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The View from my Farm

Spring blueberries at Dragon Spring Farm

Twenty years ago this month, Carol and I closed on our property 5 miles east of Cambria. We’d fallen in love with the beautiful 32 acres. At the same time the risk we’d taken scared the crap out of us. We’d retired with no money coming in and most of our savings in a wonderful piece of property. Carol said that first night, “We have to farm.” All I said was, “Yeah.” Getting things going was uncharted territory. Within weeks, my hands were really dirty, and I was trying to start a consulting business based on my 30 previous year’s work.

It’s impossible to overstate what ‘Getting things going’ meant. 32 acres doesn’t sound like a lot. Many farms are hundreds, even thousands of acres. The good news was we inherited existing stands of oranges and grapefruit from the previous owner. There were also wells and water infrastructure, a barn and a tractor that sometimes worked. As the fruit matured that summer, the big question raised its ugly head, “What do we do with it?” Within a year we were members in two farmer’s markets. Two more years, and we sold at six. We’d also planted our first blueberries, then avocados, and vegetables we enjoyed like tomatoes, green beans, summer and winter squash.

So, twenty years later, what do things look like? We’ve learned a lot, for sure, and made some good decisions. Also, some not so good ones. We’ve worked about as hard as we’re capable of working. But the truth told, if there wasn’t a pension from my earlier job and social security, this farming thing would be marginal, very marginal.

Despite superior freshness and flavor, price still matters. The price at supermarkets limits what we can charge. Yes, we can sell a 7 oz. half-pint basket of blueberries for about twice what you pay at the supermarket. The taste is far superior, and they’re fresher. But the truth is that technology, scale, cheap labor overseas and much more makes food at supermarkets far less expensive than we must charge to justify growing it. There’s so much more that goes into supermarket food. Liabilities I’ve alluded to in the first four blogs like indirect costs (fuel, labor and on the environment) of shipping food thousands of miles. We’ll come onto the rest.

I have a conclusion although my approach may seem strange. But the main message is that America could feed America, by-and-large, with local food. At least we could do a lot better than we are now. Produce must wait at distribution centers before traveling cross country to wait for a truck at another. This is not B.S. I’m actually qualified to make that judgment. I spent the first 30 years of my career working my way up the ladder to a top job in a big agricultural company. I know how Big Food works. The recent twenty years has allowed me to experience and learn the practical side. Massive change will be required and food will be less convenient, at least for some time. But you and the world will be better for it.

Food was far more intimate for most Americans when my father and his farmed. An order of magnitude more personal. So much already lost, lets right the sinking ship before it vanishes. I regularly meet young people still trying to decide how they want to best spend their lives. Food shortages during the pandemic hinted at a looming food crisis. How long will it be? Many years, maybe. Let’s not wait until you can’t buy your favorite cut of meat to start. This is not just about convenience, freshness and choice. This is about a broken system. When it collapses, people will die.

Keep checking for what we’re selling and more of the story.

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