Often people suggest expansion as the obvious next step to a successful business such as our farm. I know the decision to remain a small family farm goes against the traditional business model. I actually have a farm which, along with our farm stay cottages, supports us in a very fine way and which I do not seek to expand. I have witnessed farms pressured into expansion as the marketing opportunities increase. The expansion translates into more work, more crew, more delegation and reliance on more wholesale accounts, whose loyalty is fickle at best. If this expansion also led to more profit, more security and more fulfillment, that would perhaps be understandable. Instead, we see, all too often, the quality of the farm and the farmer’s livelihood compromised by the stress that comes with larger work crews, high overhead and fluctuating markets.The experience of the farmer is greatly diminished.
At North Country Farms we have, over the years, grown a small-scale family farm able to produce a living for us, while fostering an intimacy with the land and hopefully having a meaningful impact with the consumers from our community and on the visitors who see our farm in action. The diversity and quality of our crops are ongoing challenges. The complexities of our small farm are providing a lifetime of study as we are constantly learning the strengths and weaknesses of both our land and our business.
Our challenge is the proper stewardship of our little piece of paradise, not on how to expand and do more. Striving to find the balance in each work day between professional and personal space, between the sharing of our island with our guests on the farm and safeguarding all that makes our island home special. Equally important is the fulfillment of personal goals this small farm gives us. In down-scaling we have more diversity of tasks, resulting in less physical and emotional strain that can come with repetition. We are able to enjoy rather than dread the long stretch of a work day, where the work that needs to be done can be taken on at a pace and in a fashion less likely to burn us out. This family farm has grown with my family, all the while involving my now-grown children, whom I was able to always have alongside me while working. That aspect of the decision to remain small cannot be underestimated.
This small family farm is a lifestyle and a conscious choice, not just a job. It speaks volumes about who we are here. I hope that the opportunities for small farmers can grow and become, once again, a vital part of our communities. I hope that this rapidly vanishing way of life can be preserved. In feeding others, we feel ourselves – on so many levels.
Here are some other factors that make it abundantly clear that small family farms are in need of a resurgence.
- there are 5 million fewer farms in the United States then there were in the 1930s
- of the remaining 2 million farms, just over one half million of them are family farms–the rest industrial factory, often corporate, farms
- half of the farmers are between 45-65 with only 6% under 35
Why are small family farms important?
- these farmers live on or near their farms and have a vested interest in feeding and protecting their communities
- the vast majority of family farms are using sustainable farming methods
- these farms sell mostly locally, decreasing the carbon footprint of the food they grow
What can you do?
- buy locally from your farmer’s market or from markets in your area that sell local produce
- “Shake the hand that feeds you.” Michael Pollan