Many of us involved in the food movement are ensconced in a bubble of our making. In our world, we work hard to make good food choices, ones that are aligned with our beliefs about food, farming, and people. This is not an easy task, particularly to do so consistently and repeatedly (confession: I am drinking a beverage from a plastic bottle right now, despite my resolution not to do so.) One aspect we don’t consider is that even in cases when we do so, there are no guarantees that the activity/business/venture we are supporting will survive or thrive.
Case in point: Milk Thistle Farm, which is a biodynamic and successful (in terms of consumer demand for its product) dairy located in Ghent NY. There are notices on the green market nyc website and NY Times about Milk Thistle’s decision to cease operations. Now, I don’t know the details underlying the decision, and in my view, they are not really my business to discuss or even ponder. But as consumers, we’ll feel the loss of a great product. I can imagine that the process for reaching this decision must have been painful for the owners. I wish them well.
I mention the dairy because making a living through farming is tough. Even when conditions seem right (the correct mix of product, practices, and market access), the business side of the farm may not succeed. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that long term viability of farms is a continual challenge. Many small farming and food businesses struggle – particularly as they become successful.
Thoughts about farming and making a living from farming conjure contrasting images in my mind. It seems to me there is a stark dichotomy between running a biodynamic dairy, which operates in harmony with the ecosystem, and the business aspects which include marketing/meeting consumer needs/pricing/profits and so on. The cows are there, eating, mooing, making milk, in a peaceful way that is far removed from the hustle and bustle of making deals and keeping customers happy. The job of a farmer is both simple and complex, and most definitely challenging.
One point of this posting is a reminder to all of us that (1) not every single business will succeed, (2) even those that choose to close their doors will have made a contribution to the food movement, and (3) we need to keep holding our vision of the future, and taking steps to get there.