May 19, 2010

Small Farm and pure economic protectionism

Every day in the United States, close to 3,000 acres of productive farmland are lost to development. Adapting to survive, many farmers have embraced a new paradigm that focuses on agricultural models custom-fit to changing markets and filling local niche markets with specialty produce and value-added products. The movement seems to be working.

Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operations since 2002, according to recent Agricultural Census data. Compared with all farms nationwide, these new arrivals tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower total-dollar sales and operators who also work off-farm. Most tend to be family run and do not need the so-called migrant worker. Interestingly, many of these operations are located in decidedly urban and suburban areas.

“All agriculture cannot serve niche markets,” says Karen McAdams, North Carolina State University agricultural service extension agent, “but there are many potential opportunities for farmers to take advantage of local urban markets and the increased demand for local foods.”

Nationally, there is a movement toward consuming locally raised foods. More than eight in 10 consumers (85 percent) say they trust smaller-scale family farms to produce safe, nutritious food. It's fresh, maybe cheaper and healthier, right?
So, why are the local, state or federal governments making laws and mandates about FOOD? They pay their taxes so, what's the problem here?

(The ordinance seems to me to be patently unconstitutional, as it is pure economic protectionism.)

Small business is and always will be the strength of America. This is about competition and control. You see it everywhere. Big businesses do whatever they can to compete and get a bigger piece of the pie. They will put up and maintain whatever barriers to entry into a share of their market. Make no mistake, big local businesses are conspiring with local government to restrict consumer choice in your hometown. Right now.

The competion between downtown grocery chains and WalMart is driven by the same thing. It's just that WalMart types offer local government such a huge tax revenue stream that they can get away with things that small local businesses can't. They also have been subsidized by local government through land taxes, so they have a vested interest in their success.

But small businesses are still the most important engine of growth, even more so in tough times when growth is hard to come by. Consider any 'future event' that would cause nationwide or statewide crippling of the flow of goods to stock these big-box stores. If they are the only show in town, the common good of the region is effected equally. Having choices and varied resources to buy local is to everyone's benefit and shame on the public officials that would want to hamper that growth.

And it's a shame to see what rights and liberties the governments of all sizes are willing to sacrifice for what they say is for the common good. Just how can restricting consumer choice ever be for the common good? For the common good of competing businesses--maybe.

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