At the same time that – across the country – restaurants and thoughtful households are demanding local, nutritious, sustainably-grown food, the economy and financial infrastructure for small farmers is feeble and immature. That is especially true for new and socially disadvantaged farmers.
Changing the small farm financial infrastructure is critical to expanding local food production, improving household nutrition, and reducing healthcare costs. USDA through the Farm Service Administration has rethought the FSA loan program to provide more opportunities for small and new farmers. USDA Rural Development has become much more sensitive and helpful to the needs of socially disadvantaged small farmers.
What else can we do?…a few thoughts and suggestions:
1) Small farmers need routes to ownership for their land (we’re doing a tiny bit here with a RI farmland fund). Communities across the nation need to rediscover their small bank infrastructure and use it to build local farm assets.
2) We should pay small farmers for the environmental goods they produce. I’m not talking about correcting resource problems…I’m advocating for local systems for incentive payments to small farmers that build ecosystem assets for themselves and their neighbors.
3) Communities need to begin rebuilding the small farm services infrastructure that existed until perhaps fifty years ago. It’s not a romantic notion to rebuild small farm economies in every community in America…it’s good economic sense!
4) Eat thoughtfully (I’m borrowing from Wendell Berry on this one). We can be the best advocate for the local farm community by buying food and farm products in a thoughtful manner.
5) Establish the educational infrastructure necessary to use the talents of refugee socially disadvantaged populations – who many times have significant farming skills. Language and business/financial education is critical to the success of these new citizens.
6) Rethink how your savings, investments, pensions, etc. are being utilized. Most conventional investment mechanisms used by Wall Street do little to diversify wealth and expand social equity (many would say today’s financial markets do quite the opposite – they are, in essence, wealth concentrators). Invest 3% of your wealth in local farmers and food enterprises….and advocate that your community’s institutions, foundations, etc. do the same!
7) Resist working in thoughtless environments. If your work is not meaningful and honest, find a local farmer or food provider and hook up!
8) Demand honest, sincere, timely decisions from your government representatives. If they are not honest, sincere, and timely, elect someone else. Our current American governmental institutions resist meaningful, important changes that will make us all healthier and happier…we need to work with our neighbors to demand new social policies and institutions that better ensure opportunity for all!