While I had the stomach flu last week, I took the opportunity provided by required bed rest to read Michale Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" (Penguin, 2006). My daughter gave the book to me for my birthday. It languished on my coffee table until my gut-wrenching encounter with a virus. The book is wonderful and much too long to review here; but there is an excellent discussion of local and organic farming, focussed through Pollan's visit to Polyface Farm in Virginia, outside Charlottesville.
Pollan is particularly interested in the viability and difficulty of local farming, referring to non-industrial, small-scale farmers who sell to a local market. These are the kind of farmers envisioned b most consumers when they think of organic agriculture. Pollan discusses the effort of the family owners of Polyface Farm and several associates to market the farm's products and produce. The story of Beverly Eggleston IV's encounter with USDA slaughter regulations is particularly telling (pp. 246-250). Eggleston (a man) was convinced that there was a market for slaughtering pastured steers in the local region. The owner of Polyface Farm loaned Eggleston thousands of dollars, which, together with other funds, he invested to construct a slaughter house and fill it with the USDA regulation required slaughter equipment. The USDA sent a meat inspector, but soon withdrew him after the slaughter house began processing. Why? Because Eggleston was processing only a dozen steer a day. The USDA did not think it worth its while to keep an inspector in the plant. So the plant, and its huge capital, sit idle. The USDA's regulations are written to oversee slaughter houses that manage hundreds of steers a day. The economics of regulation do not favor the small, local producer. A cautionary tale.