Small Farm Food production, Part #1
This is somewhat off the subject of what we normally discuss but it is real life. This is a emailconversation 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 Market.com 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 Market.com and the url for the article is https://thewanderingmarket.com/2016/10/07/a-space-for-everyone/
She has a business of 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 - home made granola, honey, you name it - Your response: The ideas outlined in this article are legitimate. But the problem with most people is this, they are trying to compete with the industrial farmers playing by the rules of the industrial 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 farm markets only provide for part of the year. They are not able to provide for a consistent supply side. Most people 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. Where as they small farmer has to pay both the interest and principle load. The 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 the crop development and the marketing at the same time.
They can get a coop 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. Then 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 abor. The industrial farmer gets subsidies on the level that the small farmer can't.
This can come in many forms. But getting back to the marketing, that is really a tough area to cover, because people eats year around. People are not of the aptitude to store for when there is no production. So the market farmer is not able to produce enough when the customer want it, or too much for the customer's needs. Then lastly people are fickle, they are not loyal to a producer so he is at their mercy. Sort of like the thing we see posted on Facebook posts once in a while saying that people have no problem paying 5 bucks for a cup of coffee at the one big company yet carps like crazy about paying 3 bucks for a dozen of eggs. A lot of the struggle is that people don't care and are disconnected with associations related with food. We have been schooled in that we should have variety.
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, locavore comes to mind. If we did
that, we would see the need to eat what is grown locally. 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 best benefit. But we choose not to go that route, we go cheap and the local market gets hurt by it.
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 what ever,from where ever. But getting back to the topic and question. It is hard. Financially it is a disaster. For example when Iwas a teenager I had a herd of sheep, about 40 ewes and about a 150% lamb crop year in and year out.. 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 Chev pickup was at about 8,000.00 dollars.
Now that same lamb will sell for about 125.00 bucks, gas runs over 2 bucks a gallon clear up to over 4 bucks a gallon at times. The same type of Chev pickup is well over 50,000.00 bucks. The average lamb crop is still about 150% on average. 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), for each individual. When I say full service, I mean the provide every single article of food for the individual for the whole year cycle. Meat, milk veggies, grains, etc., everything. Now there is 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. And adult subscription is like about 3,500 dollars for the first adult in the family, then like 3,200 dollars for the next then kids are about 2,500 each. As I recall the article was in a publication put out by a farm equipment manufacturer, AGCO, Corp. Kent, 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 and supplies and talent that goes into 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 like from the Dollare Store or Walmart convenience and cost. My Mother had a small craft and collectable business in her retirement (she was an RN) and so many times she said people would come by her table and make comments like "I could make this at home!!" Really bugged her as they had no idea what actually went into making 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!!