Considering Local Food and Agriculture and The Future of Small Farming
Mother Jones has a good little article depicting two charts about local/small agriculture in both a positive and potentially troubling light. On the plus side it appears that more so that in the past 30+ years, there is active local distribution of agricultural goods from small farms. This is wonderful. But the negative is that the population of American farmers is rapidly aging, and unless more young people become interested and become involved in small-scale agriculture, we could lose a lot of the potential gains.
This piece was interesting to me for a number of reasons. First off because Eliza and I are very interested in supporting local agriculture, and while our diet is not 100% locavore it is reasonable to say that we make a very big effort to buy and consume food from relatively close by. We have a number of friends in the agricultural business and so besides wanting to offer a bit of financial support to them and their efforts, we also consider a lot about the environmental impacts of purchasing foods that have not had to been shipped across the country (or world).
Secondly, I think that, if we had the resources at hand, Eliza and I would be more than willing to drop what we’re doing right now ans start our own small-scale farming operation. Unfortunately nothing is ever that easy. We both fall into the 25 – 35 age range, and do have a lot of interest in farming. Someday we hope that we might be able to turn the dream into a reality. However, as the article above points out, there are a lot of road blocks that make it hard for young people interested in agriculture to really get a foothold and a decent start. Certainly, to a degree, it is like starting any other business. However, I suspect the unique challenges and variable in farming (potentials for poor weather, bad crops, diseases, etc.) make much larger risk factors in the early part of starting up.
I think that more government involvement, especially through local governments, is one means of helping out people who want to start-up new agricultural business. However I cannot think that appealing to government aid is ever the only answer to the woes of a system. I think that a major benefit could come through more private investment of both a non-profit and a not-for-profit nature. Agriculture is business (as we can clearly see when looking at Big Agriculture) and there is no reason why private investing shouldn’t want to find means of supporting it. The success of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations should partially contest to this. I think we need to see more. I think that a combination of revenue support, ease of access to low-interest loans, programs to provide affordable healthcare, and the likes could all be means to courting new interests in farming.
Furthermore, I think that there needs to be some move towards active recruiting (and this is somewhere where I think local governments could be very successful). There are a lot of people who are both interested in and probably capable of, working in the farming business, and yet they are not sure where to start, or they have just not considered it as a viable option to make a personal living. Thinking about Eliza and myself, I recognize that we are already invested in many aspects of small-scale agriculture, through our massive backyard garden, our chicken raising, our interests in home food production (especially through canning and beer brewing), etc. And while we might invest some here and there in learning more about agricultural practices (for my part I just bought a wonderful book on beginning animal husbandry called “The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals.”) I am not sure that we ever feel overwhelmingly courted to pursue the owning of an actually farm (besides a few of our farming friends who often tells us how much we’d love it). One of the things that stands out as a roadblock beyond just financial obligations is the learning a applicable and necessary skills to run a small farm at a functioning scale (certainly you can take classes or pursue a degree, but often times, considering the already outstanding financial situations and budget of time, these are difficult options to actualized).
I hope that things continue to improve and the local farming continues to be a profitable venture. If the situations do increase in value that alone can act to attract more interested parties to explore farming on their own. Perhaps someday in the not too distant future Eliza and I will find the resources to do it on our own. We’ll see I guess.