A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm

Some commentators here have difficulty of understanding how small farming can be profitable. It’s relatively easy to explain.

They are not selling just the product. Just like microbreweries, small farms sell for people who want more than just a beer or lettuce. They want to distinguish themselves and buy the feeling of authentic life and values. Consumer pays more for “small farm” even if the product is not any different from neighboring farm product that is not marketing itself as “small farm”.

Modern consumer marketing sells identity, lifestyle, and values. There is no reason why small farm products can’t create value from association and self–identification just like Pepsi is not selling sugar water or Nike is not selling sneakers. Everything that is sold using words classic, authentic, natural, original can be more expensive for segment who wants those tings.

Traditional farmers who produce standard grain or milk in bulk quantities are selling for different market segment.


.. The local product is typically more expensive because it’s production is less efficient (if it wasn’t, it would just compete with the non-local product at regular market conditions). Being less efficient means using more inputs per output, so what is the local farmers inputs, and — crucially — where are those inputs made? Is he using his not-locally-made tractor less efficiently? Is he paying a mortgage to a non-local financial institution? Is he sourcing his feed, seeds, fertilizer, fuel etc locally? And of his profit, how much of it is he spending locally?

.. These are difficult numbers to work out exactly, but it’s not difficult to see that they have to be in a pretty thigh range for your local-premium to actually, on the net, drain resources from the community, compared to you just eating cheaper meals a bit more frequently. The main type of input that most obviously support the local community is labor, and most modern products, particularly agriculturally, are rather light on labor, so you might end up supporting one job at the farm in favor of three jobs at the diner. Especially if the farm-job is held by a “highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmer” and the diner-jobs by single moms, it’s getting morally quite dubious.

But to wrap this up, local to non-local is rarely apples to apples. Just as with organic, there’s probably a very substantial overlap with meeting a demand for products that are simply better (and thus more expensive), with the nominal quality (local, organic) actually being secondary.

.. If you’re buying a better product for a price you’re considering fair, you’re not meaningfully “buying local” – the product you prefer just happens to be locally produced (and possibly can only be locally produced).The kind of buying local that you need campaigns to encourage people to do, is generally either more expensive or poorer quality than the non-local alternative.