I have been thinking a lot recently about our upcoming Independence Day. Well, actually I have just been thinking about the word Independence and what it means to us all. And what is at the root of independence?
The word I keep coming back to is Choices. Does our independence as individuals really just boil down to having the ability to choose? I decide where I work, where I live, who I can marry, and where I can buy food and clothes.
Growing up, my parents always stressed that being successful in life just meant that you were faced with options. And that it is never a good feeling to have only one option in front of you. Options or choices give us all the warm fuzzies and probably remind us that there is free will in our lives. We are the master of our destiny. Or something like that.
And of course, me being a food nerd, this idea of choices came to mind as I was traveling through a rural part of our nation’s heartland recently. It doesn’t even matter where it was because its name is Smalltown USA and the scenario is playing out all over this great country.
Here is the snapshot of the landscape..a small town has mom n pop stores supplying goods and feeding the families in the area. The “CEOs” of the stores live next door to the other town people and you have a fairly diverse offering even though it is probably not the most efficient model.
But then comes the paradigm shift, Wal-Mart comes to town. And let me preface this next part by saying that this is not and will not be a bash on Wal-Mart, this is just a commentary on the economic landscape of many areas.
So as Wally World comes to these small communities, the efficiency of a well-oiled distribution system suffocates the mom n pop stores with low prices. We all know that story. But here is the interesting thing that I was noticing in this small town– the economic diversity of this town had been distilled down to one store. The grocery store is the garden store. The tire store is the bakery. The diversity of the town’s shops vanish. And in the end, you are left with only one store. The free market at work, many would say.
But what if our independence as individuals is really rooted in choices and founded in having options? What happens in our small rural areas that have no options remaining?
Then it hit me clear as a bag of bricks over the head. In many areas, we are not as independent as we might think, but many of our communities are completely Dependent on one store for their entire survival. After the mom n pops leave, so too does the skill and knowledge of how to run a store. So we get to the point where small communities have all of their eggs in the proverbial one basket.
So through our independent actions of shopping, we come to the point of dependency. The most tragic part of this situation is that we have done it to ourselves by chasing the mirage of low prices. Like when my brother would punch me using my own fist and say “Stop hitting yourself.”
This is what I love about what our farm and thousands of other farms are trying to do in this country. We are not trying to serve the “Over 1 Billion” burgers. We are trying to retain and grow the food choices that we have in our communities. Foster the small scale agricultural lifestyle. Avoid the consolidation of food producers into a single entity. And celebrate the nuances and diversity in our economic landscapes.
For me, this economic diversity within communities is the face of independence. It is something that I am happy and fortunate to help build every day of the year. And I am grateful for all of you who support this vision for an eclectic marketplace full of many different faces.