Record snows have added to rising energy costs, pushing food prices upward. In the United States, east of the Mississippi had one of its snowiest winters in years, and food producers report that this will take a bite out of our pocketbooks.
We have been researching the relationship of oil prices, electricity prices, and food prices. As oil goes up, food goes up faster. But crop failures, and interuptions in production can cause huge price increases as well. Florida, where winter and early spring produce is grown, reportedly has lost upwards of 70 percent of it's normal crop.
A 25-pound box of tomatoes that a year ago shipped for $6.50 is now fetching $40. Also destroyed were fields of sweet corn, beans and squash, not to mention those delicious Florida oranges displayed so appealingly in our groceries.
Another problem is that the the mass production food system of the USA tends to produce crops that have less "taste" because they are often picked green to allow longer shelf life and less "bruising". The result is less protein, lower vitamin levels, and poor taste. Visitors from Europe or Asia complain that our "grocery shelf" vegetables simply have no taste, and believe the "weekend market" system of most nations provides fresher and better quality food than the mass production system of America.
The squeeze on tomatoes and the scarcity of Florida produce has boosted prices at groceries and in restaurants. In the meantime, many Americans are growing gardens. Reports indicate more interest in food gardens than we have seen in decades. Farmers who have been addicted to large wholesale crops of milo, wheat, cotton, are now seeing huge profit opportunity in vegetable production. We may see "farmer's markets" again become an important income source for agricultural communities. More food chains, such as Central Market, are adding locally grown crops from small producers to their shelves, because the taste is better, and the quality, although not uniform, is of appeal to consumers. More growers are moving to "organic" production, with strict rules against harmful chemicals. Why? Consumer demand for "organic" is high.
One new trend is "High Tunnel" greenhouse production, that allows protection from weather extremes and is inexpensive. These can be built on small tracts, and can make 3 crops a year possible. Field reports indicate that 15 acres of "high tunnel" production of berries, can produce yields and profits of as much as 600 acres of the same crop grown with traditional methods. They can control heat, humidity, are easy to drip irrigate, easy to light, and can be powered with solar panels or wind turbines so that the "environment" costs are nill.
At the Boothe Ranch, we have a high tunnel, and at last count over 100 heirloom tomato plants, carrots, bell peppers, grapes, blackberries, rasberries, radishes, cayenne peppers, potatoes and flowers ranging from Marigolds, Poppies, Roses to Geraniums.
We have found our garden to be a source of quiet satisfaction, meditation, and imagine that it will feed several families. Our idea is to give all of the excess food to those in need and friends who will appreciate fresh food.
So the high cost of vegetables has become a mixed blessing for the Boothe Ranch and for perhaps millions in the country who are now back to the basics of gardening. In wartime, they were called "Victory Gardens." That's not a bad name actually, for gardens grown this year and their harvesting can beat inflated produce prices and keep the vegetables that nutritionists tell us make up the most important part of our diets affordable.