Centralized food production does not equate to food security for a nation, and micro farms, producing relatively expensive, high-quality foods do not either.
Don't misunderstand me. I love the current renaissance of small-scale, localized agriculture. But micro farms do not feed most people in America, and they will never feed the dependent masses crammed into the urban centers of the nation.
I've been thinking about this since I read This Blog Post at Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy. Here's the paragraph that got me...
This week, Dean Foods gave notice to 140 small family dairy farms in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio that after May 31 of this year, there will be no truck to pick up their milk. Walmart, the largest buyer of Dean’s milk in the region, has vertically integrated and will now be processing their own milk. But not from those farms. Those farms are too small for Walmart to waste their time with. And now, Dean has no avenue to sell those farms’ milk. After years of low prices, it is, likely, the final nail in the coffin for those farms.
Family dairy farms have been going out of business in America for decades. Most of these farms are (or were) operated by the same family for several generations. But I think we might be experiencing a new wave of farm losses.
After reading the above blog post I found my way to a 2016 documentary about dairy farming in New England. Here is the trailer for Forgotten Farms...
I couldn't find that film on Netflix or Amazon. So I paid $5 to watch it online at the film's website. If you have any interest in dairy agriculture, you'll appreciate the movie. It's well made, with an important message.
I especially liked the fact that one of the farms featured in the movie is Herrick Farm (a fine name!). It has been in the same family for 300 years. They milk 100 cows. They own 140 acres and rent another 200.
100 cows is an average-size family dairy in the New England states. Fewer than 2,000 such farms remain in New England. 50 years ago, there were 10,000 dairy farms.
The movie explains that 75% of New England's pasture and crop land (that which hasn't yet been swallowed up by urban sprawl) is managed by dairy farmers. These farmers are taking care of the land, and keeping it out of development.
Dairy farms are the economic backbone of agriculture in the New England states. They produce enough milk to supply the needs of people in that region, and more.
Meanwhile, diversified microfarms connected to the burgeoning local food movement produce about 3% of the food consumed in the New England states. According to the movie, New England imports 90% of its food.
One problem that Forgotten Farms points out is that family dairy farms (in New England) are not recognized for their important contributions to the agricultural economy. The new breed of micro farms are better with their marketing and public relations, so they get the recognition.
Since such a small portion of the American population is involved in dairy agriculture (compared to in the past) few people are aware of, or care about the difficulties that small dairy farms are experiencing; their main difficulty being the ability to make enough money to stay in business.
All most people know about conventional dairy farms is that they stink. And dairy farmers are looked upon as a lower class. The deck is stacked against family-scale dairy farms.
I worked on a small dairy farm (around 75 cows) for a year after high school. The work was hard, and there was no end to it. I have a lot of respect for any small dairy farm trying to make a go of it in America today, and I grieve the loss of these farms.
How can conventional dairy farms manage to survive in a centralized agricultural system that is squeezing their profits and driving them to either get very big, or get out of business?
Well, they're going to have to do what the aforementioned Herrick Farm in Rowlee, Massachusetts is currently doing. They are augmenting the loss of income from their dairy (hoping the price they get for their milk will eventually rise) by tapping into the local-food and micro farm movement.
With the enthusiasm and energy of the younger generation of Herricks, the family dairy farm is now raising and marketing their own beef, eggs, poultry, produce, and so on.
Judging from the demographic information for Rowlee, they have the high family income and population density needed to buy the higher-priced Herrick Farm products.
So, Herrick Farm will probably survive this crisis (as long as people in their area continue to have the money to pay the higher prices), but a lot of other small dairy farms will go out of business.
My point here is that micro farms do not feed the majority of Americans, and the continuing loss of conventional small farms (most of them being dairy farms) does not bode well for the future of this country. It's just a crying shame.
UPDATEA few hours after posting this, I became aware of this article in the NY Times: When The Death of a Family Farm Leads to Suicide. It is about the impossible struggle that some dairy farmers in my state (New York) are facing.