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Why Local Farms Are Making A Comeback

July 10, 2012

Would you quit your job to become a small-scale farmer? From an economic point of view, it’s no longer as crazy as it sounds. Just ask Narendra Varma, a former Microsoft manager who invested $2 million of his own money into 58 acres of land. As he says, “The future is local.”

Once viewed as a radical lifestyle choice or a political protest against Big Ag, local farming is becoming more mainstream – and to many people’s surprise, even profitable.

That’s because factory farming is beginning to lose its competitive edge, reports the New York Times, citing the rise of the “slow money” movement. Slow Money, a nonprofit that connects investors, entrepreneurs, and farmers, has raised over $18 million in the last two years, inspiring a number of other organizations to follow suit and finance local, organic food production.

Big Ag’s number-one weakness, as it turns out, is labor. Large-scale farms have historically relied on inexpensive Mexican workers, but now that migration has come to a standstill, everyone from the apples orchards of Washington to the strawberry fields of Alabama are struggling to keep their costs down. That, combined with the aging of the farmer population and the high cost of land, is causing mass-production to lose some of its price advantages over locally farmed Slow Food.

Local farm sales, by contrast, are increasing, and rather than bringing in migrant laborers, most farmers are getting their hands dirty themselves. “A byproduct of local food is that local hands are more likely to be producing, harvesting, packing, and marketing it, especially for new farmers on small-scale farms,” said Dawn Thilmany McFadden, an agricultural economist at Colorado State University.

This is great news, especially in light of recent revelations that the organic industry is being corrupted by big agriculture corporate influence. More than ever, eating is not just a question of calorie content, fat-to-carbohydrate ratio, and daily nutrient percentages. How and where our food is produced has become a political, social, and even ethical issue.

How much of the food you buy is locally grown? Do you garden any of your food yourself?