Why Soil Mate is Needed?

Supporting the Food System and Local Food and Drink Economy

Before explaining how Soil Mate is changing the food system (or food security system), it’s important to state what the food system is and why it needs to change dramatically. The food system includes all activities involving the production, processing, transport, and consumption of food. It includes policy, governance, economics, and environmental impact of the system, including its sustainability. It ranges from 60 year old farmers with no retirement in sight, to $60 billion dollar chemical companies controlling production. The food system extends to the effect on health, well-being, safety, nutrition, obesity, and costs in health care. It extends from your neighbourhood farm to factories in faraway countries.

The food system and its issues are ridiculously large and highly complex, maybe the largest problem we face in the world today. It’s hard to comprehend, and may not feel like a priority right now, but think about what would happen if production stopped, and you could no longer purchase food. Electricity disappearing, gas disappearing, sea levels rising - none of these would come close to the impact of no access to food. It is imperative for many of the elements of the food security puzzle that we return to a more localized and regional food production system. The system as it exists is too dependent on fossil fuels, heavily subsidized for unhealthy products, highly wasteful of water, and centred on a small number of corporations.

This does not mean we must all eat 100% local, and 100% seasonal, but we must do more of it. We MUST support local food growers, food raisers, and food producers. We MUST make these businesses sustainable and viable for a new generation to move into farming. We MUST value the quality of our food in the same way we value the quality of our cars, clothes, shoes, and designer purses. The health benefits are clear. You don’t read reports of 9 million tons of beef being recalled from local farms because it is from unfit and unsound animals. You don’t read reports on the tie to cancer and a variety of other health issues from the use of organic farming practices. You don’t read about the erosion of natural water systems due to a mixed crop, rotating farming practice.

But don’t we need large, single crop, industrial style farming models to create the volume of food we require? With the system as it is now you may well believe that, but there are numerous reports stating no, no we don’t. A return to smaller scale, permaculture style farming, which involves a variety of crops and rotation of planting has been proven to yield higher volume of products. Products without all the artificial junk, and without killing the soil structure and water systems of the farms.

It also isn’t simply just about the farming practices. As consumers we must place so much more value on the food we put into our bodies, for our own health and for our earth’s health. You don’t have to be a hippie, yuppie, environmentalist, or believer in climate change to see that with our current food system we are damaging the earth systems that support us, one of the most obvious examples of this being the water issues in California. California produces a sizable majority of many of American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99% of artichokes, 99% of walnuts, 97% of kiwis, 97% of plums, 95% of celery, 95% of garlic, 89% of cauliflower, 71% of spinach, and 69% of carrots, to name a few. Some of this monopoly is due to climate and soil. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California’s output per acre on some products. However, they can be grown in other areas. What creates this sort of system and overreliance on one region is price, notably the value consumers put on products. On average, Americans spend just 6.9% of their annual income on food. 6.9%! Canadians are not much better at 9.1%. We value ‘stuff’ much more than the health of ourselves and our planet.  We have gotten so used to cheap calories that we gasp when asked to pay $6 for 12 eggs. Do we gasp at $6 for a couple of egg mcmuffins, or $6 for a ‘coffee’ full of chemicals, or $600 for an iPhone? It’s not about saying don’t buy those things, but it is about understanding and considering the value of things comparatively.

If we continue on this same path we are in trouble, unless we do something about how we buy food now. Not when the crisis hits, but now, to prevent it from happening to the same extent. To prevent a system whereby we rely to an even greater extent on industrially produced food that is toxic to our health and our earth, and requires greater numbers of products from abroad. Oh, and we’ll all get the pleasure of paying higher prices for it all.

Sounds dramatic, yes. Sounds unrealistic, maybe. But here are some of the facts:

  • Since 1900, 75% of vegetable varieties have disappeared worldwide.
  • A regional diet uses 17 times less oil than the typical American long-distance diet.
  • Farms of 27 acres or less produce 10 times more dollar value per acre than larger ones.
  • Every dollar that stays in a community has three times the effect of a dollar that goes to a distant corporate HQ.
  • Even frozen and canned foods can be produced by local cooperatives rather than corporate processors. Food processing waste is composted and goes back to farms.

Finally, the average age of a farmer in North America is late 50’s.

Let that sink in for a moment. The average farmer is due to retire in less than 10 years.

Whether you believe the earth evolved from the cosmos, whether you believe in God or another creator, whether you believe in Mother Earth, whatever you believe, what cannot be denied is that everything on earth is interdependent on each other. There is a balance, there is cause and effect, and if you do respect and understand that, it is now the time to take a hard look at the impact of our current food system.

It is not all doom and gloom though. There is a strong movement of people wanting to farm. But they face many barriers. Aside from practical issues such as mentorship and land access, there are the business challenges. Is running a local, small scale farm a viable career path? That is where we come in. By supporting our local growers, we strengthen the economics for this business choice. Small differences make big differences. If every household was to spend just $10 a month from their food budgets on local food and drink products it would generate an additional $15.3 billion dollars direct to local growers. Let’s repeat that number $15,300,000,000 into farmers pockets. We won’t run the numbers on what that means for local employment, or the fact that money spent at local businesses recirculates within communities at a much greater rate than when spent at large corporations. Ah, the beauty of the Food System and how it touches everything.

So where does Soil Mate fit in with this? Soil Mate was created to make finding those local products and producers much easier. Good intentions are always trumped by convenience, so we are making finding and buying local products more convenient than ever before. Simple. Connecting consumers with growers and their distribution methods (stores, restaurants, and markets) is one part of what we do. We also bring in local drink producers (wineries, breweries, etc.) so that you can support all parts of your local food and drink economy.

Being a connection tool is great, but we also go further than that. Making local farming and local food and drink production viable careers, and changing the food system are values central to our mission. Beyond facilitating local sales (either direct or through local distribution channels), we can guide and change the system in two fundamental ways. Firstly, through data based on consumer metrics, searches, and preferences, we can guide farmers to produce what is needed in both micro and macro ways - community, city, region, country or continent wide. Secondly, we donate 50% of our gross revenue from paid subscriptions to programs focused on improving the food system. There are many, many amazing people and groups across North America doing great work, and we believe that in the short term, rather than replicating those programs, we will support them. Long term, as Soil Mate’s revenue grows we will create a foundation that will use our donations to purchase farm land, to allow people who want to farm access to land to do so. We will change the food system. We must change the food system.