Small Farmers Create Jobs. Here's Why.

RAFI USA farmer jobs photoRAFI-USA/Screen capture

Yesterday I referenced the incredible job creating potential of local foods, using it as a starting point to rant against the nonsense accusations of elitism that are often leveled at the locavore foodie crowd. Those musings went off on some tangents, covering everything from anti-Volt distortions to the tax dodging, job killing mischief of the true elite. But that opening observation is worth a post in itself—because investing in local food really does create an awful lot of jobs.

The Real Job Creators Grow Food
We already know that investing in farmers' markets creates thousands of jobs, but a blog post over at RAFI-USA [Disclosure: RAFI are a one-time client of mine] reminds us that other types of investment and support for small family farmers can pay extraordinary dividends for the wider community.

The Perennial Plate farmer dinner 2 photoThe Perennial Plate/Video screen capture

Small Grants Return Huge Dividends
Through its Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund (a program that helps tobacco farmers transition to sustainable, diversified agriculture) RAFI has been making small grants—averaging $10,000—to family farmers who are modeling new ways of making a living off their land.

And researchers at University of North Carolina at Greensboro have shown that each grant created an average of 11 new jobs; each dollar spent resulted in $205 new dollars of economic activity in the state within one year; and, in total, the program awarded $3.6 million in three years to 367 farmers, created 4,100 new jobs, and had an economic impact of more than $733 million.

But what's more interesting than these numbers in themselves, I think, is RAFI's observation as to why local farmers are such a good investment for economic development:

Why does it work? We believe it’s because farmers know their business, know their communities, and have a lot at stake. They already have equipment, buildings, land, and expertise that they can re-purpose. And there’s another benefit for rural economies: family farmers don’t pick up and move overseas.

The farmers in our program demonstrate that a little assistance can have a big impact. So when it comes down to evaluating the importance of local and regional food systems and the programs that support them, we think jobs are a great place to start. If you want to have a big impact on the economies of rural communities, it’s hard to find a better bet than a family farmer.

So next time your local elected representatives start to talk about tax breaks for an incoming multinational or big box store, suggest to them they may want to start looking closer to home. The real job creators live next door—and they are probably driving a John Deere.

Small Farmers Create Jobs. Here's Why.
Research shows that small investments in local food systems can reap incredible returns, creating jobs and building resilient communities.

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