American food culture has undergone a very positive transformation even against the increased cost of eating well. Following the 1980s and 90s, a time during which a shift was made towards processed foods that were cheaper, faster, and more abundant, an increased percentage of American society is more focused on sustainability, locavorism, and organic eating initiatives.
Suffering through those decades when demand for fresh foods was at an all-time low, many farms were forced to reduce production and staff, or shut down operations completely. Farmers who managed to survive the down period have taken a creative entrepreneurial approach.
Diversification of the ‘farm business’ is a mandatory ingredient in the recipe for maintaining not only the business side of farm operations, but also for preserving the relationships between people and their food. While many floundered, some farmers envisioned a different approach to sustaining their businesses. Beginning with the reestablishment of the idea of the Farmer’s Market, where farms and the community come together directly, more creative ideas for saving the industry began to emerge.
In 2002, the Full Moon Coop gathered several small operations and combined them to form an alliance of farmers dedicated to addressing the issues they all faced together. The resulting partnership gave way to collaborative projects including popular ‘farm-to-table’ restaurants Farm 255 in Athens, GA and Farmburger in Atlanta, GA, which provided the farmers with steady business as well as an alternative revenue stream. Some farms such as Gizdich Farms in Watsonville, CA, chose to diversify by expanding into operations such as farm tours, public access for peach or apple picking, or cooking classes using farm fresh ingredients. Others saw a niche in the specialty foods market and began packaging and selling prepared jams and pickles with recipes that had been handed down from generation to generation, capitalizing on demand and helping kick-start another stage of the food revolution.
Making any business work amidst a trying economic climate takes a special level of dedication and strategy. Farms such as those that have mutually fueled and benefitted from the current food revolution have shown that creativity and a willingness to take risks and diversify can pay dividends.