More than food

harvested basketry willow

bundles of basketry willow at Dunbar gardens

Local farms produce more than food

It is great to see the focus on eating local and supporting local farms. The growth of farmers markets, organically grown produce, and the variety of artisan food products are all encouraging signs. But as a farm based business, I hope that people recognize that farms produce more than food products. Farms also grow and harvest fiber crops, lumber, ornamentals, nursery plants, biofuels, and more. We all use and depend on these crops, but are we giving the same thought to where and how they are produced? There is a lot of opportunity to encourage the same support for domestic producers of these non food crops as we are seeing in the “local food” movement.

willow harvestwillow harvest

Many people don’t even think our basketry willow is a farm crop. They imagine us going out and cutting mature willow trees somewhere. One of our goals is to show people the potential of growing a crop like willow on small farms or gardens and using it to craft functional goods. Our small farm is similar to many that use a so called value-added product to get a better return on the energy we invest. Instead of turning milk into cheese, we are turning willow into baskets. Granted that the cheese is a more essential product, but it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that willow farms producing baskets or  sheep ranchers producing wool or even clothing can be part of a local farm economy.

willow harvestwillow harvest

Of course, one of the challenges facing producers of these non-perishable handcrafted items are the low cost alternatives imported from less developed countries. Stores like our local food co-operative are a great source of locally grown farm products, but they also sell inexpensive handcrafted products in the mercantile section. Many of these goods are made by people on the other side of the globe, but they are labeled “fair trade” which makes it easy for us to feel good about their purchase while getting a good price.

soaking willowfarmers market

So the basketmaker has to find a market niche just like the winemaker who has their own vineyard might. Not everyone will want or need our product, but hopefully our business is included in the conversation about local farms, the economy, ecologically friendly practices, and sustainability.

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2 thoughts on “More than food

  1. Thank you so much, Steve, for this informative post on a very important issue.
    Creating awareness is a slow process and unfortunately sometimes the message gets lost in our ever increasing load of useless information.
    Imports from less developed countries and so called “fair trade” imports is a HUGE topic touching not only transportation of goods (sometimes back AND forth to and from the other side of the World), but also questions about human rights, child labor, pollution and more.
    Great post!!
    Do you do all the sorting of the willow right there in the field? Or is it just the largest rods that you bundle?

    • Hi Lene. Thanks, as always for reading and comments. The upright bundles in the field photo are unsorted. I bundled the varieties with smaller amounts first to keep the labeling straight. Our more extensively planted varieties still on the ground in the photo also get tied in ‘field run’ bundles to dry. We sort for size a little later. We do the sorting outside using the common method of a barrel down in the ground. Then the sorted, sized bundles are stored in the barn. We’re still learning.

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