Bredbo Valley View farm - providing quality education in Permaculture and sustainable living practices.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Is commercialisation the problem?

By now everybody has heard of ‘food miles’ or ‘slow food’ and ‘locavore’ or eating local. In an exchange of emails with a lady this week I posed the question;

“We know those guys and have visited their farm, it will be interesting to get their point of view about how big an enterprise like theirs can get before it "crosses the line" and becomes just another commercial scale - high input, farming system.

And in reply I received the following,

“I think that the size issue is a really important one for us as a society.

It seems to me that your question is correct - that if a free-range enterprise gets too big, it can end up being an eco-disaster, so we need to look at when that point is reached, and how farmers can make a decent living within that parameter. It really struck home to me when I was looking at the vege issue locally.

The Farmers Market is great, but lots of the vegies come a long way. Making a go of vegie farming in our eco-system, with its unreliable rainfall, cold winters and very hot summers is a real issue. Even growing your own has been a challenge in the last summer for me - I feel we have a lot to relearn! I guess the good thing is to realise that there are lots of others out there thinking about it to, and doing something”

So, the question is - how do I tell if I have crossed over from resource effective to resource intensive? Should it be obvious? Surly, if I’m using organic methods, the more I grow the more income I can generate without affecting the environment. But – what about the energy and resource inputs, are they the same per animal as they where before?

With the more waste and the more energy used for production the larger the environmental impact. The smaller the operation the less resource intensive and the environmental impacts are minimal. And there is waste at both ends. If there is an over abundance of product then there is a higher likely hood of waste at the both the producer and consumer end. Is it the farmer’s responsibility to manage this as well?

It would seem that size is an issue. Is commercialisation the problem or the answer? Is it economics? I can reduce costs by increasing the scale – but what are the environmental impacts of this and are they really justifiable. How big should one farm’s market share be? These are very complex questions and I don’t know the answers.

If anybody has any ideas or opinions, I’d love to here them.
Next week I'm going to add a few things about raising pigs - an increasing number of people have been asking questions about this lately.

1 comment:

Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

I had to sit down and have a long think about this post Noel. Slow Food, Locavore etc etc. Here's my take on all of this. It's good to promote local produce and the people who grow it BUT all things have to come with a balance. Yes you could start growing your veg or raising your organic meat by the ton load then you become just another commercial producer along with the high energy input, financing and marketing expenses that go with going big. I looked up the definition of Slow Food. Eco-gastronomic International Movement to counteract Fastfood etc. A concern for bio-diversity etc. Sounds fine to me, but only up to a point. The problem is with this sort of thing ends up with a snob value being added whether intended or not it does happen. Our local farmer's market sends me a little blurb each month with the dates and what some of the local producers have coming up. Real local Farmers growing a few extra fruit and vegetables, plants etc and selling it every fortnight at Paparoa Village. Homemade Icecream you name it they have it and the price is totally affordable. You can go down there in your farm gear with the boots and fit right in. Then just an hour's drive is a Farmer's Market to the other extreme. You'll pay $8 NZ for a tiny jar of jam with a pretty label on it. The whole place is geared for financially well off Aucklanders and Tourists who think it's wonderful to take a drive out to the *country* and pay through the nose for the privilege of a few fresh vegetables or a fancy piece of Artisan Bread. A small Country Town has been turned into a Plastic Theme Park. We don't go there anymore - we can't afford it simple as that. Gumboots there have been replaced by Italian Shoes, Mercedes and Visa gold Cards. Is it Country? Not in my eyes it isn't. Keep it small, keep it simple and keep it down to earth. And sorry about the long rambling comment.