The unstoppable Ulla Kjarval, daughter of a local grass-fed beef farmer and herself a passionate local-foods and farming advocate, had an interview last week with Eat To Blog. Here, she opines on what can be done to fix our broken national food system:
It costs almost as much to process 10 animals as it does to process a 1000 because of how the USDA safety regulations are set up—they benefit the large packers and hurt smaller plants. This adds a big cost to local meat. We are currently in the mist of a fight over more regulations that threaten smaller plants. We need less regulations for the smaller plants or government funding to offset the insane costs that go along with USDA regulations. Currently, we pay almost 500 dollars to have a steer processed. I wonder how much it costs Cargill?
In terms of awareness, we are all relearning skills that as a society we have lost. We are learning to finish our animals on grass, learning to cook again, enrich our soils, by directly from farmers. This requires us all to educate ourselves; farmers are meeting at grazing conferences and sharing tips and insights, butchers are experimenting with sausages and converting new fans to the-nose-to-tail cooking and home cooks armed with dutch ovens are learning to braise. This movement is a movement of education and learning new skills. It is about empowering producers and consumers to make smarter choices.
If you thought it was easy to label the burgeoning locavore movement as solely a product of the left, think again. Kjarval is a good example of an activist who defies easy political labels -- she's spent most of her life on a working upstate farm, and has plenty of firsthand experience with how over-regulation and taxation can hurt small farms and businesses. She's also (gasp!) an NYC foodie, a pointed critic of conventional large-scale agriculture, and an advocate for grass-fed and organic farming.
With simplistic left-vs.-right divisiveness having risen to appalling levels, both in upstate New York and across the nation, it's good to know there are some bridge-builders left out there.