Local Food’s Missing Ingredient: Farmers

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia

It has taken a pandemic for more people to see what local food supporters have been advocating for the past 30+ years – a far-flung food system has its downsides. The current system was the the result of fewer people wanting to farm, and making it faster and easier for those who did. So the capital and chemical intensive agriculture we now have is based on doing more with fewer people and less complex management.

While this large-scale industrialized system is efficient, it’s negatives are now apparent: it’s energy and resource intensive; it takes more from the natural system than it puts back; in some cases, its by-products harm the environment; much of the food it produces is nutrient deficient; and it’s susceptible to supply disruption.

To address this, sustainable farming advocates and practitioners have been re-engineering the system to create regional food sheds that are easier to control and monitor, contribute positively to the environment and produce healthier food. The aim is that, once a region is maximized, it will begin trading with those adjacent to it, so what will develop is a global network of local food systems.

This will require many more farmers, with farming no longer thought of as strictly a rural activity. How many more farmers are needed? Ten years ago, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak set a goal of 100,000 new farmers. Some agricultural economists say millions are needed. Whatever the number, it’s big.

The farming industry obsesses over the barriers to entry for new farmers – land access and startup capital. SPIN-Farming removes them, and our advice to beginning farmers is: don’t go to ag school, don’t buy land, don’t go into debt. In farming you learn by doing, so the sooner they get an income producing farm in and off the ground, the sooner they will find out if they can succeed at farming. The money they save from not getting entangled in more elaborate programs can be invested in  farm infrastructure, which, following the classic SPIN approach, is simple and affordable, and they won’t be overwhelmed by knowledge that is more appropriate to acquire later in their careers.

Once new farmers master production and business on a small scale, they can quickly and more confidently scale up and increase their chances of succeeding at a larger scale. But even with this simpler more streamlined path to farm success, the challenge to building a food system that feeds us more healthfully and less destructively is this: Who  really wants to farm?

IF YOUR ANSWER TO THE ABOVE QUESTION IS “ME”, AND IF THE ABOVE ADVICE MAKES SENSE TO YOU, HERE’S WHERE TO GET STARTED. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP TO THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP OF FARMERS WHO HEEDED OUR ADVICE, ARE USING THE SPIN SYSTEM AND ARE STILL IN BUSINESS IS ALSO AVAILABLE.