How the three little words "farms near me" are the beginning of positive change
As the founder of the For Farmers movement, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how you can be closer to farmers, support them in ways that they can thrive, and get engaged in knowing more and taking action. I have interviewed hundreds of farmers, built a community to support farmers through a twice-yearly grants program, and awarded 26 farmers in 18 states (so far) with mini-grants that help farmers where they say they need it most. Today, I turned to the utmost authority on what you are curious about with regard to farmers. Google.
If you type the word "farm" into your Google search bar, "farms near me" is the most popular search that auto-appears as you type. When you try it yourself in full, you join the other 3.75 BILLION people who have issued this exact three-word query of our most ubiquitous information-providing portal.
"Farms near me" gives you what you're looking for too — a map with pins and associated farms. You can click each and be off on your mission to find a farm. Maybe you want to pick some berries? Or you're looking to take the kids somewhere so some fuzzy alpacas can entertain them? Or maybe your mission is more serious than that? You are determined to source grass-fed beef from a local regenerative farmer. You have your reasons.
No matter the reason, you are well on your way to having a positive impact on the world of farming. Here's how.
Q: Why would I want to find a farm near me?
A: If you want the best food, a local farm is where you want to look. Let's unpack that for a minute. "Best" is subjective at best, but here is what you will find at a local farm:
Fresh food that was not shipped on a plane or in a truck to get to you. Why go halfway around the world when you can find the same item or an amazing seasonal alternative fresher in your own backyard?
A farm near you is going to be smaller than an industrial farm (which would not sell directly to consumers anyway) and that means less pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and less growth hormones. Fewer animals generally equate with more humane treatment.
Here's the main part. You get to talk to your farmer. You get to talk to them about how they grow your food, what their challenges are, what compromises they have had to make and why, as well as how you want it and how and when they can do that for you as a loyal customer.
Q: What can a small farm offer me?
A: A small farm can offer you a voice in what farmers produce that you want. I know a chef who worked with a local lamb farmer to figure out how to get more marbling in the meat, naturally while the lambs are still 100% grass-fed and finished. It took some work but this farmer sells pretty much exclusively to this chef's restaurants. That relationship is more of a two-way street than you may realize.
Being connected with a small farm near you can also offer you an unadulterated and pure experience with one of the most powerful interactions with nature: the one where there's an honest exchange of food and energy. Being close to nature is restorative and having an authentic connection to the land that feeds you can be transformative.
Q: Why are small farms struggling?
A: It's a big long scary list, actually. But let's be practical. Here are three key struggles for small farms that you can do something about:
The competition for small farms with industrial farming is intense. The bigger the farm, the cheaper the production. And consumers are not always clear on the difference between products, how they are made, and why they cost so much or so little.
Small farms need a consistent and loyal customer base and that can be difficult to attract and maintain when the people doing the marketing and sales are also doing the farming.
Infrastructure costs (equipment) and the general cost of doing business (seeds, for instance) have skyrocketed for small farmers (let's go back to that competition with bigger farms point above). And they often need the same equipment as bigger farms do without a team of mechanics to maintain them. Again, the small farmer is wearing all of these hats.
Q: How can I best support small farms?
A: The very best way to support a small farm is by being a loyal customer, end of story. That is what small farmers need most. Customers to come to their farm stands, participate in their you-pick seasons, attend and shop at farmer's markets (here's an exclusive guide for maximizing your experience there), and up the ante by being in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
Other ways include advocating for farmers from a bigger legislative perspective or even supporting local farms on town, county, and state levels.
But mostly, your commitment to vote for small farmers with your own food dollars is key to their success.
Q: What is a CSA and why do I want one?
A: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, but it is basically a subscription program (and in many cases an opportunity to join a community of like-minded people who want to source food from close by and to actively support their farmers). You sign up for a CSA share well before the farming season starts, like in January for instance. The farmer takes your fee and applies it to what they need to make the farm run -- seeds, equipment, inputs, etc. Then they apply their labor and when the produce or eggs or honey or meat are ready for harvest you get a share of it.
When you buy a CSA share you are investing in the farm for a return to come at a later date. It is a vote of faith from you to the farmer. It also gives them operating cash, without which they cannot do their work. It also may prevent them from having to take out a loan or go into debt in order to grow food for you.
Q: What else can I do to help small farms?
A: You can help small farmers in other tangible ways too. You can join the For Farmers Movement to share and learn from farmer stories, help to dispel myths and misconceptions about farmers (especially when you get to know a farmer from interacting with them on a personal level), and you can help direct resources -- such as twice yearly grants -- to small farmers for projects they apply for, ones they know they need most.
You can also tap into your own thinking about farms and farmers and make some key mindset shifts. Here's an article on that.
Q: What else can a small farm do for me?
A: A small farm can contribute to:
improving your personal health and the health of your family,
reducing the energy your food requires in terms of production and transportation,
sequestering carbon through good farming practices, and
girding your local community with economic investment in the area instead of further afield (think local mechanics, ag stores, schools, shoe stores, groceries).
Q: What if Google doesn't show any results for "farms near me?"
A: This is a good indication that there may be a problem in your local area. Perhaps it has not had enough people who are willing to support the efforts of local farmers. Maybe larger area farms have driven them out (potentially inadvertently) because they are able to charge less for their products. But whatever the reason, your area may not have a modern tradition of being a hospitable place to build a small farm business. Building awareness for yourself and for your friends and family is important here.
If fixing that is too daunting, you can still buy direct from a farmer a little further away, still build a relationship with the farmer, and still support small farms and all that they contribute to society. Here are five easy actions to consider as you continue to explore your options. Don't give up. Farmers need you!
The most important takeaway here is that you have the power to influence the agriculture industry. You are already looking for a farm. That farm near you will benefit from your connection to it, from you being a customer, and you will benefit from knowing that farmer, from getting your food straight from the source so you can eat the healthiest food and know all about it. You will not have to ask Google anything else about your farms or your food.
Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.