Land, Labor, and Capital
Generally, in Economics, there are things called factors of production. Typically this is land, labor, and capital. Additionally, there is human and social capital. How do you get these factors working together for a more unified agricultural front in Polk County?
Land – Agricultural production requires land. From a patch in your backyard to a 500 acre industrial operation in Iowa, plants and animals need space to mature.
Persons per Square Mile
Polk County administers a farmland preservation program to keep active farmland in production. However, I’m sure there is untapped land throughout the county. Polk County enjoys the lowest population per square mile of any adjacent county. We are a rural county. How do we make land productive, making the most of existing resources to benefit local food?
Labor – But who will work the land, making it beautiful, bountiful, and becoming of Polk? For this, we need labor. People working the land, investing sweat equity into the production, are who turn dirt into dinner.
Young farmers throughout the country are casting about for opportunities to farm, learning the trade, and will eventually need to settle. Matching unused land with skilled, eager new and beginning farmers will become a critical need.
For example, Polk County is home to many seasonal residents and horse farms. Horses and well-managed horse farms require a lot of attention. I had a conversation with one resident who hopes to eventually have a live-in farmer to farm a pasture, taking care of the property and horses all the while. This type of mutually-beneficial transaction could be a great boon to our area and contribute to a base of new farmers in our community.
The influx of young farmers could have a tremendous impact on the image of Polk. A dedicated, passionate set of young farmers could transform the image of the community. Recently, in Columbus, there opened a pottery studio. Imagine if the bohemian contingent increased, etc
Capital – Farmers need equipment… tractors, forks, spreaders, etc. There is a certain amount of available capital in the farming community. My roommate tends a garden at our house, and he occasionally borrows our neighbor’s truck.
Our neighbor was talking about selling the truck that my roommate uses for the garden, and when he does, my roommate noted that he wouldn’t be able to use it.
I heard a story on NPR about crowd-souring solutions to small government projects. Namely, in Boston, where fire hydrants become covered with snow, a Code for America fellow developed an app where people could adopt a fire-hydrant to dig out in the snow. Read more http://m.npr.org/news/Technology/191618910
It got me thinking, what if we could create a collaborative community where farmers could list spare capital they have available to share. It could be a map, database or other method of communicating the physical capital available in a community.
For a small farmer/gardener, it seems like there are select tools with flexible use schedules that could be shared with others. I researched this further.
In the county, Soil and Water has a shared-use drill and Cooperative Extension had a sprayer for control of a certain invasive. In the case of the sprayer, the tragedy of the commons occurred. A user didn’t add oil, and that was the end of it. The drill, however, is managed by a local hardware company. Much like a Rug Doctor rental, there is more accountability.
Such a program would require a web app of some sort as well as, I think, a manager. Someone would have to coordinate the distribution of available assets so that X farmer doesn’t get Y piece of equipment, because he plans ahead, icing Z farmer out of the program. But it would be cool.
Collaboration among farmers, fostering a sharing economy and increasing the number of young participants in farming would be, I think, an overall boon to the community and a progressive step to strengthening our local food system.