Friday, June 23, 2006

Thoughts during my Hungry Man breakfast

(The following article will be submitted to the Roanoke Times for publication)

On the advice of a resident of Troutville, I pedaled my bike down the road a piece to Nannie’s Market in Botetourt County, Virginia where I’m waiting for my Hungry Man breakfast of scrambled eggs, tenderloin pork, potatoes and pancakes, for which I paid under $5.

On my way outside to enjoy the crisp, cool morning air, I spot the headline article for the local paper, the Fincastle Herald; “Botetourt’s fledgling wine industry sours over new law that limits how vineyards can distribute their wines.” The article is a fascinating example of how ridiculous the challenges facing the modern day small farmer in today’s world.

Virginia’s wine industry has rapidly grown to become the fastest growing sector of the agricultural industry in the state. Such success often inspires increased regulation and the Virginia General Assembly recently passed a law, which takes effect July 1, prohibiting wine makers from selling directly to retail stores or over the internet.

Vineyards and winemakers will now have to sell to middlemen distributors, who may or may not choose to distribute to local stores in the very community in which the wine is crafted. Farmers and wine makers have been cut out of the loop on how to market their own products. The result of such laws is to further the disconnection between consumer and farmer while disjointing communities from the very goods that sustain them.

Farmers have been plagued with such nonsensical decisions for decades now. Grandma Jones hasn’t been able to go out and pick apples, bake them into a delicious pie and sell the pie to you at the country store for some time. Such a delicate operation requires a USDA certified kitchen in a separate unit from your residence. At least regulated kitchen inspections have some notion, however contrary and misguided, of protecting public health. Virginia’s new wine distribution laws benefit no one except the distributors.

Though I am unfamiliar with the detailed history of this new distribution law; who was for it, who was against it, and how it was passed; the effects of this new regulation will begin to take shape almost immediately. The communities that are home to these wineries will never have the ability to be as supportive as they once were. Relationships that are distanced, become strained, or simply dissolve altogether. There is a big difference between a farmer dropping a case of wine off at the local country store, telling them how the grapes are doing, inviting them over for a wine tasting day, and asking how their family is doing, compared to a delivery guy for Milwaukee’s Best and Miller High Life who now delivers a case of wine from a winery right down the road which he knows nothing about. That winery might as well be in China. There is no longer that connection; to the winery, to the farmer, and most importantly, to the land.

Our elected officials, and to be honest most of the rest of us, no longer understand what agriculture is really all about. It’s about the relationships that we as individuals have with the land. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to actually see how the land is cultivated, to understand why this peach tastes so good, or how much effort has gone into raising this beef on grass only. When I walk into a country store, I want to be reminded of these things. I want the lady behind the counter to say, “You like cherries? Farmer Jim just brought these in today and they’re terrific.” Not only do I know that these cherries are going to taste better because they’ve been picked fresh from trees close to where I’m standing, I also now know something about who made them, what kind of person they are, and that I am helping to support them and the lands that produced this food, simply by making this purchase.

If I ever run into Farmer Jim, I can thank him, and he deserves to be thanked. Whether we know it or not, he and I have a relationship. His food and his lands nourish my body. Neither one of us need a bunch of Budweiser delivery people getting in the way of that.


This entry was posted on 6/23/2006 5:05 PM

  • 6/25/2006 1:16 PM Rebekah wrote:
    Hello! I am Brent Beall's girlfriend, Rebekah. Brent sent me your shirt in the mail and told me about your project and website. Be careful out there and we will follow your journey.
    Reply to this
  • 6/28/2006 1:48 AM Lauren wrote:
    Preach it brotha! I am so pleased that you are having such an awesome journey. I love you, miss you and think of you everyday.
    Reply to this

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