Healthy rewards from small spaces
I had the pleasure of previewing the new documentary “Farmers for America” yesterday with a group of other local farmers. This was an emotional up and down experience for me because the film covered just about every aspect of my own dreams and fears about the future of farming in the United States. There were three take-away realizations this farming documentary made evident to me by the end of this film that will affect not only my future potential for continuing as a farmer, but the future potential for young adults to get into farming, and the results of what could happen to the food supply if they don’t.
Watch the trailer for Farmers for America movie.
Unless a young adult inherits an established family farm that is already raising cash crops, starting a new farm from scratch will be impossible without huge amounts of debt. A new combine can cost half a million dollars. Purchasing farm land can cost $10,000 an acre, and a new farmer will be unlikely to find success farming only a few hundred acres for grain crops. A cash crop farmer today raising legumes, grains and animal feed must farm thousands of acres of crops and then remain vulnerable to the whims of the Wall Street market fluctuations which can rise and fall without any viable explanation. A mega farmer today can have less concern about weather challenges. There are insurance programs to protect the farmer from the many moods of Mother Nature. The biggest uncertainty in cash crop farming is what Wall Street can do to determine the financial success or failure of the seasonal effort a farmer will make.
Corporate owned farm factories will be the future to meet the demand for a global supply of food, and the new farmer will need to make a choice if this is the model they want to support. Cash crop farming today is oppressed from a dominating system of genetic modification, heavy pesticide use, and little concern for nutrition based food.
Many countries around the globe have already banned the use of Glyphosates and genetically modified seeds from farming production. The United States is a major holdout to stop showing economic support for this these highly controversial farming methods. Reasons for this pro-GMO position for the US are so influence by political lobbyists, many consumers have simply chosen to work around the political system and vote with their food dollars and avoid this type of food. Lobbyists counteract by demanding less labeling for food products to make the US consumer less informed about what ingredients are put into processed food and meat. A young farmer today considering cash crop production must either consider this current GMO system in their farming model, or take substantial financial and social risk and become an activist to create change. Either role will be stressful.
A more realistic vision for future farmers involves small farms raising meat, vegetables, and small fields of organic beans and grains to support a local economy. Farm land becomes more affordable when a new farmer only needs a few country acres to begin a farming operation or can squeeze crops into a urban garden space.
Small farming plots of land require less equipment and expensive outbuildings. A new young farmer can start on a shoestring and build over time. Simple and creative ideas for small animal housing and pens can be economically constructed. Growing spaces can be niched out of lawns and even rugged ground through the use of raised garden beds. Simple hoop houses can extend growing seasons to encourage the potential for year-round production of produce. These farming ideas support a counter-culture from the mainstream ideals of traditional farming. Support systems from social media provide access to innovative concepts so downsizing a farm can ensure a hopeful future for new farmers.
In order for the small farms to be successful, a farmer most likely will need to market their products outside of the grocery chain food system. Local small farmers simply cannot compete with price sensitive corporate farms and consumer convenience demands. However, what they can offer the consumer is clean food, free of the genetic modification, pesticides, and unhealthy factory conditions for growing and processing meat and other food.
In the film, all farmers who were successful representations of small farms were offering their products for sale outside of this corporate influenced consumer food system. They realized their sustainability was not tied into getting their products into the now Amazon owned Whole Foods or chain grocery stores. They wanted to connect with their local community.
New young farmers are capitalizing on direct marketing methods which have been developed to attract local consumers through social media, local online sales, and farmers markets. These new food marketing systems are an integral part of a community food channel. They allow small farmers to set a higher price for their meat and crops to meet the increasing demand for community members who value making clean food choices.
Farmers Markets are key to small farms
Local farmers markets play a vital role to small farms, and hopefully in the future, they will not succumb to the pressure for consumer convenience and become just another grocery store. Many new opportunities for cottage foods and value added products from locally sourced ingredients and materials are erupting across the US. If future farm markets continue to maintain a traditional “locally made” model, they will be a viable outlet for small farms.
A consumer driven clean food lifestyle is swiftly becoming more than a fad in the United States. The Farmers for America film demonstrates how local consumers want to embed a relationship with their local farmer into their lifestyle choices. Consumers can support seasonal fresh food options by preserving locally grown food for future off-season months when fresh food is imported from other regions or countries that support different food standards.
Is there a future for a small farm in the mass produced food market?
As an older generation farmer with an established small farming operation, our biggest concern is not the ever-changing weather patterns. There are many ways of working around Mother Nature on a small farm. Our biggest challenge is holding on to our consumers and swaying them away from the convenience of the chain grocery stores. The small farmer is emerging in this battle as grocery stores realize they are losing customers to this clean eating lifestyle. Chain stores are now mimicking the small farm idea by applying clean food marketing keywords to their mass-produced products.
As a stand-alone small farmer, there will be challenges to meet the heavy demands for providing fresh local meat and produce to chain stores, restaurants, and active institutions. If a small farmer desires to unite with a mass market, this could be accomplished through the use of a local wholesale food hub, which could be the next big idea to support small farmers in the future.
The Farmers for America movie describes how the next generation of farmers will not be monopolizing corporate farm systems. Instead, a local food supply chain will require thousands of small farmers to unite their efforts.
At the present time, finding actual “fresh” food in a chain store is challenging. The farm to market transportation channels for fresh food grown outside of a regional area simply takes too much time to ensure freshness and quality. Marketing keywords used to sell products can be deceiving; therefore the ultimate definition of how farm fresh is determined is left as a personal consumer choice.
Food labeling rules continue to be convoluted through our political system to hide known carcinogens placed in mass-produced food products. As public awareness increases, the concept of clean eating in the United States will make this common tagline, “know your farmer, know your food,” even more influential to the health of future consumers.
Author: Cathy LeValley
Hello gardeners. We are James LeValley and Cathy LeValley, owners of New Earth Micro Farm and passionate gardeners of fast and easy growing using small spaces. Waiting 3 or 4 months for a vegetable to grow - not for us. Growing micro and mini vegetables in 10 to 60 days provides a quick turnaround to support organic growing methods for greater nutrition.