Go to any “in town” farmers market on opening day and you’ll see the hustle and bustle of a diverse crowd varying in age, ethnicity and culture. You’ll see one or two large farms overflowing with greenhouse veggies and possibly someone selling grass fed meats, eggs and pasteurized cow milk. You will also find many small farmers with a handful of whatever is in season trying but usually failing to keep pace with the demand for specialty produce and “value added” products.
The fact of the matter is the demand is greater than the supply which in most markets is beneficial to the seller. Not so for the small farmer.
Consider this scenario for example. You raise dairy goats and milk them and have enough milk left over to sell a few gallons each week during the peak milking season. Word spreads through the grape vine and soon moms, dads, and grandparents start asking to buy some of your milk for the infants out there having tummy trouble. These folks are desperate for an alternative to the nasty corn-syrup-solids formula prescribed by their pediatricians. The local health food store calls and wants you to be their sole supplier of goat milk because all their customers are asking for it. Before long you’re overwhelmed with requests for the stuff to the point you need to double your herd just to keep up.
Here’s the catch, state law prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk. “Well then” you think, “I’ll just get a pasreurizer. I saw one for about $300 in a catalogue.” Not that easy. The thing is, not just any pasteuriszer will do. Plus you have to invest in a chilling tank, and a whole host of other outrageously priced items totaling somewhere in the vicinity of a half million dollars. And by the way, your potential customers don’t want their milk pasteurized.
So now you’ve invested in your goats, barns, fencing, milk room, milking supplies etc. and everyone wants to buy your wonderful product but you aren’t allowed to sell it. Not to mention you will NEVER be able to afford what it takes to be a legitimate dairy. So what next? What would YOU do?
Say you have invested in a market garden. You buy heirloom seeds, start them indoors, plant them in raised beds you made from scratch without tilling. You know, you do it right. You show up on opening day with field greens, onions, herbs, swiss chard maybe even some broccoli if you’re lucky. You spend and hour setting up with the sun in your face but you’re just glad to be there…until a huge white van pulls up right next to you and out jumps a team of folks in matching aprons who proceed to build a small grocery store there on the lawn in a matter of ten minutes. They whip out loads of “certified organic” lettuces, asparagus, melons, peaches, huge heads of cabbage, collards, cases of strawberries, and bananas. So what next? What would YOU do?
Where does the small farmer fit in? How can we market our products when the government owns the rights to the very language we used to use?
Nevertheless there are those brave souls who seek us out, who don’t mind signing “herd share contracts” or making “donations” for one product or another. These folks are the heart and soul of small farms across America. Without them real food might otherwise be relegated exclusively to rural communities where owning a few goats isn’t all that uncommon.