We went on a field trip yesterday, us and another family. The trek took us pretty far out of our every day and all the way up to a sheep farm north of our city. The farm was celebrating the launch of its cheese production with a tasting and food and wine.
The two women farmers spoke at the event. They had started with just ten sheep, milking in the field, by hand, under a tent. The limited amount of milk was then used to work on recipes for the cheeses. One of the women gave up a medical career and, in her words, jeopardized any hope of financial security in the pursuit. Eight years of hard work later, the farm has 200 head of grassfed sheep, milking facilities, and has begun artisanal cheese sales as well as selling lamb for meat.
The cheese was very good. But, more incredible, was the sacrifice these two women made and the risks they take to succeed. All for the sake of creating real food. Now, some write this venture off as “elitist,” these artisanal cheeses, but then the farm also sells affordable and sustainable meats. Some would also label this farm as a “niche” and not relevant compared to the scale of Big Ag. But then, such “niche” farms were the way all food was produced for centuries, feeding communities the world over. Consolidated, “conventional” agriculture is only about half a century old. And there is nothing “conventional” about its methods.
These small farms, no matter how anyone could try to write them off, have great meaning. For all of us. According to the American Farmland Trust, small farms such as this sheep farm hold many benefits for the surrounding communities.
“Farm and ranch lands provide food and cover for wildlife, help control flooding, protect wetlands and watersheds and maintain air quality. They can absorb and filter wastewater and provide groundwater recharge.”
AFT also states that farms nearest our cities — those most likely to be in the path of development — are the source for as much as 63 percent of our dairy products and 86 percent of the fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. Farms provide value in other ways, such as diversity in culture and beauty of open landscapes. Local farms supply our farmers’ markets, provide jobs and business.
Despite this, development and urban sprawl constantly destroy the surrounding farming communities at the rate of two acres every minute, every day. Seems like it would be hard enough to give up your financial security, and risk it all to milk sheep by hand in 90-degree weather, without having to fend off bulldozers and strip malls. But that is the reality that many farming communities face.
If you are concerned about the issue of “No Farms, No Food,” AFT invites you to help do something about it. Share your voice in saving our farmland.