Welcome to part two of our series on food systems. In our last post, we defined the term “food system” as ‘the system encompassing everything to do with food,’ and gave a breakdown of the myriad places components of the average fruit-flavored yogurt may come from (hint: all over the world). In this post, we will be discussing local food systems, and breaking down the local equivalent: yogurt from Mountain View Farm Products.
Mountain View is located in Fairfield Virginia, just an hour from Charlottesville. Their yogurt ingredient breakdown (excluding yogurt bacteria) is:
- Milk: from Mountain View Farm, in Fairfield, Virginia (200 cows, pasture-grazed on a 250 acre farm)
….and that’s it. The cows are milked, and yogurt is made and packaged on-site in Fairfield, then transported to retailers, restaurants, and so on. There are no preservatives like guar gum, no transatlantic flights, no unpronounceable ingredients. Admittedly, the yogurt isn’t flavored like our industrial example, but if you add a peach from Saunders Brothers Orchard, the overall trip is still under 100 miles.
“Food Miles,” or the distance that food travels to reach your plate, is just one of the countless ways that local food systems differ from industrial. Transparency is another big one. Mountain View is (rightfully) proud of their beautiful property and the way they treat their cows. Their farm is open to visitors, and they will gladly talk to you about their processes. At Saunders (and other orchards in Virginia), not only can you visit, you’re able pick the peaches that will go in your yogurt.
Take a moment and think about how much simpler and clearer the path (food system) of this yogurt is from ingredients to process to transportation.
However, the high quality, simple, small-scale and transparent processes of Mountain View are more expensive. For starters, it costs more to treat your cows well, making the fundamental ingredient more expensive to produce. Mountain View doesn’t benefit from the efficiencies of scale that industrial farmers do, and since they are both producing the milk and creating the yogurt, they can’t shop around for cheaper milk suppliers in other states or foreign countries. Their values and transparency mean that all workers are paid a fair wage, and no corners are cut any step of the way. Plus, there are no government subsidies for a farm of this size.
That, in short, is why products of the industrial food system are cheaper than those of local food systems – the true price of industrial food is difficult to see, but very much present.