The rise, fall, and reemergence of small batch, high-quality food production and the sharing economy.
All throughout the country, backyard gardeners and producers are growing an abundant supply of vegetables, herbs, and fruit. Individuals pour their heart and soul into the soil, the plants, and the care they provide to produce the food they eat, often sharing what extra they produce. Imagine if that network of farmers could be brought together to provide high-quality food for the community they live in. Now imagine if those farmers could be paid for the food they produce and make a supplemental living while doing what they love.
Currently, our food system is dominated by large-scale, big agricultural companies set on creating as much produce as possible at the lowest cost, sacrificing nutrition, environmental sustainability, and labor cost all for the sake of profit. Additionally, the produce is shipped thousands of miles to reach the people who ultimately consume it (or throw it out). The resulting food is covered in chemical pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers that can lead to health problems later in life; the workers involved are underpaid and overworked; and the environment is degrading under the pressure of increased CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
There was a time…
Although it seems bleak and like an uphill battle, it is encouraging to know food hasn’t always been produced this way. For generations in American history, communities, individuals, and households worked towards a self-sufficient lifestyle (now more often referred to as sustainability) working on their land to create the food and necessities they need to live. Some may know these people as homesteaders, others may be familiar with a similar idea, the victory garden movement during World War II. During this time, a reduced labor pool and the flow of resources to soldiers serving overseas led to a food shortage at home. The citizens of the United States were asked to counter this by growing victory gardens. Victory gardens were intended to produce a supplement of what every community needed to keep eating.
A new way is possible!
Today, we are fortunate enough to exist in an age where the application of new technologies to old world ideas can bring about exciting changes. With the emergence of sharing economies like AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, and Favor, individuals can use the connective power of the internet paired with extra time, extra living spaces, or an extra vehicle to generate an income where one previously did not exist. The same is possible with extra, underutilized land and a family or individual with a passion for gardening and farming. The demand for local, small-batch, high quality food, sustainably grown and transported does exist. So why shouldn’t those skilled individuals be able to sell their produce to the community around them? The answer is they can!
At the height of the victory garden movement, around 20 million individuals were farming for the communities they lived in and for their own needs. As of 2012, the total count of farmers in the U.S. is approximately 3.2 million people. Although the population of the U.S. has grown, the number of farmers and the percentage of farmers in the population has drastically reduced. There has been a shift in American thinking over the past seven decades, but now more than ever with climate change food accessibility has come to the forefront of public awareness. We need farmers more than ever to produce food for our communities. Now more than ever, we need our community to mobilize and begin producing the high-quality food we not only need but also love to keep our communities thriving, growing, and innovating for years to come.
From Growing a Nation, a timeline of the history of agriculture in the United States.
Read about a thriving urban farm in Pasadena, California.
Dive into the numbers with the Census of Agriculture from the USDA.
By Hal Roberts