I have passed on numerous intersting business models for smal scale agriculture, typically in Urban settings. And while getting more farming infrastructure in our cities is critical, equally as important is saving the rural, family farms of our country. While here in Jefferson County, WI we have enacted some very strong land use laws to restrict sprawl ( you only get one or to “splits” per property) it is really a bandaid that is not addressing the root problem. The average farmer is at or near retirement age, many (if not most) of their children are moving to cities for better prospects, and while there is a rising tide of young, enthusiastic would-be farmers (myself included) the start-up costs of even a small farm are often insurmountable. I figure to start a small 5 acre farm w/equipment in the county I live in would costs at least $350,000 (fixer upper) and net me less than my current job while doubling my mortgage. Should I want to grow organic commodity crops like wheat or hay, or start a dairy on much large acreage (even a small scale 100 acre farm) the cost gets up to $750,000+ with a run down house and 30 year old equipment, but the economic prospects are not much better than a small, intensive vegetable operation. This is completely untenable -trust me I check the listings weekly, and have crunched the numbers ad nauseum.
But there are areas of light: the Pacific NW, the coastal regions of Maine, Viroqua County WI, and oddly enough Woodbury County, Iowa. Woodbury Organics has produced a short video on You Tube as a marketing tool to get the word out for the incredible efforts they are doing in their county. When I found it, 5 months after it was posted, it had only 310 views. Watch it, rate it, and add a brief comment…there efforts need WAY more recognition. Also, check out their Letter to the Public on their site. Here is a short list of the great things they are doing as an organization and/or have gotten enacted in their County -the first two blew me away:
- 3 year 100% property tax refund for conventional land being converted to organic to offset loss in revenue while in transition
- Low/Zero interest loans availible to new farmers -including (I still can’t believe this) 5 years with no payments so when us greenhorns lose the first several harvests as we’re educated in the School of Experience we don’t lose the farm… literally. When I did a quick search I could find only one farm still for sale in this county… compared to the current trends that is incredible.
- Cold Storage available in their warehouse
- Active and extensive marketing support extending even to Whole Foods 200 miles away including a special local “brand” logo for food produced within 100 miles of Souix City, the larges close urban market.
- Classes, seminars, and the critical support of knowing you are not an organic island in a Monsanto Sea
- Vibrant Farmers Market and a supportive local food community
Add all this up and you can easily see why the County won a Sustainable Community Award this past October in a nationwide contest. These are not Crunchy Urbane Post Modern Hippies. These are rural folks in a county where the average farmer is 70, and they are fighting like hell to keep their county alive. Makes you proud to be an American, which is reason enough to watch the video.
Be the Change!