It's easy to feel powerless in the face of the fact that nearly everything that comes in a package and is sold in a supermarket today is made by one of only 10 mega corporations or by a company owned by them. The ingredients in those products, which as often as not include multisyllabic synthetic molecules and genetically engineered crops, come from industrial farms and could be grown and processed anywhere on the planet. The cost to the consumer is kept low, while the price we pay in terms of our own health and that of the environment remains hidden.
There are, of course, alternatives. In larger cities and throughout the Hudson Valley, there are wonderful farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes that forge alliances between farmers and consumers. CSAs were developed as a way for farmers to get much needed capital early in the season; subscribers share the risks, and rewards, as shareholders in the farm. For an average cost of around $500 a share, which can sometimes be offset by an exchange for a few days work on the farm, CSA members get weekly supplies of fresh, seasonal produce.
Still, these "alternatives" remain tied to a demographic that is defined rather narrowly (you know who you are, dear reader). As long as we conceive of local food as "alternative," industrial food remains the norm. But even the most conscientious among us knows that it can be difficult to maintain standards for food choices, given the demands of work and family and the convenience of one-stop shopping at the supermarket. A paradigm shift is in order, one in which the consumption of local, healthy, sustainable food becomes normative. This requires new modes of distribution that would make farm-fresh produce just as convenient as the alternative.
"Unlike a typical CSA," says Williams, "we work with over 30 different farms, instead of only one. Our products include Certified Organic, organically grown, IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and conventional small farm methods. There is no upfront payment, as opposed to one or two large payments with a CSA. Customers can start and stop deliveries anytime. They can also change the size of the bags they receive. We may offer a larger variety and smaller amounts than the average CSA." Emphasizing the key role of CSAs, Williams acknowledges that " what we don't offer is a personal relationship with the farmer, which is very important to people who participate in CSAs. Another important component is sharing risk and reward with the farmer. If the harvest is great the customer receives more and less if it is not. If I meet a likely CSA customer, I suggest they go that route."