Saturday, November 08, 2008

Woe is Me ... The "Economic Downturn"

Don't you just love the term, "economic downturn"? I don't think I liked it at first, but it is starting to grow on me now. I must admit that even though I can be a little, "woe is me" at times, for the most part I am a pretty much an optimist. So, when I look at the current "economic downturn" I just try and look at the bright side of things ... one of the bright spots right now is that gas is below $2.00 a gallon and with my 7¢ off for using a Wal-Mart gift card it almost seems like I don't mind filling up (but really it needs to go down more and stay down).

But, gas prices aren't the only thing being affected by this "economic downturn". I just read over at Allan Nation's blog that the Whole Foods chain of stores is seeing a huge decrease in growth and is trying to get out of some leases. It seems with people thinking that the financial word is and is going to crumble they have decided that buying food from Whole Foods isn't as cool as it used to be. To quote the quote that was in Mr. Nations blog post, "Two to three years ago, it was cool to shop at Whole Foods. Now you might say it is cool to shop at Costco".

There are only a couple of things wrong with that. First of all I've never been to a Whole Foods, so I don't know exactly what they sell. But, if they sell food that is organic/natural/just plain better for you than I'm guessing that the reason you shop there should not be because it is cool. It should be because you have a reason to shop there. And secondly, how bad have we become as a country if we shop at grocery stores because of the status symbol that they are ... it is bad enough that we do it for clothes and everything else.

So, here is my question. How do you see the "economic downturn" impacting small-scale family agriculture? I have noticed time and time again comments from people over at the Epi-Log that they are cutting back on their farmer's market purchases and other local food things because they just can't afford it (by the way, how does an "economic downturn" effect a 20'something with a secure job and no need to withdraw money from their pension?). So, what will the impact be? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Jean said...

Our local pumpkin man said the sale is down. Selling only about half of his crop as opposed to more healthier 2/3 ratio. I'm surprised because squash is one of cheaper food you could buy FRESH! Too bad many people are either not aware or too lazy to save few pennies by buying these pumpkins as food ALSO.

Mama Podkayne said...

One of the things I am constantly amazed about is the price of meat. And organic raised meat? Get out. Seriously. We cannot afford to eat the way we do buying this from grocery stores. Also, it may be organic at the store, but where is it from? California? Florida? Canada? Mexico? So much is lost in transport, that it is hardly worth it to buy "organic". (Also it is silly to me to buy product that's shipped in when we raise that same stuff in Iowa and ship it out....) BUT when we buy directly from the local farmer and pick it up in bulk from the local processor, we pay less than consumers are paying per pound for regular meat at Hy-Vee. We paid last year 100$ a month for meat and we ate meat with almost every meal, including most breakfasts. We ate out less, we lost some in the power outage and we ran out early BUT this year we are buying a bit more, cutting it up differently, and eating out even less. Another bonus is that we now know more recipes in which to use the meat we get. Seriously, some of these cuts are like 8$ a pound. Yike. We paid around $1.60 per pound for everything, just about. More for the 26 lbs of lamb meat though. This is prime stuff, grass fed, pasture raised, and local. Beef is Black Angus. We're eating like kings and paying less than people who cut coupons for grocery store meat. Why doesn't every family do this?

Perhaps the economic downturn will open people's eyes to the possibility of supporting local farmers AND benefiting their own health AND budgets.

Just saying.

Rebekah Costello said...

First of all I've never been to a Whole Foods, so I don't know exactly what they sell. But, if they sell food that is organic/natural/just plain better for you than I'm guessing that the reason you shop there should not be because it is cool. It should be because you have a reason to shop there. And secondly, how bad have we become as a country if we shop at grocery stores because of the status symbol that they are ... it is bad enough that we do it for clothes and everything else.

Ok, so some people probably shop there because it's "cool" but lots of people shop there because they like healthy food. We don't have a Whole Foods, here, but I shop at the closest thing here....when I can afford it. The thing that bothers me about this post is that people aren't shopping at Costco because it's "cool". They are shopping there because that is what they can afford. I much prefer to shop from Wegman's organic, locally produced section but the reality is that they are charging prices that are highway robbery compared to what I can get at Walmart. And as much as I understand that shopping at Walmart drives the prices at Wegman's up, I still need to feed my family. It's not about being "cool" or not being "cool". It's about being POOR and yes, some people are poor enough that shopping at Whole Foods is just plain irresponsible. If the people that sell "whole foods" want to stay in business, they are going to have to set their prices in a range that attract more than just the people that can afford to be trendy. I know it costs a bit more to raise organic food (I do live on a farm, after all) and I know that because of that, the prices are a bit higher. But I also know that I raised 25 organically grown tomato plants this year that cost me a whopping $10 TOTAL, for the entire 25 plants. Which means that each individual tomato cost me literal pennies. So, um, WHY ON EARTH is my local produce section at the "healthy store" trying to charge me $2.39/lb (for which works out to almost $2.00 a tomato)?!?!!? At least when I pay $1.79/lb at Walmart I can figure that somewhere along the line, the shipping from Mexico made up part of the price (not that I'm advocating that, just pointing out that the inflation from my neighbor's farm to the local store is ridiculous).

Ah, and because you might be wondering why, if I have organic tomatoes in my garden, am I buying them at all? Well, hehe, unrelated to my little rant, here, I'm new at this, planted them too late and my last batch that came ready was destroyed by our early frosts. I'm not used to living this far north, hehe.

Yeoman said...

Ms. Costello likely have hit the nail on the head here.

What we're seeing in terms of this story is two things. One is, people have associated local production with "organic". And they secondly associate organic, with luxury.

So, in tight times, those whose commitment to organic was superficial in the first place will drop out. Also dropping out are those who find they can no longer budget it. We can't really blame those in the last category, as we're all in it to some degree. After all, I'd put up a wind generator in my back yard (I've got plenty of wind), but for the costs. I think wind power is nifty, but I'm still using electricity from a coal fired power plant, as I can't afford a wind generator.

Okay, so what can we do about that?

I think what we probably have to do is to view the economic downturn (which I think is more psychological than real) as an opportunity. I suspect, for example, that if people bought a local beef, they'd find it taste better (which cannot be disputed), and that it's actually cheaper than buying beef at the grocery store. So there's some opportunity there, on a local scale. Perhaps some local advertising is in order.

Secondly, while others will certainly disagree, times like this are a good opportunity for the federal government, which has directed us to the big scale agriculture we now have, to change directions. Farmers like to ignore that, but ignoring that amounts to a stamp of approval on the current system. The incoming administration claims it wants to address fuel and climate. Well, in that case, putting in 15 calories of transportation cost for each 2 calories of food produced is stupid. The federal government can address that by encouraging local production, or at least not discouraging it. Active encouragement, however, would be the most beneficial.

Mellifera said...

Whole Foods was getting hit before the economic downturn. A big part of their problem was that when Michael Pollan wrote Omnivore's Dilemma, all the folks who shop at Whole Foods read it and realized it wasn't what they thought. This one ain't just about the economy.

The economic downturn is ok for this particular set of 20-somethings. Our "secure jobs" are grad school; if the state happens to have a lot of money in a given year, your odds of getting paid $8 an hour for grading papers go up. Otherwise you just go into debt during school like everyone else. It's a relatively good age to be during a recession because we still have a lot of time in our life to make it up, and even if times were good it's not like we'd have money anyway. We're in grad school with a baby for crying out loud.

So sidetrack here, what's this assumption that 20-somethings have secure jobs? If you do have a job (as opposed to still being in school), you're entry-level, so you're on the bottom of the totem pole and fairly expendable. You probably have a bunch of student debt and a growing family. Meanwhile your odds of getting a promotion anytime in the next 10 years just went way down because your elders just lost their shirts on mortgages and stock buys they never should have made (if you're that close to retirement, you should NOT have all your money in stocks), and that's how much extra time it'll take them to retire and open up some more slots in the workforce. Not to mention the people I know who've had to bail out their middle-aged parents- that's not very helpful for young families trying to get established.

So anyway, that's how it's looking for a lot of young people. "Oh my, I'll have to work for a few more years" vs "Oh crap, how am I going to pay for my kids?" (And you thought the Boomers were mad at their parents....)

Ethan Book said...

Mellifera, I understand what you are saying about 20'somethings being in a tough spot, but I was specifically talking about a few that I know/know of. Take me for example. I have two children with one on the way, a wife that stays at home, and some retirement investments. I feel that I have a fairly secure job ... so, nothing is really effecting me ... and if I said it was then it would be in my head (that is my opinion).

So, I was specifically talking about people like myself ... not painting 20'somethings with a wide brush...

Oh ... and thanks for the good comments everyone!

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