Written by Claire Mai, Summer 2015 Food and Farm Intern. Originally published in July 2015.


On June 17th, 2015, a panel discussion called The Real Cost of Food was held at The Stage at KDHX and moderated by Joe Bonwich. Food and Farm Coordinator Melissa Vatterott was invited to be part of the panel, along with farmers from Missouri and Illinois. We’re grateful to Maddie Earnest of Local Harvest Grocery, who was instrumental in organizing this event as part of the St. Louis Local Foods Challenge!

Panelists responded to questions from moderator Joe Boewich and audience members about their work and urban agriculture in general .

It was great to learn more about the real costs of growing food locally and sustainably and to meet some of the amazing farmers behind our local food supply. We had the opportunity to get insight from:

The panel discussed difficulties that come up for small local farmers – for example, the need for education to mend the disconnect between buyers and their food, as many consumers don’t know what to do with the vegetables from their CSA or don’t realize the true cost of production. They also discussed “green-washing,” such as experiences with restaurants that publicly list their farms as sources, despite not regularly purchasing their produce. Melissa shared information from the St. Louis Regional Food Study and discussed policy barriers to urban agriculture.

In addition, panelists offered insight into the process of obtaining USDA Organic certification. Many people are unaware of the costs that are involved in getting certified. As Crystal Stephens (La Vista CSA Farm) explained, once a farm is USDA Organic certified, the farmer may continually need to spend more (on farm equipment and other investments) to keep up with changing standards. She also pointed out that “organic” does not always mean “sustainable,” since a farm could be a huge operation across the country with intense water consumption and still be certified organic. While La Vista CSA Farm is dedicated to organic practices, they explained that they feel they don’t need a label. Similarly, Bobbi Sandwisch (Live Springs Farm) noted that some beneficial practices (such as certain composting types) are left out or blocked by organic certification.

Thank you to our farmers and organizers for this informative, interesting event! MCE’s Food and Farm Program hopes to continue learning more about obstacles for local farmers and works to address some of these concerns.