Boxcar Farm

Small scale farming

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Avrum Katz, Sufi poet
Kristen Davenport Katz

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Avrum, at market, 2005 (lovely amaranth bouquet, huh?)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, garlic is worth about 50 cents a pound to a garlic farmer.

At the farmer's market in Santa Fe, we get $5 a pound.

A farmer who grows acres of garlic (like, say, in Gilroy) definitely gets less for his product. So he has to grow more to make more, and you end up with problems like they've got in Gilroy, where mono-cropping has created a festering disease problem. They can hardly grow garlic in Gilroy anymore-- too much disease spread by too many acres of the same thing.

We have the luxury of a three-year crop rotation, organic practices, cover crops -- and when it's braided, we sell our garlic for $8 a pound. Every year we get one or two bulbs with a bit of rot, but otherwise, we have no garlic disease.

In the age of the dwindling family farm, farmer's markets are a wonderful thing. Since day one, we’ve turned a profit on our farm – even when Kristen overspends on lily bulbs.

The statistics here are interesting. On the one hand, on a national level, the family farm is basically disappearing. In 1900, there were 5.7 million farms and nearly 40 percent of the American population were farmers. Today, there are 2.1 million farms in the United States and only one percent of the population farm for a living. And yet, there are more acres under cultivation.

On the other hand, farmer’s markets are a booming business. Articles in the New York Times have chronicled the rise of farmer’s markets. People are paying more attention to where their food comes from, and who’s growing it. There are an estimated 3,700 farmers’ markets today, an increase of 110 percent since 1994.

Still, the consolidation of farmland continues, and our society can do more to support small-scale farmers.

The same thing is happening elsewhere in our society. In Kristen's other industry, newspapers, there are only small pockets of family-owned newspapers remaining, too. Knight Ridder owns half of them, and Gannett owns the rest. Time Warner owns all the magazines, and half the Internet. There are still just as many newspapers (and farms, even) as there used to be -- it's just that one big brother owns them all.

When you get a situation like that, you start losing the diversity of crops that humans used to grow. Or, in the case of newspapers, you start losing some diversity of thought when it comes to coverage and design and what types of reporters to hire and all those things that effect the tone of the front page..

Organizations like Seed Savers Exchange (of which we are happy members) work hard to reverse the damage done by decades of consolidation of crops and hybridizing. They save Grandpa Ott’s morning glories, and funny banana melons, and special lettuces from Poland.

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Avrum at market, Aug. 2005

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Kristen, Ella and the Garlic Grandad, 2003

We believe farmer’s markets are contributing to a renaissance of heirloom vegetables and fruits. At our market (which, granted, is pretty upscale), specialty items like heirloom tomatoes and heirloom garlics sell much better than the run-of-the-mill stuff.

Another thing we've discovered, selling at farmers markets for nearly 10 years: It's all in the display.

You can have a table full of products one week, displayed poorly, and make $20 at market. The next week, rearrange your display, add some signs, and you make $200 with the exact same product you had the week before.

Avrum and his mom built our garlic display, which is a fantastic way to show off our braids (or "ropes" as some people call them).

We sell most of our garlic in braids, although we do set aside some as "bulk" garlic which we sell for $5 a pound (yes, this is the going rate at our market). We ask even more when it's braided. Another local farmer wandered by our stand the other day, saw the garlic braids, and made a true-to-style snotty comment, "Gosh, it looks like someone has too much time on her hands."

When he was informed of our price-per-pound for the braided garlic (and that we sell out in only a few weeks), he shut up pretty quick.

The trick is to find the right balance -- the amount of garlic we can still handle ourselves (or with a single teenaged employee), but enough to start to really bring in the money.

Kristen has been writing a series of articles for the Santa Fe New Mexican on the growers at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market. Some of them are making a living while others are just farming as a hobby – many are just barely scraping by.

Despite its elevation at 8,000 feet, our new farm is a better spot for growing many things than where we are right now. Our plan right now calls for a full acre of garlic, a full acre of raspberries and strawberries, an acre of cut flowers, an acre of orchard fruit, and an acre of other vegetables (mostly cold-climate things like asparagus, rhubarb, root crops, lettuces and sugar snap peas).

We think we can make a good chunk of our income – if not our whole income – from farming in about three years’ time. But Avrum won’t be quitting his day job. At least not quite yet.

 

 

The government's numbers on dwindling family farms

Here's an interesting article on farm statistics:

Some statistics on small farms and ag demographics:

This year's sunflowers

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Here are a few links to organizations that support small scale farmers and sustainable agriculture.
 
 

National Family Farm Coalition

Family Farm Defenders: Great info

Local Harvest

National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture

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Blog from the High Country
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Visit Kristen's farm blog

We still pick up snail mail at:
The KATZ Family * PO BOX 20 * Llano, NM 87543
 

Send us e-mail.