For a long time, the reigning mantra of farming in America has been simple-minded: Get large-scale or get off.
That mantra finds its roots back to the late Earl Butz, who President Richard Nixon appointed as U.S. secretary of agriculture in 1971. He maintained the position for five years.
Under Butzs watch, domestic farm plans shifted to favor huge, industrial operations planting mostly corn and soy and shun smaller farms that favored organic, locally sold crops. That legacy has continued to this day, as witnessed by U.S. farms dwindling harvest diversity and the massive environmental footprint like cheapened clay, excessive water use, and heavy employ of pesticides and herbicides such approaches to farming leave behind.
Despite this, alternative approachings have continued to survive and even thrive. A developing number of Americans want to know where their meat comes from, connect with the families rendering it and buy products at farmers markets and through community-supported agriculture( CSA) programs.
But how, precisely, can tiny farms capitalize on that concern and earn a living? Can farmers markets and CSA cartons actually prolong a farm, especially at a time when the incoming administration has signaled a move to fight the local meat motions recent gains?
Josh Volk thinks so. Hes the owner ofSlow Hand Farm in Portland, Oregon, and he has a lot of indication to back up his argument.
In a brand-new book named Compact Farms , out the coming week, Volk highlights 15 different farms across the country all of which are located on no more than 5 acres and the hard-working people who run them.
Volk details how each farm develops and sells its products, even offering admonition to aspiring farmers who are interested in taking up the busines themselves. And through telling their stories, Volk pushes back against the get large-scale or get off narrative, making a strong example for how smaller farms can, and do, contribute to our nation and planets health and subsistence and will continue to do so regardless of the present political climate.
The Huffington Post recently spoke with Volk about farming and the future of meat policy under President Donald Trump.
What inspired you to write this book thats a how-to guide for small farmers ? strong>
I wanted to create a dialogue around how these things work and how is impossible to build them better. I wanted to look at this smaller scale of agriculture and find out from the person or persons what they are doing that is making them so successful, to throw those minds out into the world and try to generate more discussion around the topic.
How did you select “the farmers ” you highlight? What built them unique ? strong>
Narrowing it down was a little bit tricky. I was looking for a cross-section of farms. I wanted to have urban examples and urban lessons in all different parts of the country. I aimed up with more of a mid-northern tier and didnt get farms further south, but I had so many good examples from farmers in the north tier that merely aimed up being the direction it was.
I was also go looking for diversity in markets and to have a good gender balance. What I didnt end up with, which I wish I had detected more a few examples of, was a more racially diverse audience. It would have been interesting to find more a few examples of those farms they are out there, but that merely wasnt where my connects were.
Youve been in this business for some time.You know your stuff. What astounds did you encountered along the way of working on this ? strong>
The most surprising thing to me was how many examples of such farms there used to be. And some of these lessons went back 15, 20, 30 or more years. There are a lot people who have been doing this for substantial amounts of occasion. This is something thats out there. Its not new. I knew that to a certain extent but was astounded at how easy it was, in some manner, to find a few examples of that.
This all pushes back against the get large-scale or get off thought do you think that thought is expiring out? Is there momentum here, or still a long way to get-up-and-go ? strong>
We ever requirement more education about how successful these[ tiny] farms can be. These a few examples of folks doing it for 20 or 30 years evidence you can maintain this. That this is sustainable in the environmental sense, in the social sense and in the business sense. I also included a few examples of farms in their third or fourth or fifth time to show that it looks like when youre firstly starting this. I dont know if those farms will continue to succeed, but so far they have.But I think this is getting easier and there is a lot more information out there, and a lot more adoption. I think it is gaining momentum.
I also dont think that is necessary that small is the only direction. There needs to be a place for the mid-sized farms and even the bigger farms. But I believe the landscape needs to be more open and more accepting of all of it. I hope this book will help make this more of an option of those individuals who dont crave farming to merely be the one way.
Farm policy has been in the spotlight recently thanks to Trumps late nomination of a U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary. There have been reports of somefarm groupsbeinganxiousabout Trump. How are you feeling about the future of tiny farms, given the current political climate and incoming administration ? strong>
From what Ive learnt over my last 15 to 20 years in small-scale agriculture, the organic farming movement operated without any help and, actually, opposition from the USDA and government entities and it still successfully developed. Theres no question in my psyche that when the USDA took over the organic label and started the National Organic Program that that is actually kickstarted a lot of assistance from universities and other organizations and things have been something better. Thats not to say that they couldnt be more appropriate than they are right now, but they are better than they ever were.
I think its almost impossible to think there wont be a major step backwards[ for the purposes of the Trump administration ], but I dont think that step backwards will be particularly problematic. Surely, with the very minimal subsidies there are and the kind of momentum there is in terms of interest in research, I think were still on solid ground. But were going to have to build major efforts to continue to move things forward now more than ever.
It sounds like youre experiencing most optimistic than many people might guess you would be. Why is that ? strong>
I live in a little bit of a bubble here in Portland. Were so progressive in some manner and there is so much aid at the local level , not just in terms of local government, but with the customers the people at the farmers markets and the is supportive of the CSA growers and restaurateurs utilizing local produce and buying from local farmers. It doesnt feel like any of that is going to change. If anything, I think in some ways, theres more of an excuse than ever for that core group to set their aid behind these tiny farms, to double down on that.
Im optimistic, too, because I do travel and visit farms in other parts of the country. And over the past five to 10 years doing that, Ive always been impressed when I go ensure these regions. I grew up on the Eastern coast and in the Midwest, and it was not like that when I lived there 30 years ago. The meat incident is changing. Maybe it doesnt seem the same as it seems in Portland, but there are a lot of the same aspects of support for local farms. I meet a lot of farmers who are making it work because restaurants are buying from them and people want their produce at farmers markets. I dont just see that in this bubble in Portland. I see it everywhere I go.
What are other indications of such movements that youre determining ? strong>
When I firstly moved to Portland in 2001, I think there were maybe 15 CSAs servicing of the area. Now I think its at the least five or six times that. There were no training programs for brand-new farmers starting out, unless you consider the on-farm occupations, which were limited at the time. Now you have formalized training programs at community colleges and private organizations, as well as through farms. And all of those programs exist because people are looking forward to getting involved at this scale in this kind of agriculture. Its a huge leap forward. If you track it time to time, it doesnt seem like much, but if you liken it to 20 or 30 years ago, its a leap forward. I dont should be noted that slowing down. I see it accelerating.
This interview has been edited and condensed in the interests of clarity . em>
Joseph Erbentraut handles promising innovations and challenges in the areas of meat, sea, agriculture and our climate. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut @huffingtonpost. com . em>
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