Story Bank: Obtaining Local Food with Alexis Koefoed
Alexis Koefoed bought 55 acres of bare farmland in the late 1990s and created Soul Food Farm. It began as an olive orchard and later a chicken farm was added. It started as a way to feed people, but now there’s a focus on issues of community land use, the true cost of feeding people, workers’ rights, and the humane treatment of animals.
The farm has a growing partnership with Morningsun Herb Farm and is planning to increase diversity by planting a greater variety of fruit trees. The next step for Soul Food Farm is the creation of a farm store where they can sell food harvested on the farm in addition to local food from around the region.
The idea of local products sometimes gets overridden by certifications, leading to confusion for consumers. Koefoed explains her opinion of the importance of local products. She describes challenges that small-scale famers face and suggests ways to increase consumer access to local goods.
DG – Interviewer Douglas Gayeton
AK – Interviewee Alexis Koefoed
DG: A farmer in the south once said to me, ‘Local first, certification second’. What do you think of that phrase?
AK: After these last several years of farming I would stand behind that. Soul Food Farm dropped its certification 2 years ago, after we have had it for almost 10 years. Somehow, there’s more certainty and more conviction when you know the farmer and that it’s a local product. Being certified organic doesn’t actually mean that the farming practices are being adhered to. If you’re shopping in a store, certified organic could mean a large-scale farm in Chile or Mexico. If you’re really interested in supporting small agriculture, local farmers, and healthy food that you can have some traceability to, I think that local, as a first set of standards for yourself is really on target.
DG: Is there any mechanism that can actually allow sustainable, responsible, locally produced poultry?
AK: I think that we need to talk about rebuilding local grain systems so that we are never relying on grain that’s coming from an industrial manufacturer from one location who controls the price. One of the biggest problems that we saw in 2012 was the draught in the Midwest. Grain prices immediately sky-rocketed all over the world, primarily in the United States, and it was one of the key factors for me to close down my pastured chicken farm, because I couldn’t afford the feed anymore. Within 5 months, chicken farms and dairies were closing because they were going bankrupt. They couldn’t afford feed either, so clearly we’re all tied into this bigger system where we don’t have any control.
Building a local grain system would be a huge benefit for creating a more sustainable chicken enterprise. You’d have farmers growing grains locally and getting a better price for selling their grains to a local mill instead of selling them on the commodities market. You’d have local grains that you could control a little better if you’re an applicant for non-GMO. Farmers could have a little more control about the quantity, the quality, and the farming practices of the land growing those grains. I think that would be the key first step.
Without a local grain system, without rebuilding local hatcheries and without having more local slaughtering facilities the extensive inputs of growing chickens for eggs and meat is astronomical and I don’t see how it could ever be sustainable without solving those three problems first.
DG: How do we create a sustainable and equitable local food system?
AK: I think one thing we have to do is come back to the acceptance and knowledge that we need small farmers. We also have to come back to this idea that we have to make land accessible for small farmers so that they can do the work of growing food for us. We have to talk about creating distribution systems so that farmers have a way to move their food into markets that is affordable and effective for them and for the consumer.
People have expectations now that they didn’t have 60 years ago with food availability. People are not going to stop buying the things that they are comfortable and familiar with buying, but if we make food from farmers easier to find, maybe that would sway the balance a little. I can see a time someday where you could live in a city like San Francisco and you could have farms on the outskirts with dairy, vegetables, winter crops, and summer crops that people could access more easily that just waiting for a Saturday farmers’ market. I’ve learned that a better way to connect with consumers and to give them what they’re looking for is to have more farms with available food and more accessibility for consumers to get onto those farms when they need to shop.