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Small Boats are Easier to Turn than Cruise Ships

Every morning I wince at the new headlines: “Smithfield shutting U.S. pork plant indefinitely, warns of meat shortages during pandemic;” “Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic;” and “White House Seeks To Lower Farmworker Pay To Help Agriculture Industry;” just to name a few. With all the market instability, the unfolding climate crisis, constrained access to capital and the lion’s share of subsidies going to large agricultural corporations (and not the farmers who contract for them), small farmers fear for their livelihoods and businesses every single season. And now, the CoVid-19 pandemic has brought this even closer to home for all of us paying attention. 

Our current local food system which puts profit over health and seems almost too colossal to fail, is doing just that during this pandemic. The fact that our current food system is incredibly unsustainable is not news to small farmers. I believe a good majority of us who got into farming did so for these very reasons.

Small family farms are here because we want to be on the frontlines of being able to feed people when worldwide growers/processors/distributors/retailers cannot keep up with the overproduction model we’ve created. We don’t want to create food waste. We want to feed our communities and help them thrive. 

My market vegetable farm, Presque Isle Farm, makes 40% of our sales from farmers market customers, 40% from restaurants, and about 20% from retail.

In a matter of days, here’s how we have adapted:

• We adjusted our labor force to just two people (us)
• We always wear masks and gloves while following the best agricultural practices
• We more than doubled our CSA model from 15 to 50 shares, with online renewals and pre-sales of our pre-packed bags to minimize customer interaction
• Our indoor farmers market we attend has shifted outside to the parking lot to maintain 6ft between our customers.
• We’re actively seeking out new retail sales opportunities as distribution from larger producers begin to dwindle.
• We’re close to diversifying our business in another way : Hard Cider! We’ve been trialing our cider for 3 yeas and have nearly completed the licensing necessary to canning and selling it.

We know diversification is key to resiliency and not always an option for huge agriculture conglomerates. As it turns out, it’s a lot easier to turn the helm of a small community rowboat than the Titanic. That being said, small farmers are not insulated from these obstacles. As always, we’ve needed you, the consumers, to continue to support us as best you can. We need you, the community, to recognize we’re in this together and we must continue to work for the local sustainability of our food system harder than ever before.

Please see resources and contact info for farms in NE Michigan that are offering CSA style shares:

B&B Farms, Rose Garden of Greens, Beyer Farms, Standen Acres, Coop Creations, Harvest Thyme, Wandering Winds Farm, Resonance Center Farm, Serendipity Farms, Falls Creek Produce and Flowers, Presque Isle Farm

Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for northeast Michigan and the Statewide Sales Supervisor. She enjoys reading with her seven year old, planting and hiking in the dirt, cooking up her own recipes, drinking farmhouse cider, and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). She owns and operates Presque Isle Farm with her family and is a founding member and V.P. of the NE Michigan Food & Farming Network. Contact her at molly@localdifference.org

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