Where have all the small farms gone, long time passing.
Where have all the small farms gone, long time ago.
Where have all the small farms gone,
Broad acre farming has them, every one.
When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn.
Lyrics by Bronwyn Richards with help from Peter Paul & Mary
It was not that long ago when most farming was mixed and small scale. All towns small or large had small mixed farms producing grains, fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and eggs in their locality. It is only over the course of one lifetime that we have seen large cities such as Melbourne and Sydney loose the market gardens on their outer ring.
How did this come about? An easy answer is to say that population growth in our big cities means that the land used previously for producing food has been needed for housing. Yes this is certainly true of big cities, but what about smaller rural towns, where population has decreased and so have the small mixed farms?
This did not happen by accident, the shift to broadacre (industrial) farming was a world wide agenda endorsed by the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in the late 1960’s known as the Green Revolution. This began primarily as a humanitarian initiative to end world hunger. In fact, Norman Borlaug known as the "Father of the Green Revolution", received the Nobel Prize in 1970 credited, with the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of farm management techniques, the distribution of of hybridised seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. All leading to significant increase in agricultural production that saved over a billion people from starvation.
The industrialisation of farming that resulted from the Green Revolution has developed hand in hand with global food empires. One major example of this is Monsanto, a company that started as a chemical producer manufacturing DDT; Agent Orange and Glyphosate herbicides (Round Up); and is now the leader in genetically modified and hybridised crops; one of the major pesticide producers; and owns 26% of total world seed production.
It has also become clear in the 21st century that industrialised farming has failed to feed the world. The FAO estimates that the amount of food produced in the world could currently feed 12 billion people. (world population is estimated at 7 billion) Nonetheless, more than 1 billion are still suffering from hunger, whilst 1.5 billion adults are overweight. It also estimates that 40% of the total daily global production of food is wasted. 80% of the worlds soya bean production is used to make stockfeed primarily for intensive poultry and pig production for the 1st world. This is putting the Earth’s resources under increasing pressure and are symptoms of an unhealthy and unequal food production system.
Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, summarises the major problems with industrial agriculture and global food empires:
They control 80% of world agriculture and promote monoculture farming. Industrial agriculture is:
(Terra Madre, 2016)
350 million small and peasant farmers are producing 50% of the worlds food. It is not about the quantity of land farmed but the key factor is productivity and energy efficiencies per hectare. Small farm inputs of 1 kilocalorie can produce between 15 to 30 kilocalories while the average energy of industrialised agriculture food production is 1 kilocalories to produce 1.5 kilocalories. (a kilocalorie is a measurement of the amount of energy in the foods you eat.)
We need to become conscious consumers and educate others to go beyond the passive role of consuming and take an interest in those who produce our food. In actively supporting local food producers, we become part of the production process. The term co-producer was coined by Slow Food to highlight how collectively our consumer choices can bring great change to how food is cultivated, produced and distributed.
We need more small farms and more farmers. Our food choices can make small scale food production a reality. So do go to your farmers markets and producer street stalls, introduce yourself, ask how the food is produced, and where it comes from, buy what you can. Support farmers who are creating clean, fair and local food on a small scale. Form a critical relationships with your local farmers because as co-producers this is how you can bring small farms back into our towns and cities and maybe take some steps toward making the world a better, more delicious and healthy place.
This is our small market stall in the courtyard of Provisions Deli & Grocery in Braidwood, NSW. Every Saturday morning we sell our vegetables and preserves and enjoy a chat with our friends and customers. We love exchanging recipes and introducing new and interesting vegetables each season.
Having a chat in the shade with vegetable and produce lovers, and dear friends Tim and Suzie.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm