Earlier this week we posted the first part of our roundtable focusing on local food. While the audio quality isn't fantastic (we were sitting in The Old Fashioned at 5:15 in the afternoon), we learned some stuff about local economies that I thought was pretty informative.
First, in order for our food chain to be localized, we need to decommodify it. No, I don't think "decommodify" is a word. But I do think the concept is important. Regardless of the food stuff, cheese, sausage, wine, beer, whatever, in order to have a local food supply, the local food can't get mixed with the non-local stuff.
And, why not commodify? It leads to lower prices, which is better for the consumer. Ah, yes. But it leads to at least two bad consequences: first, and probably least importantly, groups tend to the average. So, if you mix sub-par milk, with high quality milk and a lot of mediocre milk, you get mediocre milk. I don't know about you, but I'd rather drink (or make cheese from) high-quality milk. However, there are many, many more low and mid-quality producers (Deans) than there are high-quality producers (Blue Marble), so when standards are decided, the numbers win.
This leads to the more important point: this system is great for the sub-par and mediocre milk producers, not so great for the high-quality milk producers. Moreover, it is conventional wisdom (and common sense) that says that you can't make high-quality products without high-quality materials. Thus, the absence of high-quality milk on the market, makes it very difficult (and very expensive) to produce high-quality cheese and other milk-based products.
As a result, a "second", non-commodified, distribution system has started appearing. Those who are interested in producing high-quality, craft/artisnal, value-added products are specifically seeking out high-quality producers. As a result, a proliferation of co-ops is beginning to appear. Pockets of producers looking to pair with like-minded value-added producers, and vice versa. In some cases, the value-added producer (the cheesemaker, for example) is partnering directly the farm. For example, Blue Mont Dairy is working with one specific farm to use the milk from one herd on that farm to produce a triple-cream cows milk cheese.
Interestingly, these pockets of co-ops tend to be, through natural causes, to be geographically related. A good example is the Driftless area of Wisconsin. However, these co-ops are not forming in a European style. In Europe we see that a geographically similar group of value-added producers are all interested in producing similar product, thus the raw materials there become uniform (in type, not necessarily quality), as do the processes. However, craft agriculture in the United States has thus far resisted such lock-step uniformity. Which, of course, is not a bad thing. It just means that adoption of European systems of organizing (e.g., AOC, etc) may not be the best models to apply to US agriculture.
So, what does this mean for the beer industry? Well. We haven't gotten that far yet. Stay tuned.
On part two of this weeks podcast, we return with our panel to taste Lakefront's Local Acre, the first beer since prohibition produced with 100 percent Wisconsin ingredients. We then discuss the viability of "100 percent Wisconsin" as a style, and if Wisconsin beer has a recognizable style when it comes to craft beer. Thanks to all the panelists and The Old Fashioned for hosting us.
Here's the mp3
On Monday we'll have a review of the Local Acre.