A recent article by Heather Rogers in The American Prospect brings up some really big issues surrounding small-scale, local farmers - even in an age of increased demand for organic and/or local and/or sustainable food, even when people are becoming aware of the real cost of industrial agriculture to our planet and our health. Her main point:
Aside from the standard instability farmers must endure -- bad weather, pests, disease, and the vagaries of the market -- holistic and organic growers face great but often overlooked economic hardship. They must shoulder far higher production costs than their conventional counterparts when it comes to everything from laborers to land. Without meaningful support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their longevity hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the USDA showers billions on industrial agriculture.
And small-scale, sustainable farms growing crops and raising animals for food, simply face massive costs all around. Rogers cites statistics: small farmers rely on outside, off-farm income for 85 to 95 percent of what they bring in each year. From raising the animals, to seed costs, to finding a USDA-approved slaughterhouse, to difficulties with marketing and distribution - we all know it isn't easy to truly make a small farm profitable.
Rogers' point is that the Obama administration needs to make sweeping reform to our agriculture and food system, and that it hasn't done this yet. But she also points out the good: Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary at the USDA, has started the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, and the USDA has begun some small grants to unconventional, small-scale producers. Then again, Big Ag is well-represented as well, and there is always "blowback" when changes begin to happen that threaten the industrial food system.
What do you think? Have you seen changes in the way the government views our food system? Do you have hope that we can continue to run our small farms and stay afloat, or are you struggling to survive? What can the government do to help you, if anything?