Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Home-grown Return
Jennifer Flaten

Artisan and 100% organic, is the slogan. Lately, these two phrases have become hip buzzwords. Items displaying these labels are flying off-the-shelf. What makes these items so remarkable? A lack of mass production is the main part. The slogan means made by hand, individually. This used to be the norm, but faded from the American landscape?

Years ago, most items, say, bread, soap and cheese, could rightly claim local product status. Families would bring them to town to either sell in their own stalls or place their items with local merchants. You always knew the quality of the product you were getting. Then somewhere along the line, we decided that home-made was hokey.

We no longer bought these home-made items. Instead, we turned to all items factory made. For some time, Americans couldn't get enough of cheap mass-produced products. Naturally, for the items to be cheap and mass-produced we had to go outside our country. There was time when we even considered these foreign made items to be superior to our own items.

"Made in America" once elicited a snort of distaste and raised the idea of needlessly more expensive. Then we realized that inexpensive, mass-produced products came from countries, where sweatshop labour abounds. This started to give us a little guilt, but not enough to stop buying the products.

The final blow came when we discovered the tainted quality, of many these products. When the products made us sick, then we decided enough is enough. This has led the US consumer to begin to recoil against mass-produced products. So home-made has become hip again.

Well, home-made isn't hip. No, the word itself was too old-fashioned. What we needed was something that carried a deeper sense of cool. Then some clever soul stumbled on the word Artisan. An artisan is, 'anyone who makes products, such as cheese or wine, in limited quantities, often using traditional methods.

Oh Yeah! Artisan has much more cachet then plain old handmade.

This applies to home-grown too. For the longest time we relied on local farmers for all our produce. That meant we only had seasonal fruits and vegetables, well that wasn't good enough, we wanted tomatoes in January, drat! To get out of season produce we had to go farther than our own region. Stores began stocking exotic produce from different regions of the country, sometimes even foreign countries.

We congratulated ourselves on our ability to have what we wanted, when we wanted it. It doesn't matter the produce was often tasteless; it was worth it, right? Then we started getting sick from the produce. Seems some countries are not as keen on sanitary practices as we are so back to local farmer we went.

Of course, you just can't buy tomatoes from a roadside stand; you have to go to an organic farmer, one who is into sustainability.

The prices have adjusted, therefore. Home-grown used to mean affordable. Now home-grown means organic and it's not as affordable. Instead of turning people off, this makes them want it even more.

The organic label applied to everything from coffee to toilet paper. People can't get enough of this stuff. Most of the organic items are local, but this isn't to say we don't get items from outside the US any more, we do.

Concerns about provenience, safety and reliability, increase. To that end, many retailers are striving to stock fair trade items. What that means is those items labeled fair trade are part of partnership with the providing country and the marketer to provide low-income artisans and farmers with a living wage for their work. We are drifting in the right direction.

The labeling, of a product, as organic or fair trade varies. Organic certification remains in infancy. We also still rely heavily on items made outside the US. At least movement is in the right direction, to bring the growing and manufacturing back to our own backyards, at least to our own region.

Jennifer Flaten lives where the local delicacy is fried cheese, Wisconsin. She writes about family life, its amusing or not so amusing moments. "At least it's not another article on global warming," she says. Jennifer bakes a mean banana bread and admits an unusual attraction to balloon animals and cup cakes. Busy preparing for the zombie apocalypse, she stills finds time to write "As I See It," her witty, too often true column. "My urge to write," says Jennifer, "is driven by my love of cupcakes, with sprinkles on top. Who wouldn't write for cupcakes, with sprinkles," she wonders.

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