LocalHarvest Newsletter, May 29, 2014

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

Earlier this month I poked through the recently released 2012 agricultural census data. The more I dug, the more concerned I became about the story the numbers tell. I came away feeling that we who support local farmers need to get more directly involved in the success of family farms.

According to the census data, nearly 100,000 farms were lost and over 7.5 million acres of land were taken out of farming since the last agricultural census was taken in 2007. The American Farmland Trust, says that translates into 1200 acres of U.S. farmland being developed every day. The census also found that one-third of American farmers are age 65 or over, and another 29% are between age 55-64. Our aging farm population puts more of our nation's farmland at risk. Oftentimes, farmers who want to retire must sell their land to developers because their retirement "savings" is in their farms and the highest bidder wants to plant houses or a strip mall.

We need sufficient farmland to feed the nation; we will also need hundreds of thousands of new farmers to take the wheel from those who retire. These new farmers will need to be able to afford farmland and equipment. When farmers and developers compete for the same land, farmland becomes prohibitively expensive, or leaves farmers with too little money to properly equip the new enterprise, thus driving down its likelihood of success. Small and mid-sized farms are disproportionately hit by these economics. Nearly 70% of the farms that went out of business between 2007-2012, were under 180 acres. For those of us who believe that thriving rural economies mutually benefit the communities they surround, these numbers are not good news.

Agricultural census data is used by policymakers to fund farm programs, some of which we at LocalHarvest support. But after spending time with the data, I found myself feeling impatient. Thoughtful federal farm programs can do a lot of good to support new farmers, but wheels turn slowly in Washington D.C. and these numbers tell me that we are not moving quickly enough to create a nation of vibrant direct-market farms committed to feeding their local communities.

The reasons behind these numbers are many and complex. But there are things that we as supporters of local food systems can do to help farmers make their operations viable and help them grow. Last month I was introduced to Kiva Zip, and I would like to let you know about their work. Like its parent organization, Kiva, Kiva Zip exists to facilitate small scale, "crowd funded," zero interest loans to emerging entrepreneurs. Whereas Kiva works on a variety of kinds of projects all over the world, Kiva Zip focuses on the U.S. and has a strong emphasis on food and agricultural businesses.

Unlike traditional lenders, which determine eligibility based on credit scores and the like, Kiva Zip uses a more relational model, which they call "character-based lending." It relies on a farmer's ability to build trust, confidence, and relationships. Farmers can post their project online and have people from all over the world chip in as little as $5 to fund the project. Over the last year, 80 farmers have raised up to $10,000 each to buy a needed piece of equipment, expand into a new market, and the like, usually raising the money within a few weeks. One hundred percent of farmers have successfully raised the funds they sought, and thus far the pay-back rate from the farmers has also been 100%.

Kiva Zip allows  all of us to help farmers quickly raise needed capital with favorable terms. We hope you will consider participating. If crowd sourced funding of farm projects takes off over the next few years, we can hope that the 2017 census will show momentum building toward a time when hundreds of thousands of  small farms are prospering all across the nation.  

Until next time, take good care and eat well,

Erin Barnett

From the LH Catalog

Plant a garden! You'll be glad you did. And if you get your seeds directly from some family farmers, you'll feel even better. We have a great collection of seeds for your garden.  Take a look!

Want to make your spring salads even more nutritious? Sprinkle on some freshly ground flax seed, and get your Omega-3s along with your greens!

Planning a summer wedding? Many people are choosing fragrant dried lavender as a wedding toss. We have some available here!

CSAware: Make This Season a Good One

Been thinking that you have to get some technology to help you run your CSA? Get in touch and we'll be happy to give you a tour of CSAware!

Food from the Farm: Asparagus Rice Salad

We celebrated a big birthday for my Dad last weekend and I made this salad. It was easy and went well with everything at the party. This kind of rice salad is endlessly variable and wonderfully forgiving in terms of quantities. After the asparagus is gone for the year, steam or sauté whatever vegetables are in season and substitute them for the asparagus.