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Can Market Gardeners Capitalize on the Increasing Prices of Food?

Touch the Soil News #208

The increasing price of food from the industrial food system is driven by a number of factors. Identifying these factors can help a market gardener create strategies that help them compete with industrial-scale efficiencies.

Kurtis and Roxanne Williams of Waterwheel Gardens (Emmett, Idaho) are full-time market gardeners. Through innovation and creativity they have found ways to compete for a share of the nation's food dollars.

Perhaps the first concept of opportunity for market gardeners is that industrial-scale efficiencies also come with industrial scale problems and inefficiencies. So let’s make an attempt at identifying the factors driving up food prices that a market gardener may be able to capitalize on:

  1. Hitting the news in recent times is food waste. USDA reports reveal that field to fork losses for fruits and vegetables are in the 50 percent range. How long can industrial farming and industrial delivery chains survive economically by having to pay the cost for producing 100 lbs. of food of which only 50 lbs. is ultimately consumed. Market gardeners can minimize the loss by being closer to their customers and focusing on not over producing what they can sell.
  2. Annual increases in household income are mostly flat or maybe 1 percent on average. The industrial food chain cannot lower the cost of food to meet the income levels of many people. Market gardeners have some ways to conserve cash by utilizing work-for-food labor in their enterprises.
  3. Dramatic increases in mainstream farmland are steadily pushing up the cost of production for industrial-scale farms. Market gardeners have more flexibility as farming backyards in exchange for produce is becoming more popular. It offers an opportunity to utilize land and water below the cost of industrial models.
  4. A growing demand among consumers is food that is nutrient dense – i.e. contains the minerals and vitamins that keep folks avoid as much as possible the health-care system. The cost of re-mineralizing and building soils for thousands of acres is more cost-prohibitive for an industrial vegetable enterprise than for a market gardener that gets multiple greater yields off one acre.
  5. While no definitive economic analysis has been done, industrial-scale farms are weighed down by having to own millions of dollars of highly depreciable equipment that requires millions of dollars to service and maintain. The race is on for smaller hand-farmed enterprises to come out on top in terms of farming efficiency.
  6. The price the industrial food chain must pay for capital (dividends to investors, buying their own stock back to increase investor returns, interest on large loans and gratuitious salaries for top executives) can often send a company into closure. Keeping capital costs down, a market gardener has more options to survive. For example, supplying a restaurant with produce in exchange for meal tickets, supplying a grocery store with produce for free groceries, etc.

Following is a short video clip by Chicago’s City Farm.

Following is a short video clip by Chicago’s City Farm.

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