Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Craig Rogers is the shepherd and owner of Border Spring Farms in Patrick Springs, Virginia, where he raises and sells “Certified Naturally Grown" and "Animal Welfare Approved" lamb and sheep to acclaimed chefs and natural food stores.
It amazing what can happen when national pride rules the day. Republicans and Democrats - who have made disagreement and paralysis into a spectator sport - came together this week to unanimously condemn outsourcing the production of USA Olympic athletes’ uniforms to factories in China. The result was a quick commitment from the manufacturer that all future USA Olympic uniforms will be made right here at home in the U.S. of A.
National pride is a wonderful thing. But it did not save the United States textile industry or furniture industries decades ago. We have seen American manufacturing jobs leave for cheaper pastures and both presidential candidates agree that saving American manufacturing is a priority.
American farmers have been facing the same issues that American textile, furniture and manufacturing industries have. Along with ranchers, shepherds and fishermen, we have watched as cheap imports infiltrate the market and in some cases overwhelm the market. Seldom do we hear this cry of national pride as it pertains to the outsourcing of American farm jobs.
Ideals are easy until you have to pay for them. It is easy to be an advocate for local, sustainable, organic, animal welfare approved, cage-free, pastured-raised, GMO free, bio-dynamic, or a host of other “labels” until you have to open your wallet to pay for them – and that refers to both farmers and consumers. The same is true for supporting “Grown in the U.S.A.”
Americans may be of one voice when it comes to who should make a few hundred USA Olympic athlete uniforms, but where was that chorus when we saw thousands of textile jobs leave the USA? Have the times changed?
American shepherds like me are faced with the reality of Australian lamb that can be slaughtered, processed and shipped 10,000 miles and delivered to a restaurant, cheaper than a live animal is worth in the United States. American shepherds can not compete against the immense number of cheap imported lamb from Australia on price, thus they must do so with quality, freshness, and service. Even so, someone has to pay more for the American lamb. Other US agricultural commodities have similar stories.
Made: In America, a not-for-profit based in Washington D.C. began as an organization devoted to honoring American furniture manufacturers who were being successful in competing against foreign imports. Five years ago they noticed that American farming was following a similar plight to the American furniture industry. On Independence Day in D.C., they honored, for the fourth year, farmers, ranchers, and producers as “National Culinary Treasures” for preserving American farming heritage and having the highest quality to compete with the best the world over.
Chef Nick Stefanelli of Bibiana in Washington, D.C. and chairman of the Culinary Committee for Made: In America says “Made: In America is trying to tell the story of farmers and producers who are trying to compete against cheap foreign imports and in so doing hopefully creating some energy to save an industry and a bit of Americana.”
The solution to saving American farming and fishing, however, rests with everyone who votes with each and every purchase. Voting to support American farmers starts with every food festival and culinary organization which accepts a more lucrative sponsorship from an offshore company or government marketing organization such as Australian Lamb, Canadian Pork, or New Zealand Seafood instead of supporting farmers right here at home. Every chef has a vote with each and every purchase.
But the largest voting block is the consumer. Each consumer and each family must decide if they are going to buy the cheaper imported meat or fish, or pay a bit more to support an American family who hopes that their industry does not continue to be outsourced overseas.
There is much that could be done through legislation, food policy, as well as agricultural and fishing regulations to help American farmers and fishermen, but fundamentally the final arbiter on the future of American enterprise is the consumer; those who vote with each purchase.
As farmers, we can only hope that Presidential candidates, Congress, and all of the people of America will let their national pride floweth over from disdain for USA Olympic uniforms being made in China, to supporting American families working on fishing boats, on produce farms, and livestock ranches.
During the upcoming Olympics, may every chant of “Go USA” for our athletes echo across the “amber waves of grain,” our “fruited plains” and from “sea to shining seas” to the American farmers and fishermen tending those fields, plains, and waters. Farmers need to hear from each of you, “Go USA!”