The average size of a farm in the U.S. is about 450 acres — plenty of space to grow bountiful amounts of crops that can support the business. However, farms have been struggling for ages with low prices and rising costs.
Luckily, a new way of doing business may just be the solution they’re looking for. Over the past couple years, the farm-to-fork — or locavore — movement sweeping the nation is giving farms the boost they need.
“You’re just seeing that farms are having difficulty covering their costs of production,” Sarah Lloyd of the Wisconsin Farmers’ Union told NPR. “The prices that are being paid to them in the market is not enough to cover their costs. One bright spot is you see people venturing into direct markets, and that’s a way where they can have more control over their pricing.”
The Farm-to-Fork movement is already having a profound economic impact. In King County, Washington, farmer’s markets gross $30 million annually, and that’s not counting ancillary revenue, such as parking lots. Since at least 2011, small farms have been popping up all throughout the area, bringing in annual sales of between $10,000 to over $1 million.
Even Chipotle — a fast-casual chain with over 1,100 locations in 35 states — buys from the locals. According to a company spokesperson, some ingredients are 85% to 90% from local purveyors.
The movement has also inspired farms to try other new revenue streams, such as starting restaurants right there on the premises, where it literally cannot get much more farm-to-fork.
Take Stoney Acres in Athens, Wisconsin, for example. Every Friday night between May and October, the farmyard is turned into a pizzeria, where diners can nosh on organic pizza that’s virtually 100% made with ingredients right from the farm, with the exception of the cheese. Even the pepperoni and sausage is made with hogs raised at Stoney Acres.
“We’re developing some areas that are growing, but our [Community Supported Agriculture program], which has been our backbone, which used to be about 85 percent of our income, is now a little bit less than 50 percent of our income,” Kat Becker, co-owner of Stoney Acres, told NPR.
Over the past decade, scores of families have lost their farms, but if the farm-to-fork movement continues gaining momentum, and if new revenue streams such as backyard pizzerias continue opening up, farms may find themselves doing better than simply surviving.