Public consciousness regarding the dangers of industrial scale factory farms is on the rise. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector, which is largely dominated by industrial scale farms, generates more greenhouse gas carbon emissions than all the world’s transport combined. These types of farms also utilize vast amounts of fossil fuels to produce livestock feed and fertilizer and are major sources of land and water degradation. Small scale producers, on the other hand, typically follow more sustainable practices with less fossil fuel consumption and chemical pesticide use through careful management of diversified ecological systems. It is clear that supporting small-scale farmers – the principal demographic in Polk County – goes hand in hand with promoting environmental conservation and responsible land stewardship.
Over the past quarter, I have had the opportunity to interview several of these small-scale area farmers as a part of a “Farmer Needs Survey” that we are conducting in Polk County. The purpose of the survey is for our office to identify areas in which farmers need assistance (like with labor, marketing, etc) and to evaluate ways in which we can help farmers improve their farm businesses. I have learned a lot about the struggles that small-scale farmers face and have gained interesting insights into the history of farming and the future of farming in Polk in conducting these interviews. When asked the question, “What advice do you have for a farmer who is just starting out?” the answer I have received is nearly always the same: “Pace yourself”; “Start small”; “You have to crawl before you can walk”; and, almost overwhelmingly, “It’s nearly impossible to get started nowadays”. I hope that the insights gained from veteran farmers through this survey will enable our office to better support the agricultural community and new/beginning Polk farmers so that they have best chance of succeeding despite the seemingly “impossible” odds.
Conducting the “Farmer Needs Survey” has been a incredibly rewarding and unique experience. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to sit down with local farmers and learn about their struggles and successes. In addition, the data gathered from these interviews has provided our office with tangible opportunities to strength our local agricultural economy and help secure a resilient local food system. From the feedback that we have received from these surveys, we will be establishing a Livestock Swap at the Columbus Farmers’ Market and we will be working to reinstate the local Cattleman’s Association. I’m looking forward to conducting more of these interviews over the coming months and seeing what other ideas emerge.
And one of the best ways that you, the consumer, can make a difference is by coming out to the Columbus Farmers’ Market, which returns this Saturday, April 8th! We will be hosting our first Livestock Swap and are excited to celebrate the start of the market season with you all. Come kick off the spring season with us and help support your local farmers!