Can Small Farms Feed the World?

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Photo by yummyporky/FlickrCC

Often, the question is raised about whether or not "organic" or "sustainable" agriculture can feed the world. I can't answer that question, nor can anyone else, in my opinion, as we don't live in the time when it's being done. And for sure there was a time when it was done, without herbicides and without GPS-connected, air-conditioned tractors, or we as a people wouldn't be here today. I wonder, however, why one country or one group of people would feel compelled to feed the world? Money? Control of food? Control of people? All three?

Every country that exists has an agricultural base, or a close relationship with the sea and what it provides. Certainly there are weather-, political- or war-related tragedies that destroy or hamper a population's ability to feed itself. If other countries or people can help them get back on their feet, that's a good thing to do.

But in general, we have come to have this massive amount of people in the world because throughout history, countries have successfully fed themselves. Sure, there has always been trade with each other to provide exotic tidbits, for diversity or for delight, but even in a global economy, it makes good health sense for people to eat food produced in their environment and in their community. Freshness is as important as a lack of poisons in the food we eat. And freshness is sabotaged by long-distance shipping.

We have no desire to be a large farm, no desire to feed the world. We are interested in nourishing our community.

Our two individual farms, combined, are tiny by corporate standards. We have no desire to be a large farm, no desire to feed the world. We are interested in nourishing our community, to which we sell, at retail prices, from our on-farm stand. We make a decent living farming, and we have nine long-time employees who are compensated fairly. We grow vegetables and fruits on approximately ten acres out of the 50 we own. Our land is intensely cultivated. Mere footpaths separate beds. We make the most of many crops.

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

For example, we sow beets, turnips, and carrots thickly, so that we can sell baby beets/turnips/carrots first, then full size, and last, in bulk. We bunch and sell the leaves of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprout plants in addition to their "fruit." We grow a wide diversity of produce year-round so that our customers can eat seasonal vegetables straight from the farm. We cover crop; we make our own compost. We use tractors, but frequently, we are at the end of a hoe. All planting and harvesting is by hand. We value the exercise, fresh air and sunshine as bonuses to our health.

Obviously, there must be larger farms for food needed by urban centers in areas with hard winters, and also bulk items, such as grains. But in moderate climates and during optimal growing seasons, we may be better served if we eat food grown in healthy soil and sold in a fresh state--primarily vegetables, with meat and grains as additions to the plate rather than dominating it. Perhaps then, we will be well-nourished and not require such volume production of our farmers.

Farming has many challenges, in every type and size of farm. We respect farmers. We'd like to feed our citizens first, get a fair price for our production, without resorting to government subsidies, and help those in need around the world in a short-term manner, rather than taking them on as nutrition dependents.