If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’m about to embark on a little rant. (But don’t worry, it’s relevant.)
There is a certain type of news story that keeps popping up. It isn’t usually headline news or breaking or urgent or any of those things. Instead, it’s a much more subtle message hidden underneath a lovely little tale.
It goes something like this. John and Jane are city slickers. They’re looking for something more out of life. They decide to go out into the country and purchase a small farm. They also decide that they’re going to do things differently. They plant all sorts of fruits and veggies. They get a couple chickens, maybe even a goat. Then they realize they have more food than the need. Wonderful! They can sell to their neighbors and at the local farmer’s market. Now they’re creating a local economy for locally grown food!
That’s when we get the news story. Now they tell us all about how they’re keeping it small and local. They want to be “sustainable.” The produce is, of course, organic. John and Jane want to do better for the Earth.
Ted and Mary are the perfect example:
Isn’t that wonderful? They managed to escape the city life and come back to the country and farm the good way.
And that’s the point of the story. That’s where my gears start to grind. John and Jane or Ted and Mary. The point of the story is always the same: The city slickers come out to the country, set up a “trendy” farm, and show all of us other farmers how it’s done right.
Because if you aren’t doing it the organic/natural/sustainable/[insert environmental friendly word here] way, then you’re just another greedy old farm dead set on polluting the environment, destroying the land, contaminating the water, abusing your animals, and annihilating the Earth in order to make a buck.
Of course the news story doesn’t say that expressly, but that’s certainly what they’re getting at. They want to paint the picture that Ted and Mary are doing things the right way. They want to help push this agenda that conventional is bad and organic is good. We wonder why people trust HUSU and PETA to tell them about animal agriculture? Take a look at the subtle messages being displayed around us.
But here’s the problem. After the cameras leave, things get real. In our house, we call Ted and Mary’s farm a “hobby farm.” They like to play around in the dirt, feel good about themselves, and eat some fresh food. But before long the bills come due. Farming isn’t cheap and you can’t just run it the way that feels good; you have to run it like a business. Turns out the methods you’re using might sound good, but they aren’t economically viable. You need seed, the chickens need to be fed, and your kids would probably like some school supplies. Heaven forbid you find out the farm isn’t able to withstand changes in the market and adverse weather conditions.
Five years down the road, John and Jane are packing up, selling the farm, and moving back to the city. Opps. I guess that experiment didn’t work. Of course, then we have a sob story about how the big bad farmers with their corporate farms drove out the little guy that’s just trying to be environmentally friendly.
The truth is, those other farms have been in the family for generations for a reason. We understand the way this works. Old farm families aren’t just out to make a buck at the expense of the environment. We want to protect the land so we can pass it on to the next generation. We understand that you have to take care of the soil; if you abuse it you aren’t going to have a family farm for long (it probably won’t last as long as John and Jane). Farmers do this because they’re passionate about it.
Real farmers also take this seriously. They don’t just pack up from the city, come out to the farm, and think they’re going to dig in. Many farmers are getting college degrees in agronomy. I would suspect most, if not all, have attend some type of informal classes as well. Education is key if you’re going to stay in business and be productive. And we generally have experience to back it up. My brother has been working alongside my dad since he was little. You don’t just walk into this as green as the grass.
Don’t get me wrong, we need younger farmers to get in on the game, especially if we’re going to keep up with the growing food demand. But as I’ve indicated here, organic food isn’t going to help us achieve that — it will only cut our food supply. We need people that are going to take this seriously and actually want to make a go of this.
We don’t need more “hobby farms,” we need more farmers.