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Affordability of Food – A Game-Changing Debate

Touch the Soil News #312

Food is one of the primary basics of human survival. It is not like a luxury item. However, to get to food, most everyone must first get to dollars. The financial fevers of modern times and unbridled competition for dollars (creating volatility) can lead to some pretty wild whiplashes. An example of a whiplash would be the roughly 50 million Americans who are presently food insecure.

The voices of concern about food’s affordability have never been so frequent. Back in 1948, the United Nations passed a resolution that essentially said access to food of a quality and quantity necessary to sustain good health is a human right. Food and agriculture are such a big part of competitive financialism. The concept that access to food is a human right throws a monkey wrench into the whole process. The basic question is whether or not we should think about economic plans outside the box of “competing for dollars?”

There are more people in America today relying on food banks and in food lines than during the Great Depresssion of the 1930s.

Recently, one of the world’s top news organizations – The Guardian – carried an article titled: Is urban farming only for rich hipsters? The discussion surrounds the emergence of urban farms that leverage environmental credentials such as local, sustainable and transparent production to justify a premium price. The higher price is simply a passing on of the true cost of food. However, upward trajectories of food prices can quickly leave large sectors of humankind behind.

Many urban and market garden enterprises struggle every day with the price points they need to survive. So what can bring the price point down to where it is affordable for more people and allows for the economic survival of the market gardener?

Here are some things we are seeing that deal with the price point.

  1. Increasing inclusion of local foods that qualify for government nutritional subsidies.
  2. Market gardeners that are striving for greater and greater labor and procedural efficiencies to keep prices at ranges that bring in more customers.
  3. Paying some farm expenses with food. For example, work shares for CSA members, paying for the use of backyards with produce and “harvest parties” where friends just pitch in and help.
  4. The emerging presence of food hubs that seek efficiencies by providing warehousing, trucking and marketing of produce for small farms in a particular food-shed area.
  5. The growing presence of non-profit dollars engaged in reducing the cost of urban and local food to include at-risk populations in large urban centers.


Three years ago, the nation of India passed the world’s most comprehensive “right to food” law. Under the law, certain basic grains are made available every month at very low prices. The government of India estimates that 820 million people qualify for the food subsidy – which will be India’s single largest budget item. The scope of this action in India may well – over time – change how the world looks at economics.


Following is an insightful video clip from the Los Angeles Food Bank on the scope of the food affordability issue.

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