Locavore Adventures

So far this year I’ve added the following to my diet:

Local Strawberries- PYO from Mackintosh Farm in Berryville.  I ate them all plain, about 10lbs

Local Cherries (Sweet & Pie) – PYO from Crooked Run Orchard in Purcellville.  Cherries were frozen and used in pies, about 10-15lbs of sweet & pie each.

Local Blueberries. PYO from Eagle Tree in Loudon.  For freezing, pie and eating plain, about 12lbs

On the way, plums, blackberries, raspberries, peaches, apples.

Now I just need to figure out how to buy flour, potatos, and nuts in bulk.

Why the Locavore isn’t just a neo-protectionist

It has been well established in economics that in the market for commodities, foreign trade, intra-country trade and other trade is generally a good thing.  Efforts to create barriers to trade, such as trariffs and quotas have well measured costs to efficiency and at best pose a lose-lose or “win some”-”lose more” outcome for society.

So what is different about the locavore?  Aren’t they arguing in favor of discredited barriers to trade?  I think not.  There are many barriers to trade that rational people favor, such as the ban on trade in humans as chattel, euphoric drugs, assassination as a service.  If it is okay to say locavores are arguing in favor of discredited barriers to trade, maybe it is okay to say opponents to the locavore are in favor of removing all barriers to trade in all commodities.  The fact is, products differ, markets differ.  We are not dealing with idealized commodities that have only the features of quantity, price and a certain ability to provide a featureless utility.  Products in the real world have many peculiarities, such as the eurphoric drug’s ability to subvert the users ability to make rational economic decisions, or the way slavery and murder as a service undermine basic property rights.

Food has the peculiar characteristics in that we must consume it or die.  It has weight, costly to ship.  It can be stored, but virtually no food can be stored indefinately.  Production of food has its own peculiar characteristics.  Producers can choose the quanitty of inputs, but can’t predict the quanity of outputs, hence there are gluts and shortages.  The price system clears the market, but not as efficiently as in the market for toasters, where producers get 1000 toasters when they order their factory to create 1000 toasters.

The peculiarities of long distance food.  Long distance food is a product where the food itself is virtually free.  New Zealand apples can be grown for a negligible cost.  These apples combined with petroleum, creates the product of an apple in Virginia.  Since almost all of the inputs are petroleum, eating food over a long distance is about switching from the peculiarities of the food market to the peculiarities of the petroleum market. 

The petroleum market is one of a dwindling resource.  The global quanity is fixed and shrinking.  The price will go up, technology will improve and become more efficient in its use just before it finally become too expensive to use an input into any productive activity.  At that point, the use of petroleum to creat the product of an New Zealand apple in Virginia will come to an end.

That gets us back to the peculiarities of food.  As public policy, it is not wise to base the production of a product that *must* go on, on a input that *must* disappear.

The locavore is not trying to beggar the neighbor (ie. deny New Zealand money), or enrich local farmers.  The locavore is choosing a supply of an essential product from a supplier than can deliver on the promise to alway be there.

One arguement against locavores is that, well if barriers to trade with food far away is good, then ever more stringent barriers are better, say buying only products grown 10 feet away, or in one’s own house.  A rational locavore would not choose to do this because the limit of food autarchy (self sufficency), of being a subsistence farmer is a contract with a supplier who also can’t deliver on the promise to always deliver food.

Now in the DC area, it is possible to buy food from Loudon County, Pennsylvannia or New York and expect that food to still be delivered after the collapse of the petroleum economy.

The final arguement rests on the peculiarities of edge cases, such as remote locations like Alaska, where there isn’t any agricultural production.  For that, I’d point to the experience of Norwegian colonists in Greenland, who tried to farm there.  Their civilization collapsed. 

Wine Review: Fabbioli Cellars Tre Sorelle

I got this wine by asking if there were any Virginia Organic wine growers.  The shop keeper said that Fabbioli had a reputation for being a responsible grower or possibly near-econoganic.  The Tre Sorelle was very tasty and my cat decided it smelled pretty good.  My favorite red wines are Tempranillo Red wines, so it was nice to find a new wine that tastes good but isn’t a repeat of an old favorite.

I can’t tell if you can save money by buying direct, but you can save money by returning their Raspberry Merlot bottles. Tomorrow I’ll check at the farmers market in Falls Church and see how the prices compare against the website.

Happy Milk

A vegetarians now has a modern challenge of finding milk and eggs that are compatible with an ethical vegetarian philosophy.  The other two common reasons for being a vegetarian– environmental and health impacts.  A vegetarian diet eschews food that requires killing for food, especially sentient beings.  If we are to be ethically consistent, then we should find out how our dairy is being produced:

From an ethical standpoint,

What happens to the excess calves?  What happens to old cows?
What is the quality of life for the cows? Are the in tiny pens or fields?

Do the cows eat their normal diet they would eat were they wild?

From an environmental stand point,

Does it require feeding large amounts of pesticide treated food to the cows?

How much pollution is created in creating and shipping milk?

And from a health standpoint,

What are the scientific facts about rBST?

Milk has always been a tricky product to get from cow to table without bacterial contamination: who performs best– organic, small, medium or large dairies?

Existing Movements
Organic:  This means the cow ate organic food.  The could could have been raised in inhumane conditions or fed grain, which isn’t what makes for healthy happy cows.

rBST Free: This is a very limited filter and means that the cow didn’t get hormones to increase milk production.
Local:  Food shouldn’t be shipped from far away. Often local also means “small farms” and “traditional farming methods” as opposed to factory farming, but not necessarily.

Vegan: This is something of an animal liberation ideology– that animals shouldn’t be part of the human economy.

Family Owned Farm: May mean that the farm is able to take in consideration non-market criteria in choice about production, where as a share holder owned farm is likely to choose inhumane farming techniques as long as it cuts costs, raises output more than any expected losses in sales from customer outrage.
Grass Fed.  Cows don’t like eating grain. It’s bad for their health and makes them get fat rapidly.
The Future
Certified Humane. This program looks new. At the store I’ve only seen certified humane eggs, nothing for milk yet.