Our friends Mary and Wes over at Roots Memphis Farm Academy put up a really excellent blog post about successful small-scale farming after their experience at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) annual conference. Go and read the whole thing on their website. Here are some highlights:
Mary and Wes wrote:
At the Farm Academy, we emphasize that our students need to learn to think like entrepreneurs. Gary Matteson, from Farm Credit Counsel in D.C., in his presentation on growing cash flow, said that every small farm needs three core skills to be successful: production, marketing, and financial. Most farmers, though, have only one of those skills, usually production, and are unique if they are really good at two of them…The Farm Academy curriculum has been structured to teach all three.
It’s a truly unique individual or family who can manage all three aspects of successful small-scale farming without some serious training–either in a formal classroom, or in the School of Hard Knocks. It often takes both kinds. That’s why I’m now working on an MBA! We believe so deeply in creating a new local agricultural system that we are willing to put in the time and find the ways to Do It Sustainably. As they say, “If you can’t pencil a profit, you can’t plow one.”
“It Will Take More than a Village”
Roots Memphis Farm Academy (and especially our graduating farmers) can’t wait to see Memphis funders get on board with the local food economy with same kind of funding priorities and funding mechanisms for local and sustainable food projects. It will take more than a village, but we believe we can build a local food economy in the Memphis region as vibrant as any local food economy in the country.
It doesn’t take a village–it takes the Greater Memphis Area. Here’s the good news: The market is there! It doesn’t matter how many CSAs our little farm could support, there would be more customers willing to buy. With the right infrastructure and the right awareness-building activities (a.k.a. marketing), Memphis could be supported by a network of small farmers connecting one another with willing consumers who want healthy foods they can trust. All it takes is Planning. (Yes, with a purposeful capital P. It’s a big job.)
And they wrote:
We came away more convinced than ever that what we are doing (training and launching a new generation of sustainable farmers in the Memphis region) is critically meaningful and that we can and will build an important part of a new, local, sustainable food economy here.
It’s true. Their work is powerful. We know from experience the bungles, bumbles, mishaps, and missteps it takes to figure out how to make a small farm work–even when, on paper, you have all the skills you need to make it fly. Their farmers will never go it alone.
Deep roots sustain wide branches! That’s the power of community. When you build together, you never fall alone. You learn from one another’s strengths–and one another’s weaknesses–how to thrive. Thanks to Wes and Mary for coming into our lives, and for helping us to remember (even when it’s cold or things go wrong) why we do what we do.