The classic story of the farmer is that of the guy who is working 20-hour days doing hard manual labor only to struggle to make ends meet. That’s not the case these days, and there’s one word that can explain why: organic. Just do a price comparison of organic and conventional produce. Some shoppers are willing to pay that extra $3 for a tomato if they think it’s healthier and more delicious, and farmers are finally picking up on the buzz word.
Perhaps in the past farmers lacked the entrepreneurial spirit needed to work in conjunction with their green thumbs, but today, the organic food market is giving them a second chance. New generations of small organic farms are popping up and they are ready to capitalize on the organic craze. None of them would claim they choose organic for the money instead of for health-conscious reasons, but they won’t turn up their noses at the pay-off either.
The Rise of Organic Foods
Retail sales of organic foods have risen from $3.6 billion in 1997 to more than $20 billion today, and the numbers don’t show any sign of tapering off. Supermarkets have developed private-label organic foods, and a wider range of customers are buying organic food. No longer is it just hippies and bohemians who are darkening the doors of health food stores, but general consumers are beginning to buy into the idea that organic foods and supplements can help with ailments they haven’t been able to address with regular medicine. While 2008 saw organic farmers struggling to keep up with the demand for organic food, today, they are catching up and marketing their niche products, which are slowly becoming less niche and more standard as the years go by.
The Rise of Business-Training Programs for Farmers
BizLaunch and FarmSmart are just two examples of programs that have developed in order to help farmers learn better business skills. Here’s what farmers are learning at these “schools”:
- You need an online presence
- You need to market
- You need to foster business relationships with volunteers, customers, and partners
- You need to be able to determine cost-benefits analysis and deice when a sales opportunity is or isn’t worth h the energy output and cost associated with it
Is Organic Food Really Better or Is it Simply a Market Trend?
British economist Roger Cohen wrote a New York Times op-ed criticizing organic food as nothing more than an “effective form of premium branding.” Likewise, a Stanford study showed that organic foods “have no significant advantage over conventional foods, even though consumers pay more for them.” But what about the FDA’s studies that show the levels of pesticides found in organic fruit and vegetables are significantly lower than those in conventionally grown foods? And even if the two kinds of food have similar nutritional value, what about the argument that organic food tastes better?
Whether or not the word “organic” is nothing more than a million-dollar word, the trend continues in spite of detractors. Consumers think of organic produce as more natural and pure, and farmers are stepping up to the plate to provide.