Though farmers in general are a dedicated lot, farming has never been easy and today’s beginning farmers face numerous obstacles. There’s a steep learning curve to growing produce and raising livestock for food production. A farmer has to wear many hats and have a broad spectrum of knowledge and skillsets. There are regulations and legalities to be adhered to and the start-up costs are high. It can be really stressful to make it all work and incredibly difficult to make the farm actually pay.
Yet despite all that, statistics show that the numbers of young farmers is growing, and here in Maine that number is up by 40 percent. Yay Maine!
Recently I asked my colleagues at Johnny’s Selected Seeds what they see as the biggest challenge facing farmers today. Check out their responses below!
Chance Gonyer ─ Seasonal Call Center representative; farms at Collective Roots Farm in Cornville, Maine.
Consumer knowledge—regarding produce and products.
Kamala Hahn ─ Call Center representative; farms at Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade, Maine.
Uneducated people. We are stuck in a rut of competing with grocery stores and their pricing. It really is apples vs. bananas. Local food has better flavor, lasts longer and is more nutrient dense. For a consumer to truly understand what it takes to get a tomato to market makes them understand why it is not >99 a pound. I actually had a CSA customer that was unwilling to pay our $4.50 pound price for vine-ripened tomatoes, because “ I can get tomatoes just like these in the supermarket for $1.99 lb.”
Ken Hahn ─ Seasonal Call Center representative; farms at Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade, Maine.
Access to land, I think, continues to be an issue for farmers. Many of us are on leased land held by aging holders. There is a lot of good will out there trying to bridge that gap but even with those bridges I fear a lot of farmers are accumulating staggering debt, which in the not-so-long run will cripple our farms. The other challenge farmers are facing is a litany of bad advice. I have seen the attitude among much of the small scale and organic farm community, that says “we’ve been doing it this way for forty years and you should too”. But those forty years of experience have led to a lot of destructive practices. Bad advise is killing our planet.
Erin Reardon ─ Contact Center and Scheduling Lead; avid gardener.
Since I am not a farmer, but work with a lot of farmers, I am guessing the money would be the biggest challenge. The cost of operating a successful farm against what a farmer actually makes is huge. You have to compete against places like Wal-Mart that buy in bulk and can sell at a much lower cost. While the quality may not be the same and is most likely not local, a lot of times it comes down to the price for the consumer. I think Maine has a huge following for “buy local” and that must help but at the end of the day most consumers will go with what they deem as “affordable” and that may not always be from the local farm.
Bernadette Heyse ─ Call Center Representative; avid gardener
I feel the biggest challenge is fungal and insect diseases on plants. More and more farmers are bringing their gardening indoors in greenhouses and hoophouses to try to avoid disease.
Sarah Ingalls ─ Seasonal Call Center Representative; avid gardener.
Debt and lack of access to land.
Brittany Iafrate ─ Contact Center Night Lead; avid gardener.
College debt & lack of access to land.
Thomas Macy ─ Contact Center Representative: aspiring farmer.
The market is saturated with small vegetable growers and the supply exceeds the demand.
Paul Gallione ─ Johnny’s Information Specialist; farms at Moosehead Trail Farm in Waldo, Maine.
Distance from major markets, and the lack of agricultural infrastructure.
Me! Samantha Burns ─ Seasonal Call Center Representative; farms at Runamuk Acres Farm & Apiary in Starks, Maine.
I feel like misperceptions are a big challenge. We’re only human afterall, and folks have a tendency to form a mental perception of what they think food should look like, or what they think a farm should look like, how they think the job should be done, or what a young lady should be doing with her life. It’s a continuing struggle to educate the public to understand that the food at the grocery store is lacking, that sometimes a farm is little more than a ratty trailer in the woods with a coop full of chickens producing superior eggs, that there’s not always a big red barn, and that just because our parents use miracle grow and round-up, doesn’t mean there’s not possibly a better way to produce good food. And yes, that a young woman can put in the hard work required to make money farming and sometimes she actually knows what she’s doing.
Farming is amazing
Despite the challenges and the struggles that farmers face on a daily basis, and despite the amount of work involved, farming is an amazing thing to do. It’s a beautiful thing to connect with a piece of land, to learn the way the weather and natural rhythms of the Earth affect your farm, and to breathe life into your community by producing food and feeding relationships. Those who are drawn to farming find meaning in their labors, and value in the service they provide. And that’s what makes the struggle worth the effort.
What do you think? What YOU see as the biggest challenge facing farmers today? Feel free to leave a comment below!