Small Farm Explosion, courtesy of www.plbg.com
This question’s been posed to me by numerous existing farmers and aspiring farmers, and I think it’s a great question to ask. Any entrepreneur should contemplate those big picture questions before leaping into a new venture. My response is that we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. This trend will be sustainable in the long-term. I honestly think that the resurgence in knowing where food comes from and who produces it will stick around forever.
Why? Because it’s the right answer to a very serious problem. Our society is completely detached from its food system and it’s a food system that has been proven time and again to create illness and serious health problems among the populace (see this article and its bibliography). Our healthcare system is crippled and pushing our country further into debt and dependence on foreign economies (read: China). It’s only a matter of time before our massive food experiment unravels. The answer is natural, diversified food production on a regional and local basis. It’s only in the last 60-100 years that the industrial ag model has really taken over. That’s a very brief period of time and I believe it will be reversed over a similar period of time in the future. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I see it happening. The truth is, the industrial ag model isn’t sustainable in the long-term. Neither from a health, nor a cost, nor an environmental perspective. Sure, it may stick around and kick and scream for twenty or even a hundred years, but the shift back to local, healthy, and naturally grown food is going to happen.If I’m right, we are at the very tip top of the iceberg. A recent study by the USDA found that “local” foods represented $5 billion in food sales in 2008. The media reported that number to rise to $7 billion this year (although I don't know where they came up with that since it's not in the report). Sounds like a lot right!? WRONG! That’s only about 0.5% of total food sales! Half a percent. That’s basically nothing if you round down. Now tell me that we’re not at the tip of the iceberg. We got a LONG way to go! I frequently have to step back and remind myself that the recent growth in small farm production hasn’t even made a dent in the industrial food complex. If you’re ingrained in the alternative ag movement and you read the blogs and participate in the community you probably think everyone else does too. But they don't! We’re only a tiny fraction, people. I forget that pretty much everyone outside of my little circle of foodies thinks I'm a total weirdo! The idea of direct marketing and ‘knowing your farmer’ is far, far away from being commonplace. The interest level is only starting to grow.
I don't see it stopping, do you?