How often do you wonder where your food comes from? This question is rarely at the forefront of our minds simply because it doesn’t have to be. As a population that shops primarily at local supermarkets, we largely consume food that travels from monocrops across the country and the world. But the environment is changing quickly, and agricultural practices will be forced, for better or worse, to change alongside it.
In the United States alone, farming utilizes approximately 922 million acres of land. While small, family-owned farms account for a portion of this land, they are being crowded out by larger operations at alarming rates. Larger operations and the growth of a single crop on the same land year after year, or monocropping, bring higher yields and increased efficiency in both planting and harvesting. This contributes to the lower prices and a seemingly unlimited supply found in supermarkets, but it comes at a great environmental and social cost.
“In the rush to industrialize farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity,” wrote chef and activist Dan Barber in his book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food. Large-scale monoculture farming eliminates mutualistic relationships necessary to the health of a plant and the environment that supports it. Soil depletion, a lack of resilience in the face of environmental extremes, decreased plant diversity, and a loss of livelihood all come as a result of our “rush to industrialize farming.” However, the cohort of small, family-owned farms across the country and right here in Boston are voices of reason. In the midst of a culture that can’t or won’t recognize the realities of the future of agriculture, their opinions stand out.
Between Philadelphia suburbs and New Jersey beach towns lies Sorbello Girls Farm Market, a family-owned farm and farm stand selling their produce and local products since 1961. “The main crops that we grow are some of the local crops that farmers in the area grow which are tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, we do a lot of basil, a lot of aromatics,” said Billy Conners, MCAS ‘21, in a recent interview.
Reflecting on the future of his family’s farm, Conners stated, “Personally, our farm won’t exist in ten years, but I think that’s a trend you’re seeing everywhere. There’s no real competition because we can’t afford to compete with these bigger farms.” There is no longer an economic incentive to farm on a small scale, leaving farmers with no choice but to give up their livelihood and leave a gap within our agricultural system.
Small farms, in contrast to larger farms that rely on monoculture, are working towards changing the future of agriculture. By emphasizing its commitment to soil fertility and growth without pesticides, Allandale Farm in Brookline, MA appeals to and draws its support from a growing population of agriculturally- and environmentally-conscious consumers. “Our growing practices are deeply linked to our role as land stewards and neighbors,” writes Allandale farm about their greater purpose. The commitment to the land and consumers from farms such as Allandale offers hope for the continuation of small farms that prioritize plant diversity and soil health.
As a consumer, there is a great deal of power that comes with deciding where to spend your money. But with this power comes an obligation to support those who are fighting for a sustainable future. “Shop local,” Conners urged. “Produce is going to look a lot different in the future and in order to ensure that a lot of people have a livelihood and your produce stays local, you have to shop local. That’s the only solution.”