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Thursday, September 7, 2017

‘Farm to Table’ Has Jumped the Shark

Whole Foods is now selling "farm fresh" Amazon electronics.

 farm GIFNow that Amazon’s taken over Whole Foods, a natural foods grocery known for its high prices, the new owners have pledged to lower prices.

I stopped by the store to see what had changed. In addition to a few discounts — organic apples went from $2.99 to $1.99 per pound — I noticed a big display in the middle of the produce section.

“Farm Fresh,” it read. “Just Picked.”

What agricultural product was this ad for? Amazon Echo — a wireless speaker.

Presumably Amazon grew the electronic devices on a nearby farm and, once ripe, harvested them off the vine and shipped them to the produce aisle in my local Whole Foods.

The same day, while browsing hiking socks online, I came across a brand I hadn’t seen before called Farm to Feet.

Seriously? Farm to Feet?

It’s true that wool — and the socks were mostly made of wool, in addition to a few synthetic fibers like spandex — comes from a sheep, and sheep are raised on a farm. The socks certainly had more of a connection to a farm than an Amazon Echo.

But I think we can officially say that “Farm to Table” has jumped the shark.


Initially, sellers who claimed to offer “Farm to Fork,” “Farm to Table,” or “Farm to School” goods supported a closer connection with your local farmer.

The idea was — and is — a great one. Get to know a local grower and learn more about where your food comes from. Support a local business. Better yet, you’ll get to eat foods that are fresh picked because they weren’t shipped halfway across the world in order to reach you.

One farm I visited near my home in Southern California grows blackberries that are bigger than some plums. These juicy giants simply can’t survive shipping. You can eat them locally or not at all.

When I lived in the Midwest, my favorite local farmer grew luscious varieties of pears and apples I’d never heard of before. They’re more delicious than apples I’ve found at any grocery store.

Often, when farmers sell directly to consumers, it’s a win-win. Farmers can charge higher prices than they can charge wholesalers, while consumers pay lower prices than they’d pay at a store.

When restaurant chefs work with farmers, they can ask farmers to grow specific varieties they want to serve, and promise the farmers a guaranteed market for their produce once it’s harvested.

My local school system found that smaller sized fruits, which farmers would otherwise be unable to sell, were the perfect size for young school children. Their Farm to School program gave a market to nearby growers while providing nutritious food to kids for lunch.

But advertising a pair of socks as “Farm to Feet” because the wool came from some farm, somewhere — that’s missing the point.

As for advertising electronics as “Farm Fresh,” I have no words. I’ve visited a lot of farms on five continents, and I’ve yet to meet a farmer who grows electronics.

Getting to know where your food comes from is a great idea. Supporting farmers in your community is wonderful. It’s a privilege that not everyone has, and it’s enriched my life immeasurably to be able to thank the people who grow my food face to face.

But for some, it’s just a marketing slogan. If your product doesn’t directly connect consumers to farmers, you shouldn’t advertise it as “Farm to” Anything.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.