Last Monday the Downtown Market opened in Grand Rapids.
The outdoor market has been open for a while, but I confess: I didn’t go. I know what an outdoor farmer’s market is like. But an indoor market… in Grand Rapids? I was there on day one. With my kids.
They loved it. How could they not? It involved baked goods and kettle corn.
I loved it too. I loved it for a strange reason: higher prices.
Not the best picture, but you get my point: $3.95/lb for uncut chicken.
This is the price that Grand Rapids is used to paying for chicken (from that week’s Meijer ad):
Notice anything? I bet you do: the chicken at the Downtown Market, despite the fact that it has not been cut by a butcher, is approximately four times the price of the cut-up chicken on sale from Meijer (our locally-owned, privately-held superstore).
And this is a good thing. It is a good thing because the only way to raise a chicken that you can sell for $1.09/lb is in a CAFO, a confined animal feeding operation. The Union of Concerned Scientists has said,
“CAFOs are characterized by large numbers of animals crowded into a confined space–an unnatural and unhealthy condition that concentrates too much manure in too small an area. Many of the costly problems caused by CAFOs can be attributed to the storage and disposal of this manure and the overuse of antibiotics in livestock to stave off disease.”
Why do CAFOs even exist? Because people want to pay $1.00/lb for chicken. Or $2.00/lb for pork. Or $4.00/lb for beef. I understand that for people who struggle to feed their families, these prices are like a gift horse: not to be looked in the mouth. But I also know that low prices equal CAFOs.
Raising animals sustainably in small batches on pasture is a wiser long-term choice for human health and the health of the planet. But it costs more. Until I saw chicken for $4/lb in a setting crowded with people who appeared able to pay for it, I never dreamed it was possible for a significant market to develop for sustainable agriculture in Grand Rapids.
I remember taking my daughter, back when she was a sleeping infant, to the old offices of the West Michigan Environmental Action Coalition. Back then it appeared there were about five of us who wanted to talk about local, sustainable food in greater Grand Rapids. In the early 2000′s I had the fun of voting in the bylaws for Slow Food West Michigan and the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council before regretfully dropping out of both organizations. (Working full-time as a minister of Fountain Street Church plus having two little bitty children didn’t leave time for much else.) I remember preaching a “I’m out on a limb talking about this, because nobody else is” sermon titled “Grace and Groceries” at Fountain Street in 2003. I would look it up and see what I said, but my only record of it is on VHS, and I can’t play that anymore. Because that was a decade ago.
For years, I felt like I was out on the fringes of society, caring about local and sustainable food. I certainly haven’t always walked my talk, and I definitely still have room to grow. But it is nothing less than amazing to see these issues become part of the mainstream.
People aren’t only talking differently, they appear to be willing to spend differently. That’s when real change occurs. In Grand Rapids, a significant number of our major philanthropists cared enough to fund a new Indoor Market dedicated to local food. For anyone who started following this conversation in 2000, that’s astonishing.
Local food has become the new normal:
That kind of mass marketing was unimaginable even a few years ago.
Visiting the Downtown Market on Monday, this was the quote that came to mind:
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
When hundreds and thousands of people change their thinking and spending in a direction that reflects wiser stewardship of Creation, it’s time to mark the moment and praise the Lord. This post is intended to do both.
Now, I need to go buy some chicken.