Nobody ever said growing food is easy or that it pays well. However, while the number of new farmers across the U.S. may be down, interest in starting farming ventures of all types seems to be high. The number of new farmers in Maine who are 34 or younger, for example, has increased by almost 40% in the years between 2007 and 2012. What might be the financial future of farmers?
The debate is on about the ability of farmers or food growing entrepreneurs to make a living. In a New York Times op-ed piece, a young farmer named Bren Smith asserts that “The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living.” An article in Seedstock highlights the responses of other farmers to Smith’s argument. Michael Hanan of Ten Acre Organics in Austin, TX says, “It takes time, intelligence, and diligence to build a profitable business in local agriculture, but it can be done.”
WBEZ radio in Chicago aired a piece last summer about the difficulties faced by participants in the city’s urban farming movement who are trying to make a viable living. In speaking about these struggles, “several urban ag experts across the city confided that the demand for full-priced, high quality produce isn’t strong enough to support the businesses that sell it.”
And finally, in the fall print issue of Inside Grower, there is an article by Acres Online editor Chris Beytes, a self-described vertical farming skeptic, who began his inquiry about the viability of farming with vertical growing systems with the assumption that all these businesses depend on grants* to stay afloat.
Of course, the issues raised above are complex and far beyond the scope of a blog to cover in depth. Each of the articles cited above, though, open up opportunities for discussion and personal reflection.
*Speaking of grants, a Kickstarter-like offering was started up this year. It’s called Barnraiser and it seeks to “build a crowd-funding community…for the food movement”. It’s a good resource for finding out what others want to do, how they want to do it, and if their ideas are being funded.