Permaculture means different things to different people but it all revolves around the 3 ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares. Permaculture also has to be sustainable for it to endure. That sustainability besides meaning environmental also has to include financial sustainability. It is the later that we will focus on today and where I need your input, thoughts and experiences.
No matter how we slice it, there are still things we need that we can't produce ourselves or barter for. For those things we need money. Things like our gas/diesel to run our tractors and vehicles, property taxes, loans, leases, etc. all require money.
Some of the ways to make money from our efforts are sales from the property, CSA's, Farmer's Markets or if you're fortunate a local food store that will buy your goods and resell them or maybe a local restaurant who wants to purchase locally produced goods.
Another way to earn money is for you or your significant other to take off farm jobs, even if it's a part time job like I have.
2. Most of the properties are small though (18,000 sq ft and under). This limited space allows for mostly family sized gardens.
3. We have several Community Gardens, where you can rent raised bed space to grow your vegetables.
4. We also have the Community Food Bank, that is active in the Community Gardens and provides assistance and ideas on growing your veggies and other resources.
5. Almost all properties are zoned residential. Which creates the problem of direct sales from the property. Under the new Urban Agriculture Plan, direct sales of food/goods is considered the same as yard sales and you can have no more than 4 per year, lasting no more than 2 consecutive days and 8 hours each of those 2 days. That would work out fine if all the crops and everything you produce is ready for harvest quarterly and within the two day time frame you plan to sell on.
6. We have several Farmers Markets around town on the weekend where you can rent space to sell your products. One of the setbacks is that many are occurring simultaneously.
7. We have two CSA models in town- direct from the farm from a med/lg regional producers who aren't too far outside of town and a co-op model. The co-op model only accepts vendors who are producing more than 29 varieties of herbs, fruits, berries and veggies.
8. We are also fortunate to have several local groups and organizations that are looking to expand our local food production by encouraging people to grow their own food. We also have a refugee group that focuses on gleaning and preparing their cultural foods.
We really do have a lot of good things happening here but for a small producer, it is difficult to come by opportunities to earn from what you are producing. As in the co-op CSA, 29 varieties is a lot for a grower.
How about Farmer's Markets? It's a lot of work to transport your produce, setting up/tearing down a booth or table and then spending hours trying to sell your produce. You also have to worry about keeping your produce cooled and/or iced. Last but not least, hopefully you are not scheduled to work your off the farm job during them.
Local restaurants and stores need a certain commitment from the producers. After all, they are in business to sell food and they can't do that if I only have a dozen tomatoes to sell them.
So what's a small time producer or backyard gardener to do? Well, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream.
My vision of local Food Resilience and Sustainability
First, it would require these local groups like Feeding Tucson, Sustainable Tucson and The Community Gardens to encourage all the small time producers to grow extra food, beyond their own needs.
Those interested in participating would have to be taught safe food handling/harvesting procedures.
Then we would need to create 5 or 6 food hubs spread across town, where these individuals and small producers can bring their surplus produce and eggs to get a share or have their items bought outright. Same with the refugee groups involved in gleaning.
These hubs would also serve a couple different functions. They would be a central holding facility, a local meeting and planning space, they could serve as a Farmer's Market location or a CSA distribution point and even an active sales channel fostering relations between local growers and stores or restaurants by combining all our produce.
I also envision these hubs having a commercial kitchen where the under served members of the community can get and prepare food under supervision, of course. These kitchens would also allow for value added services like canning of food, making jams and syrups in an inspected facility which would then allow for commercial sales of those products.
Somewhere in the hub or maybe as a mobile facility a processing plant. Yes, for the safe and humane processing of animals. Currently, there is only one place in town for this to happen and the fees, in my opinion, make it cost prohibitive. When I looked into it a few years ago when getting into laying hens, it was $6.00 to get a whole chicken (no special cuts) back from them. For me to break even I would have to charge $14.00 per chicken. Even though I raised them humanely and fed them organically with no hormones, antibiotics or enhancers, I have a hard time convincing myself of that value.
This dream would allow small producers to benefit financially by combining their resources and offerings with others. I also see it employing the "under employed" from the community.
Here is where I really need your help:
From small urban producers who have participated in Farmer's Markets and CSA's- what you liked best and least about your experiences. Also, would you be interested in participating in something like this if it was available in your community?
From local restaurants and stores, would you be interested in buying local produce, fruits and berries grown following organic standards?
If you don't want to post your response publicly in the comments, feel free to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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