Saturday, November 19, 2011

Death for Innovation

 I'm not sure that I agree with all of Joe Cunnigham's column over at the Pincher Creek Voice. But I do know that he has certainly identified the problem. At least Joe was producing a value-added product that he could ship around the world. When we were producing fresh veg, we couldn't save product from day to day. We had to sell it same day or forgo any possible profit on it.
This really is an excellent column from someone who has been in the trenches of small production. It is clear that we need a second food system, distinct from the international industrial one we live with now. One that supports small producers, local producers, and artisanal producers.  Anyway, let me introduce you to Joe Cunningham:
  I spent the last ten years of my life as a small food producer. It was an interesting journey. I say “was” because I have recently gone into semi-retirement from the gourmet smoked fish business my wife, Janice Day, and I operated here in PIncher Creek. Most Pincher Creekians do not know there was a fish producing business in Pincher Creek for ten years and it gave me a chuckle every time I watched the reaction of someone here finding this out for the first time. They werenʼt ill-informed - how would they be expected to know?  Ninety-nine percent of what we made went to specialty stores and expensive restaurants in Calgary and Banff. It had to.

Iʼm not being flippant. For years we agonized over pricing our products high enough to stay in business. Eventually we settled on a pricing scheme that placed us at roughly double that of similar category, however inferior, supermarket products. We were successful! ... well... sort of. You see, we grew at a reasonable rate, got rave reviews from all over the planet (some food writers going so far as to say we made the best cold smoked product in the world), operated on a mean and lean budget, were courted by Alberta Agriculture, and were proud of the little innovations and inventions we came up with to make our small operation work as efficiently as possible. Hereʼs the catch - we didnʼt make enough money to justify continuing, on a purely economic basis. We were living near poverty so we could continue experiencing the personal, cultural and artistic gratification of making something of intrinsic value while living a lifestyle with an element of independence. Although by the time we had worn ourselves out we were selling about
$115,000.00 worth of stuff a year, we werenʼt even clearing minimum wage for our efforts. Somethingʼs gotta give eventually.

Itʼs the same story elsewhere. Over those ten years Janice and I got to know a lot of other small food producers in Alberta, and elsewhere - vegetable growers, apiary owners, makers of sauces, condiments and frozen gourmet food, ranchers, bakers, cheese makers, coffee roasters, and oyster growers ...etc., etc., etc. Their experiences were related to us in an endless stream of commonality and challenges. At least we werenʼt alone.

Read the rest of this excellent column at The Pincher Creek Voice.

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