By Joel Salatin / Photo by Molly McDonald Peterson
“What are you doing here?” the neighbor demanded, elbowing her way through the cluster of Polyface customers surrounding our delivery vehicle. “You can’t do this!” she remonstrated, into the face of her dumbfounded neighbor who was in the middle of filling her cooler with pastured chickens and “salad bar” beef.
Citing homeowners association rules and regulations about solicitations and commerce, this neighbor was hot and bothered about a local food drop occurring in her community. The very idea. Tsk. Tsk. I suppose she never receives a UPS shipment. I’m sure she’s never hosted a bridal shower or Tupperware party.
What’s the difference between a group of friends getting together to play games and the same group getting together to pick up their local food order? The face of local food has many expressions: farmers markets, community supported agriculture, buying clubs, home delivery, office delivery. It doesn’t look like a supermarket, that’s for sure.
Innovation on this ragged edge of the local food distribution network creates nuances that don’t fit neatly into zoning and other regulatory definitions. These folks clustered around our delivery vehicle had ordered their food online and were simply meeting the delivery vehicle at an appointed place. We (the farmers) were not soliciting sales, not selling anything. It had already been sold. Just like a UPS delivery. If we had used a lot more time and petroleum to deliver to each household customer, it would not have attracted attention.
But because we (the farmers) were trying to be efficient and set up a food fellowship-shindig-social setting as well, the convergence attracted attention and raised the ire of a prudish neighbor.
Rather than appreciating the food connections and relationships being established, this neighbor was incensed that something was happening in her upscale neighborhood besides gardeners mowing the lawns, domestics cleaning the houses, and children either properly occupied with electronic entertainment inside or participating in off-site soccer games outside.
I’ve noticed that the wealthier the community the more the people who live there seem disconnected from their ecological moorings. Do they just assume that no matter how expensive energy becomes, they will always be the top feeders? Few things can be more environmentally reasonable than clothes lines, downspout rain catchments, gardens, backyard rabbits, chickens, and honey bees. But these elements smack of peasants, agrarianism, and self-reliance. Too many people think they’ve evolved to a higher level of sophistication than to be bothered by such drivel.
Just last week a city mayor confessed to me that she did not even have a kitchen in her home. Having just read Jared Diamond’s iconic “COLLAPSE,” I’m struck by the aloof, disconnected spirit of too many people. Apparently some folks think we’ll be the first culture to extricate ourselves from these nasty ecological moorings. They think we’ll be able to forget about our dependency on earthworms, soil, water, and air. I suppose they think we’ll all sail off on a Star Trek space ship eating breakfast in a tablet, living in a world without diapers and decomposition.
The whole crux of the local food movement depends on transparency and relationships. Too many people are far more passionate about the latest belly button piercing in Hollywood celebrity culture than what will become flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone at 6 p.m. That is tragic.
Instead of threatening litigation over a group of local food connectors and the farmer who braves expressways to bring nutrient density to town, neighbors and regulators should applaud and encourage such connections.
With all the hoopla about local food in our culture, I never cease to be amazed at the new hurdles thrown up to derail and distract this movement. The whole notion of local food is such a foreign concept that many people can’t even fathom what it looks like. And yet this community imbedded, shindig-oriented, rag-tag confluence of friends and food predates tyrannical neighbors who think they’ve risen above menial life responsibilities like food and soil.
If homeowners associations were really progressive, they’d be offering staging areas for local food connections to occur rather than using their rules to eliminate food interfaces. At some point, people need to realize that if they aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem. Now go meet your farmer and get real food.
Internationally acclaimed farmer, conference speaker, and author Joel Salatin and his family operate Polyface Farm in Augusta County near Staunton, Va., producing and direct-marketing “salad bar” beef, “pigaerator” pork, and pastured poultry. He is also co-owner of T&E Meats in Harrisonburg.