Independently Miserable

Independently Miserable

I’ve been promising you all that the next blog was going to be about land & rewilding ever since I wrote the last one - that’s still coming but sometimes you read something that is too inspiring not to share. 'Small Family Farms Aren’t the Answer', by Chris Newman is based upon the US but applies just the same here in the UK. There is a lot to take from this piece, it is honest and may be hard to accept for many but is full of truth, particularly the following is extract;

Quote from 'Small Family Farms Aren’t the Answer' by Chris Newman; "Each of those independent producers would tell you interesting stories: 80-hour (or more) workweeks, getting by without health insurance, paying employees next to nothing, and/or relying on volunteers, supplementing with outside jobs. Enduring broken marriages, worn-out bodies, social isolation, strained finances, emotional burnout. These are the conditions my grandfather’s generation endured that convinced their children to get as far away from the farm as possible."

I think, with the exception of paying employees/relying upon volunteers, I've done all of these things myself, and with hindsight I regret having done so.

Over the last 20 years many people have said "You should do farmers markets" and every time I've said that it simply isn't worth investing the time and resources in taking a shop to a central point where we, and the customer, both have to converge at the same time. From day-one I realised that with a small farm we need to remain flexible and convenient for both ourselves and the customer, and that's why the first thing we did when we established Rosewood Farm as a business was to build a website. This is one thing I have never regretted.

Our Rosewood.Farm site means that, unlike at a shop, farmers market or even over the phone, I can receive enquiries and orders when I am anywhere on the farm, or even off the farm. Our customers seem to enjoy the flexibility too, with orders regularly coming in at close to midnight! It also means that we can pack orders at any time of the day to fit in with family life and work on the farm - some times that means working all night to fit it all in, but at least we can do so without you having to pay extra for us to stand on a market stall.

Independence has also enabled us to do some great things. As I discussed in the Organic Matters blog, conforming to a label can restrict your values and marketing collaboration can even dictate decisions such as the breed of animal you use on your farm. Being independent has brought us great benefits on the conservation side too giving us the freedom to try new & innovative approaches that larger, organisations might have found harder to implement.

As I look to the future I’m increasingly thinking about where to go from here, I want to do the right thing and ensure that all that hard work and sacrifice wasn’t for nothing. We’ve consolidated and focussed what we do and although it’s tempting to have sheep and pigs back on the farm again, without the time and energy to devote to them it would only take away from the many things that are still to be done.

Collaboration does work, and we need to do more of it in both farming and conservation to ensure that the job gets done. Part of that is recognising what you’re good at and not being tempted to try to do everything yourself. As Chris says in the article, farmers should follow their passions instead of diversifying, and I agree. Not being afraid to ‘lose’ a customer by passing them on to another farm actually serves that customer better which builds a stronger, more resilient food system for everyone.

This is also true of society as a whole - the competitive nature of business has systematically reduced consumer choice to a number of largely indistinguishable options that has only serves to concentrate resources and power in the hands of a select few. We don’t need to dominate one another nor divide everything absolutely equally to work together, even conflict itself can yield solutions that we otherwise wouldn’t even have considered.

It's not always going to be easy but if we can learn to respect our differences and not try to be something that we’re not it does get easier. And when things are easier we make more progress for the same amount of effort. We may be facing an uncertain future, both politically and environmentally,, but there is strength in diversity and, to part with Chris’ words “It’s that isolation that makes us weak”.

Follow the link to Grassfruits Farm

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