Individuals across the region as well as the country are seeing a truly “ground-floor” opportunity through backyard gardening or urban agriculture. The ability to make a living and to create a simpler lifestyle are just a few reasons behind the expansion into entrepreneurial homesteading.
Across the country, myriad people are embracing what Melissa Willis, who writes the blog: EverGrowingFarm.com, has termed the “small job quilt.” Where once people held a single 40 hour 9 to 5 job, individuals are embracing a more flexible life and work schedule that may include homesteading, blogging, teaching classes, or creating value-added product.
Nevertheless, some may still want to know if there is “real” money to be made in local food. In 1945, a young man attended pilot training school in San Antonio, Texas. He returned to the city two years later and decided to start a food company. He tried growing his own peppers but would eventually buy peppers directly from local farmers. Almost 400 people worked in the plant he started making picante sauce, a favorite smell of San Antonio residents for many years. In 1995, the Pace company was acquired by Campbell Soup Company for $1.115 billion. Burt’s Bee’s started out as a simple beekeeper. The list goes on.
In Colorado, MM Local Foods is continuing to expand its value-added packing operations. Using a model similar to a the buyer’s club model, according to their website, “In 2013, Harvest Share Members helped MM Local buy more than 175,000 pounds of produce from local, organic family farmers.” Using the Pace figures as a guideline, a food manufacturing plant could see up to 400 direct jobs, 600 indirect jobs and another 200 auxiliary jobs through a focus on food production. That is approximately 1000 jobs that would direct money back into the community instead of having it extracted out to large corporations.
Yet while individuals are benefiting economically, Colorado local food activist Megan Andreozzi Harris, says we still have a ways to go. Megan, who is also manager of Hunt and Gather, a local food retailer, notes that “it’s a double-edged sword” in that there are only a certain amount of suppliers. Even when there are local producers, people aren’t used to seeing produce that hasn’t been manufactured to look a certain way or be free from normal traits found in food grown in a backyard garden. Megan believes the key is more consumer education around food because, “the [standard] grocery store has created a façade—it’s not real.”
Megan believes that the community sponsored agriculture (CSA) model or buying club is one of the best models at this juncture because it connects farmer directly to consumer. She also stresses the importance of supporting backyard growers. As she notes, Colorado Springs, Colorado used to have 300 farms. It now has one—Venetucci Farm. California, one of our countries biggest food suppliers, is being heavily hit with drought, extreme loss of honeybees affecting pollination of crops and economic downturns. Across the country this is already playing out in higher prices at the checkout. As such, more people are not only learning how to grow food but to create value-added product by learning to can. Megan states, “Learning how to put stuff away is going to hit people’s pocketbooks.” From this perspective, it’s not just the ability to make money but the capability to keep money that is of economic benefit to individuals, families and the community.
Megan is excited about the rise of backyard gardeners. “A healthier atmosphere helps the community. People become healthier and happier and so people can work harder which will change the economic impact. Productivity will shift everywhere. People become more connected to where they are. Eating healthier does that.”
When it comes to what constitutes a strong bottom line, a healthy and happy community is the best return on investment we can make.