I have been thinking a bit about subsidies lately. I kind of like them. Especially for small growers.
I was thinking that we need to be careful about how we talk about subsidies. We often have a negative take on them, especially when contrasting local food with imported food. “Imported food comes from large subsidized farms…”. This may be true, but much local food can come from subsidized farms. And much urban produced food in Vancouver comes from subsidized farms, ummm, I mean backyards.
Anything that we get for free, which would commonly be paid for, could be considered a subsidy. So as an urban farmer, if you use someone else’s land, than your cost of land may be subsidized. While many urban farmers do offer food in return for land use, while others are able to use land for free. But this is not a negative subsidy and it could be argued it is not a subsidy at all, but rather a barter. The farmer uses the land and the homeowner gets some produce in return; or, they get the joy of having a yard produce food instead of lawn.
I guess my point is to keep in mind that that it is the generosity of others (with some self-interest) that allows many urban farms to exist. But this generosity, I think, represents a change in how many people view the economy. This is a moving away from the Adam Smith perspective on economics:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages.
But this paradigm is withering for many people, who see that there is an advantage in cooperation as opposed to competition. As an urban farmer I interact with people all the time who choose to spend more money than they are required to spend on food because they know where that money is going. They know it is staying in their community and that they can take that money to another supplier at any time. As a farmer I know this as well, so I am constantly keeping the needs of my customers in mind – though not so much that it makes my business unfeasible. I do this so they will continue to come back and buy my food. In return, it often happens that I become a customer of theirs – purchasing their products or using their services or their friends’.
So this focus on local is more along the thinking of EF Schumacher than it is of Adam Smith:
Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.
Well, that’s my random, spontaneous rant for the day. I’ll be curious to read that again in the future!