Growing up in Minnesota, fresh, farm grown, and local foods were always readily available to my family. It wasn’t until I moved to the Nevada high desert that I found out that there are variations in production standards, values, and consistency of food quality and flavor. Where growing food is difficult, a different set of values come into play. Namely, affordability coupled with naïveté. If a type of food never gets shipped to your area of the country, you will have never tried it. Also, if it is available and it is prohibitively expensive, chances won’t be taken to to try the new item.
I remember a time, not too long ago, where it would have been standard to pay $8/lb. for organic tomatoes. This price reflected the time and energy the farmer was putting into obtaining their organic certification and keeping the food they grow to a high standard of quality. Those who supported the organic movement, paid for the tomatoes. Those who could not afford to buy the tomatoes all the time, bought them when they could. Now we are reaping the benefits of the farmers' hard work and the generosity of consumers who came before us. It is now much more affordable to purchase organic foods and organic is often competitive with conventional.
Slowly, and methodically, communities who care very much about the quality of the food they consume, can make a huge difference in the standards that all food is held to in the supply chain of their foodshed. Once people realized that organic produce often tasted better, carried fewer risks for consumers, was better for the environment, and better for the producers and customers, as a group we started to buy more organic foods. As consumers, we have to recognize the power of our spending patterns and, dollar for dollar, take responsibility for that power. So how do we convert our trepidation about trying a new thing into spending power? The answer is education.
Folks didn’t just automatically understand why one basket of tomatoes was $1/lb. and one basket was $8/lb. In a sense, that sticker shock was a wonderful marketing tool for those early grocers. Curiosity prompted shoppers to stop and ask questions. This spurred conversations about the benefits of organic farming and the efforts that were going into providing a better supply chain. Then, whether people were able to buy the more expensive food or not, they had the information and they would probably tell more people about it, spreading the information and educating fellow shoppers. This connected people to the food, and the supply chain and gave them bearings for the prices. For some this meant that they transformed that information into bias against organic foods. They wrote them off as expensive and left it at that. For others the information transformed into buying power. They knew that if they supported the movement to the extent of their abilities that it would grow. Every time they bought organic they knew it would encourage more farmers to grow more food ethically.
Why did it become apparent to me the folks were disconnected from their food and their buying power while I was in Nevada? At first glance, it is the quality of the meat. I noticed that ground beef tastes less like beef and learned later it was because it had a higher water content. Then I went to my first Thanksgiving with my wife’s family. I have no idea what brand the turkey was, and the only reason I know that it was conventional was because of a combination of its size and the shopping patterns of my in-laws. But that turkey changed me.
The breast meat was somehow simultaneously mealy and gummy. The dark meat was very rich, but it didn’t taste like turkey at all. In fact, for the first time I realized that when people said “turkey has no flavor” this is what they meant. The next year they also deep fried a turkey - and it had similar problems. I have spent a number of Thanksgivings in Nevada and I even went so far as to buy my own turkey one year and try to cook it myself. It was still bad. So I resolved that I no longer liked turkey and that my tastes had changed.
Fast forward a few years and I am back in Minnesota and am working for a co-op where I learn about Ferndale turkeys. I try a few of their products and I decide that I am going to give roasting a turkey another shot. I buy the smallest one available, since I am only cooking for two people, and I take it home. Some compound butter, fresh herbs, and a few lemons later, it was the moment of truth. The turkey was immaculate. It was juicy, flavorful, and it tasted like the turkey of my youth. To say that it took me back isn’t an exaggeration. It hit me, at that moment, why all those turkeys were so disappointing for so many years: I was used to going to my uncle’s farm for Thanksgiving every year. On his farm he raised three turkeys, one for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas, and one for various other meals throughout the winter. They were raised by him, humanely slaughtered, and prepared for our family within a few long strides of where we would sit to eat it each year.
Ferndale turkey tasted like home to me. It’s not that people in Nevada don’t care what their food tastes like. Or that they specifically place a higher value on a lower price. A lot of it has to do with not knowing anything different. My city dwelling family has never tasted farm-grown food before. My friend from California started eating tomatoes this summer, after moving here because she had finally tasted one that wasn’t mealy and had a good flavor. Another friend who still lives in Nevada, another former tomato hater, started eating tomatoes that she had grown since they, too, were miraculously palatable.
Despite choosing a plant-based diet for the past three years, I am choosing to buy a Ferndale turkey again this year. My friends who moved from California deserve to know how different it is to consume meat from an animal who lived outside, was cared for, and was humanely slaughtered.
Just like they deserved to know that orange peelers exist, because you don’t have to claw your orange open in order to eat it!
However, there is another reason that I am buying a turkey through Spiral, from Ferndale. It is because I want places like Spiral to continue to offer products like Ferndale Turkey. I am using every opportunity that I have to signal to Spiral Food Co-op
1 - what types of products I like,
2 - the frequency with which I am willing to buy those products, and
3 - the prices I am willing to pay for those items.