Creating opportunities for farmers
Creating opportunities for farmers
A significant reversal is occurring in the Australian countryside. For many years, the number of productive farms was reducing. Land units were either amalgamated into larger entities or converted into ‘rural living’ or ‘lifestyle’ properties. Production usually plummeted or disappeared altogether.
For 40 years there was little encouragement for small farmers from the government, and the fact sheet and free advice operations of State Departments of Agriculture dropped away. The collection systems to take produce from small farms to capital city markets withered in favour of certified supermarket supply chains.
Increased environmental knowledge
Now, however, the role of and opportunity for productive small farms is restored in many districts, and horticulture and small-scale livestock enterprises are booming across the country. This change is fueled by increased environmental and health knowledge, and awareness on the part of consumers, and is facilitated by farmers’ markets and direct box delivery schemes. It is supported by scores of TV chefs and media personalities.
Consumers are flocking to farmers’ markets and many are looking for organic food; at the very least, they want it to be sustainable, humane and local. Many of these consumers want to talk to their supplier. They want reassurance that they are getting the health and environmental benefits that they are seeking.
If they find the fresh, safe, nutritious produce they are looking for, farmers’ market shoppers often tell the farmer how much it is appreciated. The better farmers’ markets create much more than a market place, they create a community. If the farmers are willing to engage, farmers’ market stalls become a hive of conversation, exchange of recipes and human interaction.
The once unglamorous appeal of the muddy knees of farming life is now being exchanged for respect. Everybody benefits from a sense of belonging to a place. If you are what you eat, then eating local must make you local.
Changing rural landscapes
By selling direct, growers are now less isolated and schemes like WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic farms) extend community onto the farm. Farmers may be tied to a place, but they don’t have to be insular if that place is part of a community.
Demand for organic or unsprayed produce, low food miles, low environmental impact food is returning small farms to economic units. One committed individual, with help from family, Woofers and occasionally employed labour, can produce enough on a single acre or two of arable land to support a family.
Farmers’ market growers are more likely to be organic, or trying to be as organic as possible and, by adopting organic and low impact agriculture they are changing rural landscapes. Bushland and waterways will benefit from fewer pesticides and less cultivation.
Perhaps we finally know that some of the big problems of our society, including climate change, unemployment, social dislocation and depression will not be solved without small, local solutions.
A great writer called Wendell Berry told us that decades ago in a wonderful essay called, Eating is an Agricultural Act. He said, “We can fight with nature, but it should be a lovers’ quarrel”.
A few of the new small farmers were lucky to have been brought up on a farm. Most are completely new to commercial growing but may have been growing gardens and feeding their own family. They may even have been passionate gardeners. Anyone not born to farming is likely to have done a lot of reading, maybe drawing on the long American history of homesteading and writers like John Jeavons and Eliot Coleman.
Inevitably there will be a long period of trial and error, whilst book learning is localised and experience reveals which varieties, planting times and cultural practices are effective in that soil, climate and aspect.
For small organic farms, knowledge replaces fossil fuel inputs. Instead of fuel, pesticides and herbicides, organic growers substitute compost, cover crops, rotation, seed-saving, clever timing and spacing, insect-proof fabric crop covers and many other techniques that utilise an ecological understanding of their production problems.
Successful small farming also requires thrift, self-reliance and hard labour, and it delivers a low-debt or debt-free independence.
© Article: Tim Marshall
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The better farmers’ markets create much more than a market place, they create a community.