When we look at how Americans got their food since beginning of the nation, we are embarking on our fourth “age of rebirth.” What will it look like in a decade?

When the first settlers came from Europe they brought some food with them, though much of it didn’t thrive in the climate of a coastal village. The animals they brought had to be strong, and versatile, so they were very practical, small in stature, and hardy. Seeds had to adapt to different soils, climates and predators. And then there was the practicality, that they were colonists from a “mother land,” and as such, would still purchase goods from home when they could.

As the people moved inland they had to adapt native plants to their diet, or their diet to the native plants. Foraging was only good seasonally, and winter’s were hard with no fresh fruit, vegetables or probably eggs. They had to develop a new way of getting food, most of being grown by themselves, or by their neighbors. Grains, meat, vegetables, fruits, and some clothing, had to come from their own work.  This is the way Americans lived for over a hundred years. Even city dwellers had kitchen gardens, pigs in the backyard and chickens running around the neighborhood. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that public health officials became aware of the health issues associated with poultry, manure and keeping livestock in close confinement.  More than 80% of Americans were involved in some sort of agriculture, from orcharding to livestock.

There was no refrigeration that was easily affordable, except ice. It was common that people bought their dinner at the market, alive, even if they lived in New York City. Knowing what was safe and what was not, was part of survival.

After refrigeration became affordable, following World War II, the government encouraged a centralization of the population. The interstate highway system allowed people to move from one city to another, and cities grew in the age of suburbanization.  People began accepting food that was prepared by someone else. Not just being killed without their awareness, but after the TV dinner was invented, it became a special event to have someone else do all the cooking. Before, that was reserved for the wealthy who could afford a housekeeper and cook. Now, everyone felt that wealthy. No more hours in the kitchen.

But along with that freedom from the farm grew an ignorance of what was being done on the farm. Agriculture moved from small, diversified farms where animals were named and only extras were sold.  They became larger, monoculture operations where almost no animals stayed for any length of time. Whenever they got older and began suffering health affects, they were sold. As that happened, farmers stopped selecting for longevity and started breeding for rapid growth rates. The faster they grew, the faster they brought money in.

And people began shopping by price point, not by quality. They couldn’t see the live animal, so they didn’t know what healthy skin looked like. They started hearing claims like “grain fed,” and “healthy,” and assumed that those chubby chickens were healthier than the scrawny ones.  What they didn’t know was that “chubby chickens” were injected with fluids to make them look that way. Few people read the labels that say “water added.”

So now we have a food system where the healthiest food is reserved either for those who grow it themselves, or the ones who can afford to buy it.  We have entire urban and rural populations without access to a grocery store, or affordable quality, healthy food.  Price point shopping gets high fat, high sodium, highly processed food rather than a full meal that can be reused for a second, third, or fourth meal. And our livestock is so unhealthy that it has to have anti-biotics to grow “fast enough,” or to survive the conditions in which they are raised.  We favor “white veal,” when that really means a calf raised on milk beyond the time when its healthy to be that way. The white meat is undeveloped muscle, and anemia, yet we pay premium money for this “delicacy.” 

But people are waking up. They are remembering the lessons our ancestors knew – fresh food is better than stale, dirt is alive, not dangerous, we all breathe the same air, and more.  These people want fresh food, close to home. Some are willing to grow it, where they can. But not everyone has room for a garden, or a barn. So how do they get that fresh food?

That’s where the new foodways come in to play.  Rather than keep the middleman, people are selling directly from producer to consumer.  People are rediscovering how to cook, or preserve their only food. They are recognizing the difference between fresh and processed, and they want more of it. Food hubs will allow producers to extend their sales beyond their neighborhood by transporting from one hub to another. Some who don’t want to grow their own food will make a living providing that transportation. Community facilities will allow home cooks to develop new products with food hub transportation systems, and a new economy will grow.

That’s what we’re working on at North Country Sustainability Center.  We don’t want to grow everyone’s food. We want people to be able to access and use good, locally grown food. We want others to develop their hobbies into businesses if they want, and to extend their markets without selling their rights away to a major food label. Our goal is to help move in the growth of this FS4.0, by aiding in it’s birth and helping others adopt it in their regions. Won’t you help us? Give a little to www.indiegogo.com/NCSCIngredients and share in the “caretaking” of this new concept. Thanks.