August 12, 2009

Pepper growers in a pickle

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The public appetite for locally-grown food only seems to be growing, but the supply remains under threat as small growers and family-owned operations struggle with the fallout from non-local forces, including foreign competition and immigration reform.

The green chile harvest just getting underway in New Mexico provides a glimpse into the new farm economy. Sandra Baltazar Martinez of the New Mexican looks at the effect labor shortages, and competition from cheaper producers, such as Mexico, have had on the area’s signature crop, which has to be hand-picked and de-stemmed. Martinez writes that the amount of land devoted to growing chile has shrunk from 34,500 acres in 1992 to 11,100 last year.

Chile growers aren’t the only ones feeling the heat. In Washington state, the Tacoma News Tribune reports farmers are getting crash training courses in preparation for immigration audits.  In dairy states, farmers have seen their labor force evaporate as the Wall Street Journal explains.

And in Utah, fertile land is being paved over for housing tracts and parking lots.

Family farms that have been around for generations are going bankrupt or out of business, writes Salt Lake Tribune columnist Rebecca Walsh.  

At the same time, people continue to go hungry. Case in point, Oregon’s hunger woes. It’s the ultimate food paradox. People are hungry, but growers can’t afford to feed them. Where’s the appetite for change?

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