Beyond zero sum
But the market for locally grown produce is by no means fixed; on the contrary, it has been expanding rapidly over recent years around the nation. That growth is directly related to a raising of public consciousness about the value of fresh food versus the highly processed and packaged forms to which most Americans have become accustomed, in terms of health, taste, energy conservation, environmental cleanliness and sustainability. This educational process has taken place in magazine stories, marketing coops like Pure Catskills and a growing number of vendors and activities that we run into at every turn, reminding us that food is not spontaneously generated from a supermarket shelf, but grows from the soil—and is both more healthful and delicious when consumed as directly as possible from that source. Community gardens are part of this phenomenon, which is creating a rapidly growing market for fresh local foods. That means more sales for existing farmers, and more room for new ones.
So yes, some individuals with community gardens might buy less farm-market produce because they are growing their own (though others will belong to income groups that would not otherwise be able to afford farm market produce at all). But that effect will be more than offset by the fact that this garden, like other local community gardens, is part of what is creating an overall expansion of the entire market.
It is also important to note that Narrowsburg’s community garden proposal includes a teen employment component. Makers of manufactured goods like Nike go out of their way to win young people over to their brands early, to capture consumers for life. The young people working in the garden will learn about the importance of fresh food, be exposed to different varieties of unusual produce and learn to appreciate the labor that goes into growing them. Chances are, they will be consumers of fresh local produce for life.
And there is another important plus with regard to the “appreciation” factor. Because farmers comprise such a small percentage of the population nowadays, it is generally very difficult to get the public politically interested in issues such as farm bills, which have a crucial impact on the success or failure of small farmers. People who know what it actually takes to raise good food—and know how precarious the process is—are much more likely to be aware of farm issues and proponents of good farm legislation.