In a small sustainable community like a village I grew up in, the quality of the produce is not only determined by the fertile soil, the weathers, water, machinery or the seasons, but it is also the well-being of the farmers.
When I was a kid, one of my neighbors had a farm near a lake so he had a system of fish farming using the resource from the lake. The water came from the lake, flooding water-plants and fish from the lake to his farm where he boosted the natural growth of the fish with grains and chopped vegetable from his land. Everything was natural, and he treated the earth resource with so much respect. The fish tasted like they came from the wild— fresh and sweet. My friends and I often went to his farm because it was so beautiful and cooling. It was also a good spot to catch Siamese Fighting Fish (Oh my God, I need to tell you about this later). Anyway, one year when we ordered 20 kilo of Tilapias for a party from our fish farmer, my mom wasn’t so happy. While gutting and cleaning the fish, she said “Something is wrong with these fish.” How could she tell without even tasting it? The tilapias were bigger than usual, and I thought it was a good thing. However, she explained that there was too much fat in the fish, and the flesh seemed mushy. The fish also smelled too fishy which shouldn’t be the case when we had the fresh catch. We cooked them anyway, in a big pot of Tom Pla, fish in aromatic broth filled with fresh herbs and chilies. After the festival, my mom visited the fish farmer, bringing some buffalo jerky to thank him for that big supply. We found out that his farm got totally revamped. Big trees and vegetable garden were removed to accommodate 3 football field-sized ponds which were cut out of the lake. There were no water-plants floating on top of his fish farm anymore. Instead, the water in the ponds was so still, clear and green. As for the food, now the fish were fed with pig pellets. And these fish were not even from the lake anymore. They were genetically modified tilapias from the biggest food corporation in Thailand. The farmer told my mom that he gave in to industrialized food manufacturing because he was about to lose his farm. Small scale farming was a real hardship, and the farmer had been struggled and stressed for years until he decided to sell his soul. The company paid for mass production, infrastructure, food for the fish and the salary for the farmer. He could relax with fixed income now, but he wasn’t happy with the quality of his product anymore.
Growing up in a farming community, I know what quality of the produce means for farmers. Like a signature dish to a chef and a masterpiece to an artist, the best bushel is the pride of a farmer. So it’s heartbreaking to see the farmers compete with big food corporations which force them to compromise on the standard of their produce.
Are we doing enough to support the farmers? I immediately feel guilty when I think about this.
Today, I told my husband “Something is wrong with our food.” It’s pretty sad to look at our local markets at the moment. Food becomes expensive. The produce is contaminated with pesticides and growth hormone. Last February our local markets weren’t flooded with the red of fresh strawberries like last year. In fact, it was almost impossible to get some good ones. Bananas now are artificially ripened so they aren’t sweet at all. Grape Season just went by, and we noticed a sharp decline in quantity of the grapes in the market. Mango season is on the way, and I want to be optimistic, so I pray for the best.
Do you realize how small the eggs have become? What do you do when a cake recipe requires 2 large eggs? I end up using 4. The direction our food is heading is dreadful.
If I was like my mom, I would go to visit my farmers and see how they were doing. If the farmer’s well-being is very important to the quality of our food, the farmers who grow food for our house are not doing alright. But to be honest, I don’t really know where my food comes from anymore, and it makes me feel disconnected.
What are we going to do?
I have been searching for Community Supported Agriculture program in India for months. I think CSA is one way to help people who grow our food.
Community Supported Agriculture
Community supported Agriculture is a platform where city residents get access to high quality, fresh produce locally grown by regional farmers. Members of CSA pledge to support the farmers by paying at the onset of the growing season so the members share the risks and benefits of food production. In the harvesting season, the share of production arrives at the members’ doorsteps, usually in the form of weekly or periodically subscriptions.
CSA is a member-driven model. The success of CSA relies on the close relationship between the farmers and the members. By investing at the beginning of the growing season, the members become partners with the farmers. The members are involved in planning, selecting the seeds and adapting organic method into the farm. The farmers can focus on producing high quality food while the sense of ownership in every member drives them to care and help out with the production. This system allows us to see where our food come from. In fact, in it, we grow our own food.
Unfortunately, we still lack active CSA groups here in India. My research always ends up at the dead ends. It’s such a shame because this system can really help both consumers and farmers here. If you know anything about CSA in India, if you can do something, if we can do something together, please let us know.
Other things we can do
What I’m doing now is to buy seasonal and locally grown produce as much as I can. When we drive out of town, we always look for farm stands on the side of the road. We believe that it helps the farmers a lot because the farmers don’t have to share the profit with the middleman when we buy the product straight from the farm. Let us know if you have other tips to share.
Farmers are the people who work closest to our planet resource, and they are the people who understand our food the best. They are the people who can precisely answer this question… what is wrong with our food? My mom said “the well-being of the farmers defines the quality of the produce”. So I think… it’s time for us to visit our farmers.