The obituary of the American farmer has been prematurely penned for generations. Yet that’s not to suggest farmers, ranchers and food growers, from the upper Midwest and beyond, don’t face real and present challenges as ominous as a streak of natural disasters.
Even so, the artisanal farm to table movement, harvested first in urban settings and spreading quickly, has opened new direct-to-consumer markets for traditional farmers, while infusing new hope for little-guy growers. So, are the odds finally shifting in favor of the small, American-owned farm? Will the rash of independent farmers inclined to cash out their land come to an end? Not exactly. But shipping produce directly to restaurants — or craft brewers — is a meaningful shift that shows no signs of slowing down. And it could be enough to turn the tide for some.
Consider all the ways the farm to table trend has forced the sales of food to slip from the grip of big agriculture. The explosion of farmers markets continues, as do agricultural co-ops for city dwellers, groceries focused on local food products, chefs partnering with farmers for joint sustainability and even a spike in canning and curing, suddenly embraced by a new generation.
Selling direct to consumers undoubtedly yields a higher margin of return — and it fosters relationships that can produce financial dividends for both sides. For ranchers, the popularity of organic products, particularly grass-fed beef, has been a lucrative change. The craft beer revolution continues to force demand for locally grown hops and grains. Indeed, for many brewmasters, the authenticity of their locally sourced ingredients becomes a calling card for their beers as well as a brand.
That is true across differing regions of the country and certainly in the Midwest, where Grand Rapids has consistently cashed in on its reputation and moniker as “Beer City.” So let’s raise a glass, some grass-fed beef and a bag of local fruits and vegetables to the farmer. Where would we be without them?