My sense is that there is much too much happy, optimistic talk these days about the economic potential for small-scale farms. I agree that there are many forces at work right now that will push people towards simpler and more local eating, which will tend to benefit small-scale farmers. But many of the rosy scenarios being offered right now assume that people will continue to spend as freely and indulgently as they’ve done in the past few years, and will be willing and able to pay whatever it takes to provide the local farmer with a comfortably white-collar income.
I don’t think this is true. The prices charged at Whole Foods and by boutique growers at upscale farmers’ markets are beyond the reach of quite a few people already, and a worsening economy is sure to have more and more folks questioning whether it is truly prudent to spend $2 on a tomato or $3 on a head of garlic, no matter how wholesomely and lovingly grown. In fact, I expect at least some of them to realize that they can have even better tomatoes and garlic from their backyard for little more than the time and trouble it takes to grow them—and having time on one’s hands is likely to be increasingly widespread in the months and years to come.
This particular thought was not on my original list, but came this morning while I read Shannon Whitworth’s latest Grassfed Cooking newsletter. Shannon has written two excellent cookbooks devoted to the proper cooking of grass-fed meat, and at Sap Hollow Farm she and her family run exactly the sort of operation the small-scale farming cheerleaders would have you dreaming and drooling about. And it is a great operation. But it is also being stress-tested at the moment by the worsening economy, in ways the cheerleaders don’t discuss much, and as such is worth close study by those of us who are trying to work out an agrarian approach to raising food for sale.
Again, please read the newsletter article.