Small Farm Production

This is somewhat off the subject of what we normally discuss but it is real life. This is a email conversation that I had with a friend out of Canada.  She asked me my opinion on a subject, the blog post done by her friend, Nadine. So I gave her my perspective. She is referencing a blog post listed in this discussion and can be found at this web site; The Wandering

The person I am having the conversation with is Dr. Sally Cleland, a retired Veterinarian.  I asked her permission to use this conversation here and we have permission to use the material from the web site from the lady that did the blog post, her name is Nadine. You are free to see her web site for more information on this subject and really I encourage you to do so.

I want to have more discussions on this subject, so we will call this one Part 1 of Small Farmer Food Production. This field is totally fascinating and I am sure all of you will enjoy it. This is an area where I am about as passionate about as I am anything in life.

Subject: Small Farmer Article and your reply

The original post was from a blog by a friend of mine(Nadine) who has a small business she calls "Farm to Folk"  from her web site called The Wandering The url for the article is
Her business is supplying fresh produce (when available) and fresh lambs, beef, pork etc and other "farm"  stuff as she has a relationship with multiple farmers in
Saskatchewan. She has a home made granola, honey, you name it.
Your response:

The ideas outlined in this article are legitimate. But theproblem with most people is this, they are trying to compete with the industrial farmers playing by the rules of theindustrial farmer or not playing by their rules, depending on how you see it. This is something that consists of a number of points. People eat all year long. Most farmmarkets only provide for part of the year. They are not able to provide for a consistent supply.

Most farmers have to much debt. You can't have debt when you are a startup farm marketer. The interest costs eat you alive. You have to have support machinery to do what you are doing. Cheap money has killed the small farmer. It is done by allowing people that can play with money, other people's money at low cost, to compete against the small farmer as he doesn't have access to that money. All these people have to do is service the interest cost with no intent of ever paying on the principle. Whereas, the small farmer has to pay both the interest and principle load. And of course, the industrial farmer has economy of scale on purchases that the small farmer can't have. However, the bigger issue is that the small farmer can't do the work necessary in crop development and the marketing at the same time. They can get a co-op put together but all too often the one running it or the corp. running it skims off all of the profit either by hook or crook.

In marketing you can't compete with the slave labor from global trade. The US and Canada are pretty much at the top of the food chain, so there is a lot of margin to
work with when the produce is coming in from a foreign country. The amount paid for transportation is only a small part of the costs.

When you have the cheap labor from illegal immigration that are hired by the industrial farms it kills the small farmer, he can't compete with slave labor. The industrial farmer gets subsidies on the level that is not available to the small farmer. This can come in many forms.

But getting back to the marketing, that is really a tough area to cover, because people eat year around. People are not of the attitude to store for when there is noproduction. So the market farmer is not able to produce enough when the customer wants it, or they produce way too much for the customer's needs and it goes to waste.

Lastly, people are fickle, they are not loyal to a producer so he is at their mercy. Sort of like the posts we see on facebook. For example,  once in a while we see a post that complains about people who have no problem paying 5 bucks for a cup of coffee at one big company yet carp like crazy about paying 3 bucks for a dozen eggs. A lot of the struggle is that people don't care and are disconnected with associations related to food.

We have been schooled that we should have variety of foods. Variety is great for global trade but it is a killer for human health. For the most part we see most domestic animals as being fed a predictable, consistent diet to keep them healthy. Sally, you tell me and others the result of a varied diet among domestic animals. Or let me tell, it kills them, they go to pot, they don't thrive. How many people have heard the term, Healthy as a Horse? Consider the diet of a healthy horse. Sally, you expand on this as well. So if we eat a diet to serve us in the best interests of health we would eat local foods. If we did that, we would be healthier. Local food is genetically programmed in our DNA and our DNA is programmed to eat local, not foreign sourced food. So again, local sourced food is where we would find the best benefit.

But we choose not to go that route, we go cheap and the local market gets hurt by our choices.  People don't understand the relationship between local support and turn of money in the local economy, so they see the need to go with irrational emotion of buying whatever, from where ever.  It is hard and financially it is a disaster when you buy from a local supermarket. For example, when I was a teenager I had a herd of sheep, about 40 ewes and about a 150% lamb crop year. I sold my lambs for about 110.00 to 120.00 bucks a year. Gas was about 60 cents per gallon. A new top of the line Chevy pickup was about 8,000.00 dollars. Now that same lamb will still sell for about 125.00 bucks. Now gas runs over 2 bucks a gallon and goes as high as $4 a gallon at times.  The same type of Chevy pickup is well over 50,000.00 dollars. The average lamb cropis still about 150% . The small farmer has not kept up with inflation. There is a saying out there that says a farmer buys for retail and sells for wholesale and pays the freight both ways. That is the problem. There are solutions, but this post is too long, maybe some other time.

A part of this that I forgot to mention is that there is a full service CSA in New York
state that I have read about.  They provide a full service food profile to their customers. Essentially it takes about 2.5 acres (US measurement), to feed each individual.  When I say full service, I mean they provide every single article of food for the individual for the whole year cycle.  Meat, milk, veggies, grains, etc.,  everything.  Now there are ways to cut down the amount of acreage needed, such as doing the growing in Central California, use of greenhouses, etc., but the 2.5 acres is a good reference point for perspective.  An adult subscription is about 3,500 dollars for the first adult in the family, then 3,200 dollars for the next adult. Kids are about 2,500 each. As I recall the article was
in a publication put out by a farm equipment manufacturer,  AGCO, Corp.


For some reason  when you posted, I didn't get an "alert" that you did, so I
hadn't read it until now. I think your response was very comprehensive and "hit the mark" on major points, and you are correct that the consumer is fickle and generally does not have all the best information to make informed choices when it comes to buying food (whether that's in a grocery chain-store or at the local farmer's market).  Way too many times they make their buying decisions on cost and convenience not on their own health needs or on what's "best" for the economy.

The same can be said for those people with artistic talents, whether that be crafts, paintings, pottery, etc. People so often don't consider the time, supplies and talent
that goes into these types of "hand-made goods" and again shop where they can get a pot holder or a mug or a wall decoration that has been mass produced with minimal
creativity or quality from the Dollar Store or Walmart, = convenience and cost. My Mother had a small craft and collectible business in her retirement (she was an RN). Manytimes she said people would come by her table and make comments like "I could make this at home!!" Reallybugged her as they had no idea what actually went intomaking something - time, effort, talent, etc!!
I don't know how to better educate the "masses" but I guess
each of us in our own way can inform people one at a time where we can!!

BlogKent Kingfarming