Macaroni-stuffed cheeseburgers on Krispy Kreme doughnut buns with a side of deep-fried watermelon. What struck me most about the offerings at last year's Sonoma County Fair wasn't the calorie count, but the far-flung locales listed on the cardboard boxes stacked high behind each food vendor.
This year, for nearly three weeks, we'll embark on the same epic undertaking to import enough food from other counties, states and countries to feed the few hundred thousand visitors coming to celebrate this county's agricultural heritage. The sheep-shearing and cow-milking demos—and, of course, the horse races—will impress, but the fair's most astounding marvel will be the complex distribution system funneling in enough sustenance from abroad to feed the local food mecca we call the North Bay.
I sincerely applaud the efforts of those hosting the fair, in particular the 4-H programs that will, we hope, encourage a new generation of growers in a county where the average age of farmers has risen to nearly 60. But when those crowds get hungry, it won't be the winning kid's handsome hog they eat, but pork imported from an Iowa feedlot by a Chinese conglomerate.
This summer's "Down on the Farm"–themed fair offers us an accurate representation of our county at large; besides a few apple pies, ice cream and ol' Willie Bird turkey legs, we import the vast majority of our food. And while it's hard to grab lunch in this county without running into that ubiquitous "Eat Local" sign, how many of those local eateries (who remind us of our moral obligation to support the local economy) source their ingredients from local farms?
Nearly $2 million has been raised to build Saralee & Richard's Barn, a pavilion on the fairgrounds that will be a center for agricultural education. "Eating is an agriculture act," wrote visionary writer and farmer Wendell Berry. My prayer for the new pavilion is that it draws connections between production and consumption, the fair's bucolic decor and its food vendors. Because even when it comes to macaroni-stuffed cheeseburgers and deep-fried watermelon, most of the ingredients can—and are—being grown here. So let's fire up that deep fryer and support our local farmers!
Evan Wiig is the director of the Farmers Guild, whose new project, Follow the Rooster (www.followtherooster.com), celebrates local businesses who support our local farms.
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