This is part of a series in which we're asking what pragmatic steps we can take to make regional food systems more sustainable. We previously spoke with organic farmer Tom Willey, and the people at Veritable Vegetable.
“I’m in my outside office,” he said. “I’m standing here looking out over this: It’s just idyllic, there’s hoop houses, there’s chickens. They make apple cider, there’s an orchard, and a field, and there's trumpeter swans on the field.”
I’d wanted talk to Crosby because he’s interested in growing regional food systems. In this series, I’m looking for pragmatic steps that can make regional agriculture more sustainable. Crosby does much the same thing: He searches for farmers who could grow or improve their businesses if they just had the financing; then he connects them with foundations, banks, or investors.
Q. I wrote recently about a project to improve rangeland with compost, which seems to help, both environmentally and financially. But it costs a lot of money initially to bring the compost in. Do you find that there are farmers who could be better stewards of the land if they were able to invest with an eye to the next 100 years, rather than just scraping by for the next year?
A. The embedded notion is that farmers are not good stewards of the land. I would say that farmers are the closest to the stewards of the land we have -- they just can’t make money doing it in our economic system. But if they lose their soil, they lose their livelihood, and they know that better than anyone.
Our market-driven, capitalistic structure insures that the lowest price wins. When the market says you have to lower the price per unit -- as happened in the 1970s, the terminology was “get big or get out” -- guess what, you’re going to have to grow. You’re going to have problems if you try to internalize the environmental costs and take care of the soil. It’s going to be more expensive, and you can’t sell your products as easily.
But it’s the right thing to do, and farmers will do it. It’s becoming more attractive as the cost of fossil fuels goes up. And farmers are coming to me saying, we need to try something else. Now they see a chance to make money doing the right thing, where they couldn’t before. And they would like to be able to do that. The question is, in the end, can they pay their bills?