Small Farmers: Saviors of the Modern Food System
December 27, 2016 | Bright Agrotech
This advertorial is brought to you by Bright Agrotech, Inc.
Our food system is broken and only the small farmer can save us.
The first green revolution lowered food costs by increasing production efficiency, but did so at the cost of quality, freshness, and the connection between those who grow the food and those who eat it.
Over time, loss of quality and connection has disintegrated the trust between consumers and producers. While consumers moved into cities, our farms morphed into industrial food factories that exchanged stewardship and sustainability for yields.
Now people are calling for change.
They are beginning to understand the drawbacks of our current centralized food system. They are calling for transparency and better food grown closer to where they live.
Sadly, the same industrialization responsible for farm efficiency preclude Big Ag from meeting these new demands.
Today, people are calling for better food:
- Food that they trust
- From people that they trust
- Grown with methods they trust
So who will rebuild this trust in our broken food system?
Who Will Save the Food System?
Restoring trust in our food system begins and ends with small farmers. After all, small farmers are real people growing and selling food for other real people.
Small farmers know the pain of mysterious food. They know that a label isn’t enough to bring true transparency to the food system. That’s why they work to alleviate that pain for their customers with farm tours, meet and greets, community education, and by simply being available to answer questions for customers.
Because of their scale, small farmers have the unique ability to step into a dysfunctional system and transform it in ways that benefit every link in the modern food chain.
But where do small farmers come from? How does someone become a farmer today?
With the democratization of high quality education and growing technology, almost anyone can grow and sell food to those in their communities.
That means that small farmers can be anyone and grow almost anywhere. Whether you’re young or old, urban or rural, man or woman, you can play a part in healing today’s broken food system. All you need is the right training, an appropriate business model, and of course, grit.
The Small Farmer’s Struggle: Leaping the Knowledge Gap
In 2014, Marre Seleska made the decision to grow good food for her community. She recognized the need for fresh food and saw that she could start small and grow her business organically while meeting a real demand in her local markets.
There was only one problem.
The extreme heat and poor soils of the Texas panhandle made farming expensive and incredibly difficult using traditional growing techniques. Her markets wanted fresher, more locally grown food, but her climate and resource constraints made growing that food a major hurdle.
That’s when Marre decided to start an alternative type of farm. One that combines hydroponic techniques and new technology to maintain more control of her growing environment, save water, and grow good food all year long, in spite of the extreme Texas heat.
But even though she solved the growing problem, Marre was still running into a lot of roadblocks that prevented her from having a farm with consistent yields and customers.
Almost all of these roadblocks revolve around a lack of knowledge, experience and the skills required to run a farming business.
As a beginning farmer, Marre was discouraged by the overwhelming amount of disparate information she found on the internet. She needed guidance and direction, but only found a deluge of anecdotal content.
The sad thing? Marre’s story is not unique. Thousands of aspiring modern farmers of various sizes from different backgrounds are trying to play a part in this local food movement who are nearly dead-ended by a lack of education – and therefore a lack of confidence. This barrier (the agricultural knowledge gap) is one of the greatest obstacles to new small farmers.
And we think it’s time to close the gap.
How to Close the Knowledge Gap
After watching many small farmers struggle to find good information on how to plan and run their farms, we created Upstart University – an online learning platform that guides new growers through the process of starting their farms with accessible education.
With over 1,000 students, Upstart U is helping to close the agricultural knowledge gap with a 4-step approach.
1) Content. Many entering the industry have no clue where to start. They know they need to learn how to grow plants, but they often forget about the rest of what’s required to be a modern farmer. Starting a farm takes research on business planning, sales, marketing, and everything else required to run a not just a farm, but a farming business. New farmers need access to both a practical content library, and also guidance on what to tackle first. Upstart U’s guided path of information, templates, and tutoring will help farmers find the information they need and prioritize learning tasks.
2) Convenience. Most aspiring farmers have a lot going on in their lives. They’re typically working another job that takes up a lot of their time and attention. Others are stay-at-home parents, travel often, or have limited internet access. All of these situations pose a serious challenge to learning the information needed to pursue their dream of starting a farm. Upstart U creates an accessible learning experience so that aspiring growers can make progress towards their goals, regardless of their present circumstances.
3) Connection. Starting a farm, like starting any new business, can be an incredibly lonely endeavor and can get overwhelming in a hurry. Not only are you trying to start a business (which is already confusing and challenging), you’re also starting a farm (a historically lonely pursuit on it’s own). Having a support system of peers embarking on a similar path gives farmers the lessons and help they need to get through the toughest times. Upstart University connects students in a modern farmer mastermind of sorts where that they can share tips, learn from each other’s mistakes, and gain traction as a community of small, empowered farmers around the world.
4) Confidence. Despite being a sexy pop culture topic, entrepreneurship leaves the overwhelming majority of would-be business owners emotionally bruised and financially broken. The fact is that the idea of “working for yourself” draws a lot of unprepared people with undercapitalized ideas and unrealistic expectations. When things start to go south, most aspiring entrepreneurs lack the confidence needed to make [good] decisions and end up giving up their dreams. Traveling without a map is a herculean endeavor. Upstart U helps instills confidence in its students through strong peer-to-peer connections that helps democratize the experience of farming today with all it’s ups and downs. The community helps ideas and techniques, sharing good news, and tips to avoid failures. Over 1,000 students are benefiting from the increased confidence this community and modern farm guidance brings to their operations.
When these four factors are woven together, new farmers can drastically increase their chances of starting and operating a successful modern farm.
And new farmers are succeeding.
Just look at what happened to Marre; a combination of Upstart University’s resources and her own innate perseverance led Marre to build Green Wolf Vertical Farm. Her indoor hydroponic farm solves the problems Marre first faced and supplies local restaurants and CSAs with fresh, healthy food.
Over the past several years, modern farmers like Marre have created new ventures to meet the increasing demand for transparent, high quality, sustainably-produced food for their local markets.
With the help of programs like Upstart University, Marre and her fellow modern farmers not only have access to affordable farm education, but also the confidence that comes with being part of a connected group of motivated, aspiring farm entrepreneurs.
Whether it’s a garage micro-farm selling microgreens or mint to a local gastropub, or a much larger indoor farm supplying several grocery stores with fresh, flavorful basil, these farmers now have the tools and support system need to restore the broken trust of our current industrial food system one small farm at a time.
Are You Modern Farming Material?
Do you want to play a part in the better food economy but don’t know where to start?
Do you have the grit needed to be a modern farmer?
We want to help you take the first step. For a limited time, Seedstock readers like yourself can try Upstart University for only $5 for your first month using code: “seedstock5” when you sign up here.
We look forward to seeing you in Upstart U and watching your farm come to life.
Disclaimer: This story is a sponsored story, or advertorial, that was paid for and produced by Bright Agrotech, Inc. The opinions expressed in this article are the company’s own and do not reflect the views of Seedstock, or its writers.