Friday, March 25, 2011

Sustainable Agriculture is Good Business

Several of the people I’ve interviewed on Lincoln Avenue over the last couple of years have talked about the value of locally-produced sustainable agriculture.  They’ve discussed how it can not only help us eat better but also improve the environment, contribute to economic justice, and even help us fight back against the corporate take-over of American politics. All of that is coming from people like Eric Schlosser and Chris Hedges, who study social problems, and from folks who work on issues of hunger and urban development. 
This week, I finally talked with someone working on, or better yet with, the ground of sustainable agriculture, Floyd Davis of Red Basket Farm.  While the political and social aspects of this movement can get us thinking, Floyd’s discussion of his work makes a few other points clear.  One is that small-scale agriculture can be good business.  For Floyd, this work is at once satisfying and, if not hugely profitable then at least economically sustainable. It also demands a very different way of thinking about the work of farming and about the value of a business degree.  So much of what makes Red Basket work well is not about how Floyd treats the soil and the plants but about how he handles marketing.  His operation seems to be a terrific example of what it takes to run a small business these days: creative outreach and business models that adapt to the needs of diverse customers.  And when small-scale farmers understand that part of the business, they can make sustainable agriculture into sustainable business.

 Second, this movement is present, right here in the Mahoning Valley, and, in fact, the many relatively small farms in our area make this a good place to do this kind of farming.  While many small farms in our area don’t focus on sustainable practices, I’ve always appreciated the availability of so much locally-grown produce and the opportunity to buy from these small operations.  

Third, Floyd reminds us that we play a part in sustainable agriculture.  In fact, you can buy a share of Red Basket Farm this summer, through the Grow Youngstown Community Supported Agriculture project.  You could also visit the Red Basket website and find out how to go visit the farm. 

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