The Farm of the Future

When you think of “farm” – what is the picture you have in your mind? When you think of the future of farming do you see this – ever larger ever more industrial systems?

I did. I could not get out of the idea that farms have lots of acres, lots of equipment and need lots of capital. I could not get my mind around that they also came with a price.

This was the “price” that we have been asked to pay to keep the farms on PEI going.

For years many people have struggled to find another way. Many of us have protested against the current view but few or none of us had a real alternative. What I mean by “real” is one that would feed a lot of people, at a price that they can afford, make money for the farmer and also keep our natural resources in good shape.

For shouldn’t a real alternative do all those things?

Many thought that the answer was simply in going organic. But then the issue of distribution and power came back into play. If you are organic and you sell to a large supermarket, unless you have scale – they don’t want you. In the end the distributor makes all the calls and all the money.

So the answer was not all about organic either.

But I think I saw the future the other day as I chatted with my old friend Raymond Loo – a leading light in both organic farming and in selling direct in the farmers market on PEI.

Raymond has a 250 acre organic farm called Springwillow Farms. You can get a sense of it here.

He has also been a leading light selling direct at the various markets on PEI.

As we were chatting he made the following revelation. “You know Rob – I have 250 acres but I make all my money on 6!”

I asked him why this was so. “Because what I have to do I can only do on a small scale. I can’t get the quality if I go any larger. I can’t get the control I need”

6 acres sold direct provides Raymond with a good living. He is also largely immune from weather and disease threats that any large commodity operation is exposed to. This summer we have been drenched with rain. Not only are the grain and potato crops in trouble – we can’t get the large equipment that is needed to harvest onto the land because it is too soggy. In a micro farm – you have all sorts of moves.

So what may be next?

What do you think of this idea that is percolating around Raymond’s mind?

That he offer a “Micro farm package” You rent 1-6 acres from him on his land. It is already certified organic. He provides:

  • Advice
  • Equipment and Tools
  • Community
  • Access to direct markets

What might you get? A good living based on a very high ROI. For the capital required is nominal unlike other farming. The risk is much less as well.

What does PEI get? An emerging local food system based on a very low entry and risk threshold.

We get a “Real” answer. A system that would feed a lot of people, at a price that they can afford, make money for the farmer and also keep our natural resources in good shape.

We get a farm system that also consumes way less energy. Needs very litle equipment and is very close to the market.

Advertisements

5 responses to “The Farm of the Future

  1. It’s always about the economics. Design optimization is driven by the principles of economics. šŸ™‚

  2. I agree – when the money is right so is the system

  3. Thanks for the links and yes, you have exactly the idea; we can only do this with intelligent design, REAL intelligence and real design or we will have human dieoff.

    While you are at it, check out Anna Edey at http://www.solviva.com/ and spend a few bucks to buy her book, if only for the photos of the 4 year old tomato plant and the Chard that had to be cut down with a chainsaw when it finally went to seed after 3 years.

    But mostly for the zero energy systems she has developed.

  4. Rob, the first part of the idea was pretty well fleshed-out in Gene Logsdon’s “The Contrary Farmer”, written back in 1995 — the idea of farming profitably in small quantities with as little machinery as possible, and selling directly to customers to get prices that you could never get from the commodity market.

    I am getting food from a local farm with a CSA this year, but one thought that I keep returning to is that this should be available through the supermarket, which is the ideal distribution mechanism and I think we should be working toward that. Some CSA farms ask you to drive to their farm to pick up your food — very wasteful and inefficient distribution, even if it’s only 10km away and people don’t notice the cost of gas.

    As for the 6-acre package deal, it sounds like a good idea. If it could be used in conjunction with a government program to get people on their feet, it might help (I imagine there is some upfront risk that might make it difficult for some who are interested to actually jump in). Or, maybe it could work in conjunction with a partnership with a local university or college that had agricultural programs.

  5. I truly hope this farm of the future takes hold. I am very tired of the sameness and inequities of the big corporate groceries. During our recent trip to the island (2-12 Sep) we noticed very few groceries other than those in the larger towns of Charlottetown and Summerside. I would love to see the small grocers take hold to support some of the smaller communities. With all that gorgeous farm land it’s a shame so much table food comes from off island. I for one will be very interested in the 6 acre farm proposal mentioned above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s