It’s been about a decade
since the last financial crisis, yet this industry has never been bigger. Legislation that was meant
to better regulate its largest players has hurt its smaller ones, resulting in most of the industry’s assets
to be controlled by the top one percent. They’ve become too big to fail. I’m not referring to big banks, but the world of Big Agriculture. As a public health practitioner who has worked with
small-scale farmers in Rwanda and now as a small food business owner who sits at the intersection
between our consumers and producers, I’ve been exposed to one of the most ecologically and economically
intensive industries in the world, and throughout my work, I’ve witnessed a chilling irony. Our farmers, who feed our communities,
cannot afford the very foods they grow. Today, a handful of corporations
continue to consolidate the entire food supply chain, from the intellectual property of seeds
to produce and livestock all the way to the financial institutions
who lend to these farmers. And the recent results have been
rising bankruptcies for family farms and little control for those who are just
trying to survive in the industry. Left unchecked, we will head
into another economic collapse, one very similar to
the farm crisis of the 1980s, when commodity market prices crashed, interest rates doubled, and many farmers lost everything. Fortunately, there’s a very simple,
three-part solution you can be part of right now to help us transform our food industry
from the bottom up. Step one: shop at
your local farmers markets. Buying from your local market and subscribing to a community-supported
agricultural produce box, better known as a CSA, may be the single greatest
purchasing decision you can make as a consumer today. Last year, American farmers
made the least they have in almost three decades, because they now own
fewer parts of the supply chain than ever before. Under exclusive contracts
with Big Ag and big box stores, farmers are not offered
a fair price for their goods. In fact, the average farmer in America makes less than 15 cents of every dollar
on a product that you purchase at a store. On the other hand, farmers who sell
their goods at a farmers market take home closer to
90 cents of every dollar. But beyond taking home a larger share, farmers use markets as an opportunity to cultivate the next generation
of agriculturalists who shepherd our farmlands
and our pastures. In our fight against climate change,
we need them now more than ever to promote and preserve diverse land use. When multigenerational farms
are lost to Big Ag consolidation, our communities suffer in countless ways. Rural America has now jumped above
the national average in violent crime. Three out four farmworkers surveyed
have been directly impacted by our opioid epidemic. Now oftentimes disguised as accidents, farmer suicide is now on the rise. Step two: shop at
your local farmers markets. (Laughter) Produce from a large retail store
is harvested before it’s ripe to travel more than a thousand miles
before it ultimately sits on your shelf roughly two weeks later. Alternatively, because
most farmers markets have proximity and
production requirements, farmers travel less than 50 miles
to offer you local produce with minimal packaging waste. With the advent of online grocers
and trending meal kits, consumers are increasingly disconnected with their farmers and the economics
of food production. Since the rise of
the smartphone revolution, direct-to-consumer goods have stagnated. While local and sustainable foods
have been trending for almost a decade, terms like “healthy” and “natural” have no legal framework
in the United States. Your best bet for fresh,
nutrient-rich foods without the marketing jargon? Go to your farmers market. Buying local is not a new idea, but turning it into a habit
in today’s world still is. If we want to avoid
the high costs of cheap food, protect our environment, rebuild our communities and save our farmers — literally — we’re going to need to vote
with our food purchases. The success of our food systems
is directly attached to us. If we want to break up Big Ag’s hold
on our food supply chain, then we’re going to need
to connect with our farmers. We’re going to need
to rebuild relationships with the hands that feed us
three times a day. Plus, two more for snacks. Come on. With a government online database
of more than 8,600 farmers markets across the country, you can easily find
the nearest one to you. Just think of yourself
as an investor in food, where your purchasing power helps create
a more equitable society for everyone. Oh! Almost forgot step three, which may surprise you: shop at your local farmers markets. (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)