The increasing popularity of the local food movement has inspired ever growing numbers of city dwellers to become small-scale local farmers.
“The future is local,”said Narendra Varma, 43, a former manager at Microsoft who invested $2 million of his own money last year in a 58-acre project of small plots and new-farmer training near Portland, Oregon.
Varma and his family have joined four other people in creating an organic farm operation.
Kirk Johnson with The New York Times notes the local food movement now involves a whole new reworking of old models about how food gets sold and farms get financed.
Johnson suggests factory farms are beginning to lose their price advantage over locally grown food because there’s a shortage of cheap labor due to a thinning stream of migrant workers from Mexico.
A study last fall by the USDA concluded that when sales to restaurants and stores were factored in, the local food industry was four times bigger than in any previous count, upward of $4.8 billion.
“How you make it pay is to get closer to the customer,”said Michael Duffy, a professor of economics at Iowa State University, capsuling the advice he gives to new farmers in the Midwest.
Duffy says the local food system is increasingly going its own way. “Many larger local farms hire Hispanic workers, but at more farm stands and markets, buying local also means, in subtle or not so subtle ways, buying native.”
“A byproduct of local food is that local hands are more likely to be producing, harvesting, packing and marketing it, especially for new farmers on small-scale farms,”said Dawn Thilmany McFadden, an agricultural economist at Colorado State University who is part of a leadership team for a training program for beginning farmers.
Johnson points out that Hispanics who had worked as low-wage laborers are now becoming entrepreneurs.
Viva Farms, a nonprofit group north of Seattle assists potential farmers in getting started by providing help with language training, start-up loans, marketing and distribution support, education, training and technical assistance, land, equipment and infrastructure.
“We work harder now,”said Misael Morales, 35, describing the main difference between life as a farm laborer and as an entrepreneur.
Last year Morales and his brother began farming a one-acre plot at Viva Farms. They grow lettuce for markets and restaurants in Seattle. Morales came to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager.
A small farm called C’est Naturelle located in Oregon City, Oregon, offers one-stop shopping services: “community-supported agriculture subscriptions to supply a family a full diet of food from one place, from eggs and butter to beef and greens.”
Jenny and Alex Smith, both 25, left their “boring” jobs in Seattle to become farmers on a tiny plot about an hour north of Seattle.
“They live in a recreational vehicle with no television or Internet service, and hope to break even this year, earning perhaps $1,600 a month through farmers’ markets and subscriptions for weekly produce packages, so far mostly from friends and family.”
Growing food locally and purchasing food from small, local farms is the only way to end the global dominance of huge, corporate owned factory farms where food is contaminated by scores of toxic chemical pesticides, GMO crops, and the unlimited and unregulated use of antibiotics and hormones in farm animals that poisons cheese, milk and meat.