Posts By Trish Popovitch
Founded in 1984, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit advocacy organizations for sustainable agriculture. Teaching children sustainable farming, public programming and lobbying for sustainable agriculture policy at the state and federal level are the daily work of the MFAI. Funded by federal grants and donations, the MFAI also assists retiring farmers in how best to manage their farmland and aids growers in the organic certification process.
What we as a nation define as “agriculture” is morphing and expanding to reflect the changing landscape of American industry. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics referred to organic food production as a “growth industry,” denoting a turning point between the farming of the past and the forward-looking, sustainable farming and food economy of the future.
Here are 10 new agriculture and food-sector jobs that didn’t exist 25 years ago.
An aquaponics farmer raises fish in tanks and uses the fish waste water to grow plants and vegetables. Operations can be as small as a backyard tank to a full scale commercial operation. The recently released 2013 Aquaculture Census states there are now 71 aquaponic farms in the United States with 650 commercial tanks in operation. In the 2005 data, updated in 2007, aquaponics isn’t even mentioned. Aquaponics farming as a measurable commercial American industry is still in its infancy, but looks looks like a growth industry.
“Conventional-farmers call us bioterrorists,” says Joel Salatin of the much heralded Polyface Farm.
“They are literally scared to death that one of our unvaccinated animals is going to get sick and then bring a disease to the area and shut down everybody’s farming and destroy the planet’s food supply. They would like us to pack up and leave. I could either respond with viciousness, depression, frustration and you know, ulcers or whatever, or I can just have fun with it. I decided to have fun with it.”
Joel Salatin is a holistic farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and an iconic figure in the sustainable food movement. Salatin practices a healing-the-land approach to farming in the face of much criticism from both traditional and sustainable agriculture advocates. Salatin self-deprecatingly refers to himself as a “lunatic” and is rather proud of it. A wordsmith and wise meat producer, Salatin offers perspective on all things farmer related.
From sourcing to licensing to food safety, the learning curve for making and marketing local food can be steep. According to NPR, there are now over 200 incubators across the country now working to help new local food startups succeed.
Here are ten you should know.
With 3,600 square feet of commercial kitchen, Capital Kitchens, founded in 2012, offers not only prepping, cooking and storage space but also event space giving startups a place to share their new product. They offer commissary accommodation for food truck businesses as well as a business center that allows each company internet access and a place to work on the administrative side of things.
Local Food Marketplace provides a software platform for food hubs that allows them to reach customers, aggregate production and compete with traditional distribution.
“We help food hubs all the way from the planning process and working with their producers to figuring out what their availability will be on a weekly basis,” says Amy McCann, who co-founded the business in 2009. “We also help with writing sales sheets, creating invoices for customers and managing the distribution to the food hub’s customers.“
McCann says her personal experience working in the food hub environment helps her offer more than just tech support to her customers.
Farmscape Gardens is California’s largest urban farming company, bringing edible gardens to residential and commercial customers alike. The sustainability focused company has reach over 300 clients since its inception in 2009. A recent expansion into the Bay area reflects the growth of the local food market and the success of the Farmscape business model.
“We have a lot of two-income households with kids for whom it’s really important to have access to fresh food in their lifestyle and access to a dynamic landscape, because vegetable gardens change every day, but they don’t have the time to do that. We step in and fill that void,” says Dan Allen CEO of Farmscape Gardens.
Situated on the last few acres of a 140-year old family homestead, Everitt Farms hopes to serve as a platform for a local food district, returning a new Denver suburb to its old agricultural roots.
Located in Lakewood, Colorado, the farm is an urban agricultural experiment initiated by husband-and-wife team Derek and Kamise Mullen.
“We both have really wanted to do something like this for honestly, a good portion of our lives,” says Kamise Mullen. “It really wasn’t until we got married about four years ago that we actually started really growing food and trying to farm at all.”
Named after the first root to appear from a seed, Radicle Farm Company of New Jersey is rethinking the sustainable leafy greens concept. Through an aggregated network of local hydroponic farms, Radicle offers its living salad products to the wholesale and retail market.
“We want to be large,” says Christopher Washington, Managing Director of the company that started in 2013. “All the research that we’ve done has indicated that the consumer wants to support local product; it’s not really groundbreaking. What is groundbreaking is that companies that get the most traction are private brands in agriculture.”