Who Pays the High Cost for Cheap Food?

fruit and vegetable basket

Let’s talk about the high cost of cheap food. As one of the main themes of my upcoming book, Grain by Grain (in stores on March 5th), we can no longer afford the high cost of cheap food. There have been two main goals regarding our food supply since World War II: The first is for food to be plentiful and the second is for that food to be cheap. As the laws of supply-and-demand go, being plentiful and being cheap usually go hand-in-hand. So the goal was easy to achieve. But these goals are achieved at the expense of everything else!

We’re starting to recognize the very high cost of our cheap and abundant food and we don’t pay this cost at the checkout counter when we buy our groceries.

  • Farmers pay it financially with low profits for their crops.
  • Rural communities pay it with the decline of local farms and income.
  • Our planet pays it with increasing evidence of pollution in our food and water (Roundup Rain, aka glyphosate).
  • And people pay it with poor health.

WE pay the high cost of cheap food! Our families. Our friends. Our neighbors.

These high costs were unintended, for the most part. They are consequences of a system focused only on price and yield—cheap and plentiful. But they failed to take into account the effects it would have on all the connecting parts.

There used to be a common saying regarding action and consequence that went something like, “We cannot pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other end.” With our emerging understanding of how everything is interrelated and interdependent, rather than compare the relationship between cause and effect to two ends of a stick, I think it’s more like a giant web. When one part if affected, no matter how small or how far away, the whole is affected.

With a single focus on cause and effect, the goal of cheap and abundant food was achieved by focusing on increasing yields and efficiency. And increased yields and efficiency meant the industrialization of both agriculture and food processing, using more chemicals and bigger machinery. But there was little (or no) thought given to the consequences to anything or anybody beyond “cheap and abundant food.” Whether the decision was a horrible case of naivety or outright deception, I couldn’t say and it doesn’t matter. Unintended consequences are a normal result of almost all human activity throughout history. Mistakes can be forgiven and made right if they are recognized in time and steps are taken to correct them. But if mistakes are ignored, covered up, or denied—blatant lies and false assurances that all is well and there’s nothing to worry about—they are harder to forgive and harder to overcome.

In the weeks to come, I will touch on each of these areas affected by the high cost of cheap food in more detail. After all, we can only fix a problem once it is recognized and the source of the problem is identified. We know what the problem is and we know the cause. Now is the time to change.

Allison’s Elderberry+ Syrup

elderberry syrup and elderberries

Like most berries that grow on the northern plains of Montana, elderberries are pretty tart. They are excellent for making jams, jellies, and juices, but aren’t ideal for snacking. That said, elderberries also make a delicious homemade syrup which has many medicinal properties.

This particular recipe—compliments of my daughter, Allison—is called Elderberry Plus because it includes additional ingredients, not just elderberries. For a more traditional elderberry syrup, just combine berries, water and honey. But the additional ingredients make for a particularly satisfying treat. I use it on my KAMUT® Brand Whole Wheat Sourdough Pancakes, to sweeten my morning KAMUT® grain porridge, or even as a tangy topping for my ice cream. As a bonus, you can also take 1 Tablespoon daily to promote illness prevention or 1 Tablespoon hourly to boost your immune system when you’re sick! Give it a try and let me know what you use it for!

Allison’s Elderberry+ Syrup

1 cup fresh or frozen elderberries (or 1/2 cup dried elderberries)
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
5 cloves, whole
2 cups water
1 cup honey

Combine elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat until reduced by half (about 20-30 minutes).

Smash the berries and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. (Tip: the mash left in the strainer makes excellent compost for your garden!)

To the liquid add the honey (or adjust to desired sweetness). Bottle syrup and store in the refrigerator. Refrigerated, it will keep for 2 to 3 months, but you can also freeze it to last through the winter!

Lights, Camera, Action: A Farmer on Film

After more than three years of discussions, planning, filming, editing and private screenings, our 38-minute film “Ancient Grain for Future Farming” is finally available to the public! It’s an abridged story of KAMUT®, our farm here on the rural northern plains of Montana and my love and promotion of organic agriculture.

Inspired by my good friend, Bernward Geier’s, film, “The Farmer and His Prince”, I spoke with him at length about doing a film about my own work here in Big Sandy, Montana. Bernward has been a dear and long-time friend of mine since my early days in the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) and the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM)—nearly 30 years! He was very interested and had the perfect cameraman for the job: Daniel Munding. And boy was he right! You can immediately see the skills of both Bernward and Daniel throughout the film.

Filming started way back in the winter of 2016, during our annual KAMUT® farmer appreciation dinner in Regina, Saskatchewan. From there, we visited Prairie Heritage Seeds (PHS) near Radville, Saskatchewan, the contractor and cleaner for our KAMUT® growers in Canada. About two-thirds of our KAMUT® grain is grown in Canada. We filmed more at my farm the following May during seeding time as well as during our summer field day in July of 2017 and then again at harvest in August. There are shots from our Kamut International office in Missoula, Montana, as well as the World’s Fair in Milan, Italy and the world’s largest organic food show, BioFach, in Nuremburg, Germany.

One of my favorite scenes and filming highlights was the interview with the widow of Earl Dedman. Earl was the reason the KAMUT® grain ended up in Montana in the first place nearly 70 years ago!

With filming completed and many more hours of editing, the final version premiered during BioFach this past February. We had several additional private showings throughout the year and have even produced some DVDs for friends, family, and customers. But in September we finally released the film to the public via YouTube and I can only hope it will motivate and inspire others as Bernward’s works have inspired me. Further validation that organic is the future!

Overall “Ancient Grain for Future Farming” was a great project that I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of and with such an amazing and hopefully influential result. It was all made possible by the time and talents of so many incredible people, most especially the tireless efforts of Bernward and Daniel. But also to all of you who support and promote the transition to organic—whether it be on your farms, in your gardens or at the check-out counter. Thank you!

Remember Our Veterans

This past week has been a contemplative one for me. This Veterans Day, on November 11th, marked 100 years since the ending of World War I. It was known as ‘The Great War’ or ‘The War to End All Wars’—which was the hope and belief of people around the world living through those uncertain times. Unfortunately, as we all know looking back over the last 100 years, it was not. But there is still that hope for what the next 100 years will bring.

My grandfather, Emmett Quinn, was in France on his way to the front when the armistice was signed. His departure had been delayed by a 17-day stay at a hospital on Long Island. After basic training near San Diego in late July and early August of 1918, his company traveled by train across country. At the Great Salt Lake, and again at Lake Erie, everyone had been ordered into the water—in lieu of a bath, I suppose. But by the time they reached Chicago, my grandfather was starting to get sick and soon after reaching the camp in New York, he was confined to the hospital while the rest of his company was shipped out to Europe.

That hospital stay probably saved my grandfather’s life, as nearly his entire company perished in the trenches overseas. And when he finally arrived in Le Havre in France on September 18 with the 327th Machine Gun Battalion Company B 84th Division (he was later assigned to the Company B 111th Machine Gun Battalion 29th Division) they were told to prepare for combat and spent almost seven weeks marching and drilling. Grandpa got sick again for about two of those weeks, but determinedly avoided going to the hospital because so many were dying there. He was quite discouraged during this time, wondering if he’d ever return home while rumors of the war ending spread periodically through the camp.

Then, on the 6th of November, he was told to pack up with another group leaving for the front. They traveled by truck and train and had nearly reached their destination on November 11th. The entry from my grandfather’s war journal read:

“Nov. 11, Monday 1918. Spent the day on train. Pretty cold. Armistice signed today. French having a great time. Flags everywhere. They are happy as can be and they are not alone.”

Grandpa once told me as they pulled into a station that day that a French lady was marching up and down the station platform yelling, “La guerre est finie! La guerre est finie!” (The war is over! The war is over!) Having studied French, my grandfather knew immediately what was being said and I can only imagine the emotions he’d felt in that moment. Truly, a happy day on both sides of the Atlantic.

One hundred years later, I hope we can take a moment from all the commotion that surrounds us to reflect on the countless sacrifices made on our behalf. In the U.S., November is a time for thanks giving, so let us remember to give thanks to our veterans, past and present, who are willing to give so much to maintain our freedom. God bless.