Child: I want to grow up to be a farmer. Parent: Are you crazy?

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Are all small and local farming businesses doomed to fail? A few weeks ago aquaculture farmer Bren Smith wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times making an economic argument to affirm that question. He believes that the local food movement is a losing business proposition without proper support government support and concerted action from farmer driven advocacy groups:

But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. We need to take the lead in shaping a new food economy by building our own production hubs and distribution systems. And we need   to support workers up and down the supply chain who are fighting for better wages so that their families can afford to buy the food we grow."

The column sparked debate in large part because of its title— “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmer’s”—and Smith’s generally pessimistic and pragmatic critique of a movement that so many of us hold near and dear to the core of our political and moral beliefs. This week, for instance, Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, and a number of other co-authors argue in the Huffington Post that while our local food movement is relatively new and there is a need for more economic data on cost effective methods, it can be a viable enterprise:

Working with nature is not simple. But you can make a good living at it when you get your business model and growing system in place. Several of us are partners of a successful organic vegetable farming business that currently supports two farm families as well as year-round and seasonal employees."

We found a few great stories this week on ways in which farmers and farmer advocacy groups are making their businesses work and thrive:

Laura Miller, Georgeanne Artz, and Linda Naeve write in the most recent publication from the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) about ways in which farmers are improving their businesses by sharing equipment. Based on five case studies of different sharing structures, Artz and Naeve discovered several “lessons learned” and success stories:

With seven acres of aronia berries to harvest, Henry was motivated to find a harvesting alterna­tive to hand-picking on his farm. He approached three growers initially about the possibility of collectively purchasing an aronia berry harvester to machine-harvest their crop. Soon the group grew to eight growers with a total of 40  acres of aronia berry bushes planted."

Moving from the corn belt closer to the equator, Rosie Stabile of Food Tank reports this week on a Brazilian group Movement of Dam Affected People (MAB) who has organized over 80,000 farmers in 17 Brazilian states to work against hydroelectric energy policies that disturb farming livelihoods. Not only a lobbyist group, MAB educates and supports farmers to new economic heights. Quoting a MAB member:  

Because we are a part of the MAB movement,” Sueli told us, “we now have the means to build a meaningful life. For instance, through MAB we now know we can sell produce for school meals, and the government pays a better price than the local market. And we are proud that we are selling organic produce even though we can’t get a higher price in the market. . . “

Lastly, with an avenue through which we can all support more projects and enterprises that promote local food Alix Wall and Bay Area Bites report on Civil Eats about Barnraiser, an online crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter, geared entirely towards local food project. Eileen Gordon Chiarello, founder of the organization explains the importance of such a forum:

Calling those who are changing our food system “modern-day heroes,” Chiarello said not only does Barnraiser give them a platform to create change, but it gives consumers a means to “drive what they want and make it happen.”

It is true that farming is an inherently risky business, but we also know that continuing to rely on a fossil-fuel-driven food system that impoverishes farm workers, pollutes our environment and threatens human health is far more risky. By continuing to do what we can to support our own local food movement and local farmers we can be part of building a food system that is truly sustainable.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

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