sure that kind of farm stand exists anymore. (I expect they made most of their money on regular orders to markets and the stand was for whatever came in extra.)
posted by Karmakaze at 11:50 AM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


A very similar story — with even the same title, "Farm to Fable," was published about the San Diego fake-local trend last year.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:06 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


This was really good journalism and well written. I live in California so have easier access to a wide variety of local produce than most people, but this is still relevant to me as a consumer and certainly relevant to all of us as a perfect example of the hazards of a deregulating ethic in our government.

Thanks for posting.
posted by latkes at 1:22 PM on April 14, 2016


A very similar story — with even the same title, "Farm to Fable," was published about the San Diego fake-local trend last year.

posted by Mo Nickels at 1:06 PM on April 14 [+] [!]


I'm guessing newspapers and magazines in any major metro area in the U.S. could run the same article if they cared to do some reporting.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 2:40 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


So when do we get to see the schadenfreude-laden reality TV show where these journalists bust fraudulent vendors, including interviews with the hipsters paying exorbitant prices for artisanal restaurant meals brought to you by Sysco?

I bet it'd do better than Undercover Boss...
posted by Feyala at 2:46 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


if Appalachia was historically so awesome at growing food, why was it so desperately poor for so long?

Because it would be hard to design geography with higher per-mile shipping cost, probably. (Plus also the Resource Curse from coal.)
posted by clew at 4:54 PM on April 14, 2016


... Papua New Guinea, or maybe sinkhole territory in the Caribbean? max(NPP*shipping_cost) ?
posted by clew at 4:56 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


there is clearly a big financial upside to lying

This could be a floating header in many threads.
posted by sneebler at 6:23 PM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


There's the buzzword "biodynamic" that means all things to all people.

I confess my immediate reaction was "Biodynamic? That's the term for people with superpowers from the webcomic "Strong Female Protagonist."

So uh, yeah, I guess you're right. And I'm getting some really weird cross-associations now.
posted by happyroach at 1:35 PM on April 15, 2016


mygothlaundry: So when I see full grown kale, tons of it, and big old beets and so on, not to mention peppers - please - I think it is just slightly possible that these things came from somewhere else. Florida maybe.

Honestly, I think somewhere that's scrubby and historically marginal for agriculture like Asheville / WNC is more likely to be (more) honest about local sourcing than somewhere like Florida with established industrial greenhouses and hydroponic production for watery winter tomatoes and peppers. There's clearly some bullshit, as you can't hide a Sysco truck when it's parked outside your restaurant downtown to make its delivery, but I don't think I've ever bought market vegetables that were obtained from a store and dunked in dirt for authenticity.

So I'm more inclined to agree with MovableBookLady here: on the restaurant side, there are only so many farms, and if you say you're sourcing from Hickory Nut Gap and not actually doing so, then the Agers will hear about it pronto. Bread and cakes and dairy and eggs (which are market mainstays) aren't as seasonally-dependent, and if you've spent enough time observing the markets, you know when the asparagus or strawberries ought to show up.

(I've grown massive amounts of winter kale and beetroot in years past, and the CSAs are all about bok choi and kholrabi right now.)
posted by holgate at 10:44 AM on April 16, 2016


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