Thinking man’s chef Dan Barber, of the Blue Hill restaurants and the Stone Barns food center, took to the New York Times’s opinion page on Sunday—a place to which Barber’s grown accustomed—to argue for “nudging” along the local food revolution. (He’s possibly alluding to a new book, Nudge, which claims that institutions should nudge people in directions that benefit themselves and society.) Small and nonpolluting farms are far more productive than industrial farms, Barber writes, but they’re still at a competitive disadvantage. And even higher fuel prices, which affect transportation, tractors, fertilizers, and much more, are unlikely to fundamentally change the farming superstructure.
Chefs can help nudge along a new agricultural system by not just buying from farmers’ markets, Barber writes: “Asking every farmer to plant, harvest, drive his pickup truck to a market and sell his goods there is like asking me to cook, take reservations, serve and wash the dishes.” Instead, he advocates “a system of well-coordinated regional farm networks, each suited to the food it can best grow. Farmers organized into marketing networks that can promote their common brands (like the Organic Valley Family of Farms in the Midwest) can ease the economic and ecological burden of food production and transportation.” This isn’t dissimilar to the reasons why people are pushing for more midsize farms, which Barber wrote about a few years ago in the Times (registration required) and Tom Philpott covered more recently in Grist.
“With a less energy-intensive food system in place, we will need more muscle power devoted to food production, and more people on the farm,” Barber writes, adding that chefs can be leaders in this, too.
They can sure try. But more people may follow them to the kitchen than to the farm.