Small Farm Issues

Why We Need Small Farms

By Jaime Jones 08/09
    Most of us come from a long line of organic farmers. My mother grew up on a farm as did many of our parents and grandparents. This is simply the way most people made a living prior to the industrial revolution. In the mid 1930's there were 6.8 million farms in the U.S. Then two things happened to dramatically change the face of agriculture in America. Agricultural chemicals were introduced and tractors took the place of horses. At this point farms began getting bigger  and farmers began getting fewer. This  trend continued until only recently.
      According to the agricultural census of 2007, the number of farms in America increased by 50,000 to about 2.2 million since the last census in 2002. That's about 10,000 new farms per year over a five year period. Many of these are young, sustainable, organic farmers who have chosen to get their hands in soil rather than punch a keyboard.
      This is good news. A greater number of farms means better food security. They say for financial security you need to diversify your investments. The same is true for food security. It's better to have a greater number of small, independent, diversified farms rather than a limited number of large industrial sized mono-crop operations.
       Today most food is grown by large scale growers who depend on agribusiness corporations to supply them with agricultural chemicals and hybridized or genetically modified seed. In the past open pollinated seeds were planted and the farmer would often save a portion of his crop as seed for planting the next year. The main danger with hybrid and GM  seeds, even beyond the well documented health risks of GM crops, is that they will not reproduce the same seed that was originally planted, if any seed at all. In the case of a catastrophic event such as war, economic collapse or natural disaster, seed producers could go out of business. Without seeds to plant there would be  massive famine and starvation, adding to what ever problems caused seed companies to fail. This is a dismal scenario, but with a vast network of small farms, growing a great diversity of open pollinated fruits and vegetables, we would have true food security.       
       The industrial economic model we've been working under for the past 150 years is clearly not working for us anymore here in the U.S. This might be a good time to think about returning to an argarian based society as our American founding fathers envisioned. Small sustainable farms provide jobs, a high quality of life, a clean environment and a good work ethic. They instill a sense of freedom and independence in the work force. The organic agrarian lifestyle is a tried and true system that has been proven to work over the past 8,000 years. Industrial ag has been around only a few decades and look at the mess it's gotten us into already.
         Contrary to what agribiz would have us believe small farms are more efficient. A farmer whose livelihood depends on his ability to coax as much as he can from the soil, will in the long run always do better and get more enjoyment and satisfaction doing it.
         It's time for us to get back to our agrarian roots.

Beyond Words, Our Stance on Certification


Beyond Words
In the year 2002, the USDA National Organic Standards went into effect. Along with the phenomenal growth in demand for organic food came new legislation to govern this emerging new farming sector. One measure of this law requires all organic growers to register with the state and maintain annual organic certification with a 3rd party organic certifier.
Organic certification is a very expensive and time-consuming process. One year when we were farming around 40 acres, our farm paid over four thousand dollars to certify our dates and date products, and another three hundred to register with the state. For larger growers who farm hundreds of acres this seems afforable, since they can spread out these costs over millions of pounds of produce. For the small family farm, it can be very discouraging.
If anything, the government should be encouraging small organic agriculture with subsidies and programs that make it easier to farm this way as they do with other farm commodities. Instead, like many laws, this legislation seems to be in favor of the big guys. In fact, thanks to the lobbying of companies like Monsanto, the first draft of this bill was to permit genetically engineered crops and toxic sewage sludge fertilizer to be called organic. If not for the hard work of grass roots organizations and an outcry from organic consumers with over 200,000 letters to the USDA they would have gotten their way.
The first year the National Organic Standards went into affect around 700 of the 2000 registered organic farms in California did not re-up their state registration.
In the 80s and 90s when you bought organic food you were probably supporting a small family farm. But now that organics is a multi-billion dollar industry, the factory farms are moving in and the small farm which organics once saved, is on the run again.
Organic certifiers have a place as educators and watchdogs to these industrial size farms that are jumping on the organic bandwagon, but unlike the certification of yoga instructors, no grandfather clause was included in this law for farms that have been organic for a long time and know what they're doing.These small farms have less need for certification since they have experience, good reputations, less volume to move, and a direct connection with the consumer.
We are a small farm with no employees and no real desire to expand. We went down the path of growth and expansion in the 80s and 90s. We saw where that leads to and we don't want to go there. We prefer a simpler way of life. We have a hands on connection with our trees and personal connection with our customers when they call to order.
To make ones living growing crops in a natural way as our forefathers have done for thousands of years is an undeniable human right. We don't want to see anyone lock it up, so you can only do it if you have their special key. Our farm cannot afford certification and we do not want to deal with governmental or private 3rd party inspectors.
We are still committed to the same high standards and purity as before, but now in order to be in accordance with the law, we no longer use the word organic, since we do not agree with mandatory certifiction for all. Since the 70s, I've built my life around organic agriculture and to a small extent have helped to get the organic ball rolling. Hopefully, the reputation we've earned over the past 24 years will carry us through.

They Paved Paradise

Urban Sprawl Devours Another Date Garden /June 2006

There will be far fewer honey and empress dates on the market this year. The largest stand of these rare varieties was sold to developers who plan to expand on an elementary school where the grove once stood. The main date producing area in the US, the Coachella valley, is currently exploding with the construction of new housing, in particular, the prime date growing area of Indio and Coachella, CA. New tile roof homes and golf courses are replacing date gardens and other agricultural fields at an alarming rate. Between the loss of groves to developers and the sale of date palms to other new construction sites, there may be a shortage of dates in coming years. At least until new plantings can catch up with the ever growing demand. Soon, gone will be the days of the beautiful 50, 60, or 70 foot tall date gardens. With the going rate of $1500.00 paid to the farmer for a small date palm, they are usually sold before reaching full production at the height of 20 feet. When we bought our property and planted offshoots, we made sure it was far from urban sprawl.

Now, we are told our water rights have been sold to rapidly growing areas in San Diego county. Within 20 years, they say, much of our agriculturally rich Imperial Valley may return to the non-irrigated desert from which it arose some 100 years ago. Urban sprawl is a reoccurring problem throughout the world and especially in the United States. Towns spring up in the best farming areas. Soon the towns becomes cities and push farms out into more marginal lands to grow our food. Food is one thing we still produce in this country from the ground up. We would be wise to discourage laying concrete on viable farmland and build, if we must, where agriculture is not being done.

Biodiversity in Agriculture

We hope you enjoy these unusual varieties. We think you'll find them uncommonly delicious.

Not only is variety the spice of life, heirlooms are important because a diverse food system is a stable food system.

All types of fruits and vegetables have many different variations, but usually only one or two of the most profitable types are chosen for the mass market. Unfortunately, over 75% of the seed diversity passed down to us from our ancestors has already been lost due to industrial agriculture.

Agrichemical/GMO corporations promote large scale mono-cropping, and their pesticides, herbicides and herbicide resistant (roundup ready) GMOs are wiping out many forms of plant and animal life at an alarming rate. Each life form has its own unique role to play in supporting the eco-system. For instance, glysophate herbicide (roundup) has knocked out much of the milkweed. Monarch butterflies are dependent on milkweed. Hence, the once abundant Monarch butterfly may soon be included on the Endangered Species List.

The greater the biodiversity the stronger the eco-system.

It's well known that for financial security you should diversify your investments. That way if one business goes under you're not broke. The same is true with our food system.

Biodiversity is food security.

Each crop variety has it's own unique characteristics which make it suitable to grow in different situations such as heat, cold, drought, and soil conditions. In these times of global climate change farmers need as many seed options to chose from as possible.

Alternative varieties can be hard to find in the supermarket so plant a garden, save heirloom seeds, shop at your local farmers market or health food store, join a CSA, support a small sustainable farm, and go GMO FREE.

Have fun exploring the amazing wide array of fruits and vegetables nature has to offer.