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.
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.
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.
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.