Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy
Jul. 30, 2014
By Gary Kleppel
It is 77 degrees in the pasture where my sheep and their lambs are grazing contentedly on the tall grass whose roots reach deep into the soil, carrying water to the otherwise dry surface. Tall grass helps ensure pasture health and ultimately the health of my sheep.
At the same time, the temperature in my kitchen is 119 degrees. I remove a dozen baguettes from the oven and prepare to load eight pain au levain. I started baking for tomorrow’s farmers market at 4 this morning. I’ll be at it for about another five or six hours. Tomorrow morning, Saturday, I’ll be up at 3 to prepare the soda bread scones and little loaves of Irish brown bread. Then, after moving the sheep back onto pasture (they come into the barn at night to allow the coyotes access to the mice in our fields), releasing the egg layers from the chicken tractor and moving the broiler chicks to fresh, clean grass, Pam and I will load our bread, tent, cash box and other paraphernalia into the Prius and head to the Delmar Farmers Market, a few miles outside of Albany, New York and 30 minutes from our farm. There we’ll sell the 130 or so breads that I baked on Friday and early Saturday morning in about two hours – approximately a bread a minute.
Most interestingly, when a would-be customer shows up at our tent, twenty minutes after the last loaf has been carried away, the response in never a grumpy, “Why can’t you bake more bread?” Instead, market patrons typically respond with a cheerful, “Good for you!” or “I guess I’ll have to get here earlier next week.” They get it!
This is the “emergent” agriculture – the new paradigm in food production whose foundation rests in the direct collaboration between producers and consumers. While capturing only a small portion of the American food market (perhaps 10% at best) direct sales is, according to the USDA, the fastest growing sector in agriculture. Direct marketing, via farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs, and myriad other efforts to connect food producers directly with consumers, is based on the assumptions that the modern farmer has a product that far exceeds the standard of mere commodity food and that this farmer is willing and able to expend the effort to market that product to potential customers. A poor product marketed well, will get the producer exactly one good day of sales; a great product poorly presented will provide excellent (unsold) food to the farmer’s table as he or she goes broke.
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