||"Today, the average farm is twice
the size it was 30 years ago. There are a lot less farmers,
but the land base is larger. l think the only way to maintain
a small family farm these days is to Find a niche market.
The smaller the farm, the more you need to have a niche."
-Ed Fry, Maryland Farmer
Farming has never
been easy, but it has become increasingly demanding in the
21st century. Farmers are finding themselves overwhelmed with
increasing costs and inflexible prices. Competition. Too much
product and not enough demand. All these factors reduce profit
for the average small family farmer. What's more, environmental
factors have come into play, making many farmers wonder if
conventional pest and soil management is worthwhile, given
the risk to their health, their families, and their land.
But many farmers have found ways to combat these challenges,
through ingenuity and calculated risk. In their own words,
two of them share their stories with you.
"I made a conscious decision to start farming. My father
had bought this farm in 1960, and after looking at other options
I decided that the best opportunity I had was in the family
|Ed Fry, Fairhill
Farm, Chestertown, Maryland
Farming for 30+ years
400 acres, certified since 1999: Corn, Alfalfa,
Dairy (Conventional): 240 Milk
Third Party (Organic): Subcontracts
other farmers to grow hay and corn for horse farms
and dairy clients, to cover surplus demand. Read
a complete profile of Fairhill
I got into organic farming, because it was an opportunity
to get a niche market that financially would be better for
me. I could lower my cost of production, increase the value
of my product, and help the soil in the process. I think that
in agriculture, because we're a world market, it's important
to create a niche. If you try to do what everybody's been
doing for 50 years, you'll have very little opportunity to
advance yourself beyond what anybody else is doing.
I've been certified organic since 1999 for 400 acres of corn,
alfalfa and pasture. I've been very happy with my results
so far. In 1999 and 2000 my organic com actually out yielded
my conventionally grown com. 1999 was a very dry year, and
with the organic com we saw that it looked full a lot longer,
because the organic nitrogen-because it was organic-was being
released at a much more desirable rate than on the conventionally
grown com. In 2000 our organic corn yield was 181 bushels,
versus our 177 bushels conventionally grown. That's not a
significant amount, but our production costs are lower. Sure,
the labor per acre is higher, but we don't have to farm as
many acres for the same amount of profit. Last year, to produce
a bushel of conventional com was approximately $2.23. The
cost to produce a bushel of organic corn was $1.79. We got
$2.25 a bushel for the conventional and a premium price of
$4.00 for the organic.
For the hay, by providing high quality product, and by trying
to market it before it's grown, the number of clientele exceeds
what I grow. It means that there's demand, and I can charge
than words: Certification can open markets,
such as retail and resturants, that may otherwise
be closed to organic farmers selling on their word
I've learned a number of things through this process. Farming
organically you must plan much further ahead. You must have
adequate labor, whether physical or mechanical. Weeds are
my biggest challenge, but given good practices like rotating
crops, I've alleviated that challenge. It's also important
to have a source of nutrients. I use my own dairy, poultry
and green manure from my winter crops, and nitrogen from legumes.
You must also purchase your seed in advance in order to get
untreated seed. And you must market your product before you
ever grow it. And that's a different take than for conventional
farming, where you often grow your product and then do the
marketing. If you have these ingredients, then organic farming
is relatively easy and profitable."
"We started farming in 1980, and we've been farming
organically since then. In the beginning, we only had about
one third of our farm on organic. We weren't certified yet,
so we started a roadside stand, to sell our product, to get
a feel for what people might buy, and to determine how much
we could get off that amount of space.
Once we were certified we were able to sell our produce
to a much larger audience. We now sell everything to natural
food stores, restaurants and cooperatives in Lancaster, Philadelphia
and Reading areas. We sell direct. We do everything by phone.
We have a price sheet that goes out twice a week to clients.
The demand has increased a lot over the years. Ten years ago,
we would deliver 12 cases of produce every two weeks to a
given store. Today, we deliver 30 cases twice a week to the
same store. Fifteen years ago, we started with 5 stores, and
kind of grew from there. We have over 20 stores now. Nothing
has changed except the demand.
In my point of view, there are plenty of outlets to market
produce. The main thing is to have enough variety to make
it worth taking into the city. If you have good assortment,
wide variety, it will get people's attention. But if you have
just 3 to 6 varieties, it doesn't work.
Because we only have a small amount of acreage, we try to make
the best production off of what we have. If we had to rely just
on our own farm's production, it would be a struggle. But we
contract with other farmers. For example, I grow just a little
bit of potatoes that we dig early to be able to have something
to offer early. Then, we have a farmer who grows a few acres
of potatoes to cover the rest. We sell corn, but don't grow
any of it here. We get this from other farms. I offer a very
wide variety of produce. Some of it we grow in part, subcontracting
the rest through other farms. Some of it we don't grow at all.
Paradise Organics, Paradise, Pennsylvania
Farming for 20+ years
Produce (Organic): 4+ acres, certified
since 1987: Cucumbers, Beans, Leeks, Winter Squash,
Kale, Collard Greens, Lettuce, Basil and other herbs,
Tomatoes, Potatoes, Onions, and Peppers.
Third Party (Organic): Subcontracts
other organic farmers to supply clients during winter
and as part of overall marketing strategy. Read
a complete profile of Paradice
Quality is an issue for direct marketing. A consistent fresh
product and quality is absolutely necessary to have a successful
market. To make sure my produce looks and tastes good, I use
a combination of techniques. For example, I rotate crops to
keep weeds down. And I use sticky insect tapes in the rows,
to keep insect populations down.
Once you get in the door and you've got great quality, customers
are going to be there for you week after week."