On August 9, the Op Ed pages of the NY Times featured an article by Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer on Long Island. The article, provocatively titled “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers,” was soon followed by published comments on August 14, including one by Joel Salatin (a well respected farmer, author, lecturer, and featured source in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma).
The issues and dialogue are fascinating. If you’re interested in learning more about the nuances of the growing sustainable food movement, read the articles and then see my comments below.
My thoughts -
- The financial challenges of small organic sustainable farming are finally coming out of the closet. This is refreshing and heartening!
- The new food movement is not on secure financial footing and is therefore unsustainable. This means that farm models that are truly viable are still few and far between. Truly viable means that they are like a three legged stool… environmentally nurturing, socially responsible and economically viable. All three must be in balance or the stool will not stand. Many of our partner farmers are shining examples of this. They have spent years of incredible hard and brilliant work creating and balancing relationships to their land, their communities, and having it all work financially. They are highly creative, deeply intelligent, and persistent beyond most human standards. And they do it all for the love of the challenge, the land, and their craft. Farming is truly one of Earth’s most challenging, greatest and rewarding avocations.
- Bren Smith makes some good points about needing to build new systems, but unfortunately is enrolled in the notion that sustainable farm’s food prices are too high (referring to the high prices of CSA’s). In fact, well-run CSA’s offer some of the best value, per pound, for high quality food. It always cost more to grow high quality food, and also have it include the cost of environmental, social and financial sustainability. We cannot complain that farm workers and small farmers are not paid enough and at the same time that food is too expensive. At Farmers To You, two thirds of the cost of each product goes directly to the farmers. This is unheard of in food retailing. We are building a food system that moves as much of the profit back to the farms as possible without the farmer having to do all the selling and distribution work themselves.
- Going toe-to-toe with the industrial food system is a David and Goliath story where Goliath owns everything and always wins despite our romantic notions of the underdog. Together, we can (and are) creating something new rather than attempting to transform Goliath. We think the solution is found in an approach that embraces collaboration, balance and harmony with each other and nature, and rekindles relationships with urban families and rural farmers. Not an epic battle that will drain our energy, enthusiasm, and compromise our values.
- I agree with Joel Salatin. It takes collaboration and cooperation between many if we are to attain a truly sustainable food movement. We (farmers and families) have to work together, share, create, associate, and connect. If we advocate for anything from the government, it would be to do away with subsidies altogether. They have always benefited those who need them the least: industrial agriculture and industrial food processors.
We started Farmers To You for our present and future farmers. We are experiencing an explosion of interest in farming from our younger generations… and I have seen so many young people discouraged and disheartened! Those of us who can, must work to create better opportunities and models so these youth can succeed.
These amazing young people I meet are not looking to make lots of money farming – they are looking for a fulfilling and purposeful life. We need to keep these bright, enthusiastic and hopeful young people engaged and full of possibility. They are our future farmers.
I do want my children to become farmers, because I know there is a bright future: a purposeful and most fulfilling one.
You, as committed family partners, are voting with your forks, helping us eat our way to a beautiful new food future, one farmer at a time, one family at a time. Thank you for your partnership.