These are, to me, some key phrases in the very well assembled and presented essay featured at the above link. Perhaps unknowingly the writer is striking all around the bulls eye of a significant answer.
“Farmers aren’t moving toward local food, but they will if they think there’s a reliable market.”
“The interest in the entrepreneurial aspect of small farms is wonderful and needs to continue, but we’re trying to take it a step further.”
“The worry, to me, is that all of this is entrepreneurial. Too many CSAs in any given area can make it hard for a farmer to sell enough CSA shares to get by. Our work is to try to get farmers out of a faddish economy.”
I think the target can be cleanly addressed by stepping outside of the cart of supply and rather examining the horse of demand. It’s only by developing the latter that the former can be reliably established and maintained. Attempting to do otherwise amounts to the creation of a centralized system, which is dependent on the whims of the consumer as to it’s success or failure. Clearly prior world experience with this model demonstrates its unreliability.
I take some exception to the phrase, “The worry, to me, is that all of this is entrepreneurial,” as if that is a major stumbling block. While the concern of too much supply of a given product within a limited geographic area is well founded, it’s a narrow one and certainly not an insurmountable or unaddressable issue. This was, is, and should be one of the functions of Granges or farmers’ associations, a place where farmers sit down regularly, examine issues (including market related ones), discuss crops, yields, etc., and generally become well acquainted with one another. There’s no reason these same venues can’t help evolve a newer, demand focused paradigm allowing not only for a cooperative, entrepreneurial approach, but for the development of an even more important aspect: The process of educating the consumer, something clearly missing in the narrative.
Whether we like it or not there has developed, over the years, a general “standoffishness” between farmers and “other folks.” This separation is probably due to many factors not the least of which has been the popular conception that there is more than enough food, seemingly seamlessly delivered to the marketplace, which led farm production and producers to having been rather taken for granted by the consumers and once out of sight, then were out of mind. Presently, while the quantity is still there the issue has now become quality and that characteristic has not to date been effectively propagated among consumers.
There is a tried and true method of marketing: Disturb, inform, and solve. This part of any entrepreneurial sales marketing (and make no mistake, this is sales) is key. It’s the responsibility of the entrepreneur (or group of entrepreneurs) to develop an effective marketing plan that includes those three elements. Only a well informed and motivated marketplace will support any product and every producer involved has both the practical and moral responsibility to share the realities of “corporate feed” versus high-quality, nutritious food to its most important product – the consumer. Once the consumer completely understands all the dynamics of what’s at stake, the sale will become natural and through a cooperative effort farmers’ markets and CSAs will be able to provide a variety of goods in a highly predictable manner.