The picture above was taken by Happy Zombie, a cute little blog from Astoria, Oregon. Not only is Astoria one of my favorite towns on earth, the photo is of the Pomeroy Living History Farm. That farm is where my blog was born... while I had a deep interest in farming as a child, I can say that the Pomeroy Farm was a homeschool field trip that changed my life. I knew that this was where humans should be and how farming should be because of the incredible peace and goodness of the place. It felt right. I have been fighting for this ever since.
I posted the other day about looking into what happened to 24 farms in 20 years and the results were disheartening. I've been thinking about it a ton and here are some of my thoughts...
1. Land is too expensive. Actually land suitable for farming is expensive. The urban homesteading movement is gaining support and I believe it can be capitalized on, but small farms are sold every day because they can't stay in business and the land prices are so high that it starts to make sense to sell it. This has affected me... I can't afford to buy any land where I live currently, and I know many young people who would farm but can't. There isn't even any land to rent.
2. Distribution is a problem. Small farms don't have the ability to distribute their products in a way that is convenient to customers in both price and ease of access. There are problems with both the CSA and farmer's market methods. With the CSA, you pay money up front for a share, but you don't get all the food you need in one place. For the average middle-class family, this feels like a hassle, it's tough to put money up front for something, and there's not much choice in what you get. The farmer's market is similar but without the convenience of arriving at your door. Some farmer's markets have a wide variety, but then few go all year, and usually only one day a week so the times are not convenient.
3. Prices are too high. The average middle class family can afford to buy maybe 50% organic, if some of that comes from far away. I'm generalizing here, but if you have a family like mine (2 parents and 3 kids), then food can get really expensive. Small farms have to make a profit, but their overhead is too high. They have to take care of distribution, branding, marketing, labor, selling, production, and then most of the time supplement with tourism and there are cost associated with that. Organic certification costs money, and yet customers are conditioned to only buy stuff with the certification, which they then have to pay for.
4. It's a tough transition. For most North Americans, a local food diet is MUCH different from the normal Western diet. For people used to large servings of meat, fried foods, processed foods, corn syrup, etc. the transition can be traumatic. Their palate has to completely change and they have to learn to cook new foods. There's not much support yet for this. There is a lot of education available as to why this is important but not how to do it.
The problems are easy to see, and the solutions are too. It's putting those solutions into motion that is the difficult part. If land is too expensive, then communities need to get together and pool resources or get grants to start or preserve small farms. Urban farms need to be supported, no matter how small they are. A new method of distribution needs to be devised that competes successfully with a typical grocery store in convenience and accessibility. The farmer needs to be relieved of the burden of distribution, marketing, branding, selling and tourism. The farmer should be a farmer, and focus on production. A free and simple certification should be offered to farmers based on responsible farming practices, since 'organic certification' is currently falling short. Consumers should be offered free education on transitioning to a seasonal, healthy diet using fun, community-based potlucks, cooking classes and support groups.
Those are all common sense solutions, and they need to be done on a grand scale so that the resources are available. Why can't they be done?