When you think about farming, you always hear the gripe about big agro-business versus small farms, and how small farmers are being wiped out while Monsanto gets bigger. And somewhere in that argument someone will say that “a farm is after all, a small business.”
Small farms, presumably, are those rustic buildings you see along the interstate – in all of those places where you pray you’ll some day get time to stop.
You keep driving, and you never quite get back.
But increasingly, small farms have opened up. Plenty of them are still making a living from straight agricultural production, though it would seem to be fewer and fewer each year. And an increasing number make it quite well as agritourism centers, whole foods outlets and party and convention centers.
As suburban America just gets abandoned, and big cities demand more from all those the small towns that act as hubs for all those small farms you see from the interstate, well, rural America is getting smarter.
So many models of small farms have grown up that it’s not easy to keep track of them. Savvier and more appealing is an absolute necessity.
Let’s look at one model in Central New York State.
B & B Ranch is run as a CSA that offers shares to members in exchange for an upfront payment. When the Piedmontese beef is ready, all the paid members get a big share shipped to them. LocalHarvest.com They also harvest Berkshire Pigs, Spanish black turkeys, free range chickens and, surprisingly popular, Spanish goats, along with a variety of produce from the gardens and even some local artisan products like cheeses and butter.
Everything that’s not shipped out to the CSA is kept for the kitchen and dished out to the private dining club. Members also get first dibs on use of the spa and sauna facilities and the swimming pool, and they need to spend a minimum amount in the dining room, or they get billed at the end of the year.
Then there’s the horse stables and equestrian center that offer boarding for horses, plus riding classes, weekend riding clinics and access to the trails. Some of the weekend clinics end up filling the farm for three and four days and keeping drinks flowing afterward at the bar.
Then there’s a pretty substantial side business hosting business parties and weddings. The equestrian center does include an indoor observation deck, which has become increasingly popular as an informal meeting space, but folks also take over the dining room, the deck and the grounds.
On top of all of that, renting a room and staying is easy. The farm maintains five suites for guests, each unique and not exactly what you think of as an agritourim hostel room. Book-it-Now keeps the hotel part of the business basically full nearly every weekend. Likewise, there’s active outreach going on every day on Facebook and Google+ to keep past guests informed about events, classes and future riding clinics, as well as the occasional cook-out or dining event.
You’d almost want to ask what any of this has to do with farming.
LocalHarvest.org maintains a huge website and database of interest to CSA farmers and to Customers. Like Slow Food USA with whom they partner, Local Harvest is working to increase awareness and consumption of foods produced by CSAs and small farms.
What small farms there are are increasingly engaging with like-minded, concerned and interested people.
Getting more of them to compete and really prosper is actually happening, but to see them, you really will need to pull off the interstate, at the next exit, and check them out.
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