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War in Ukraine highlights importance of local food

photo: Polina Rytova, Zelenyi Hai, Ukraine

This is a terrible war. Needles. Humanitarian disaster in the making. Putin’s Russia has embarked on an unlawful and idiotic adventure, which again proves that human lives matter little when pitted against an ambitious and insatiable appetite from narcissistic leaders. Unfortunately, the price we will ALL pay, including regular consumers in the US, will be high. Many experts already argue that we are already knees deep in WW3. I don’t disagree.

Food supply is one of the issues that has come under attack in the war in Ukraine. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other food staples to the rest of the world. The Middle East and North Africa face a severe wheat criss over the war in Ukraine, reports DW (German News Agency). That means the impact will eventually be global, as these buyers look for alternative suppliers, and from there, local. Food prices, already under pressure from inflation, will almost certainly go up. This war has just accelerated the spike.

But what it also does, is it exposes the fragility of our food supply — namely, how vulnerable the US is to disruptions even if tucked far away from the battlefields of Ukraine. This is both the peril and the advantage of globalization. On the one hand, we are lucky to benefit from economies of scale thanks to globalization, and the benefits of efficiencies which translate into cost savings for consumers. But on the other hand, global food supply is highly vulnerable, and increasingly more so to aimless political escapades, unhinged dictators, and natural disasters due to climate change. More and more we are seeing food supply disruptions due to floods, droughts and fires.

Which brings me back to Nearby. When Vineet and I started this project, part of the issue we wanted to address was food supply security, and part of the answer to this, as far as we see it, is in enhancing and promoting local food. No doubt about it. Sure, local food supply is also subject to uncertainty, and unpredictable weather, but by definition a local system is inherently more predictable and maneuverable for those involved. Why? Because we know the food producers, and the food makers, and not least, also the law makers. We are hyper aware of the local circumstances, micro and macro, related to food. We can prepare, act and intervene in a timely manner to ensure the safety of our supply.

As an example, let’s look at how the Austin community responded to the devastating fire that destroyed the Texas French Bread Co. Or the way people have pitched in to help farmers, not least Boggy Creek Farm, survive the cold freezes, including through our membership program available on the Nearby platform.

We call it the Friends Of program. Why? Because it’s a way for us as a community to take a direct stance (by way of an additional financial contribution) in the well being and survival of our local food system. This is a shift in thinking. By becoming members of local farms, restaurants which make an effort to source and serve local food, or butcher shops that work exclusively with local farmers and meat suppliers, we are adding extra dollars to help these local food pillars stick around, for a while longer.

Believe me, farming is not easy, neither is restaurant life. Whoever thinks these folks are making a killing is a fool. Chef-owned restaurants are a grind. It’s hard work, full of downs, and here and there a few ups. Farming is a struggle against nature, against your body, against time. In every way. Yes, shopping and visiting these establishments is a way of support, but it’s not enough. Because the real cost of farming and running a restaurant that sources local food has externality costs, which are hard to price into the dish you order for dinner at your favorite restaurant, or into the arugula you buy from your farmer on Saturday morning.

This is reality. Local food is finicky, and it costs more than we think. Just like flying costs more, if we factor in the cost to the environment (the CO2 emissions thing). Next time you fly, incorporate the CO2 offset price into your ticket. And from there, Friends Of membership by Nearby might start to make more sense. It was developed so that there would be another avenue through which we, the community, can help ensure our beloved local food system keeps getting bigger and better.

The alternative is grain from Ukraine and Russia. Which by all accounts, as far as I can tell, is not coming to Austin anytime soon, if ever.



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