Farm to Fork: First Thoughts

March 11, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I just returned from at the UIC forum a few hours ago. Sadly, I’m home way too early, but I have commitments tonight and was unable to stay for the third session, the networking reception or the closing session.

This was one of those conferences where I would have preferred to be in three places at once. Besides the celebrity appearances (Bill Kurtis hawking his grass-fed beef, Brenda Palms Barber discussing Chicago-made honey, Marc Shulman talking about Eli’s Cheesecake), the halls were filled with people of all walks interested in starting a food- or farm-related company, and investors and consultants with ideas on how they can help these people launch their businesses. One track of sessions focussed on farming and food businesses as a community venture, another one on the food business and a third on farming and how farmers can obtain capital.

Some of my long-standing questions on how anyone can afford to get a farm off the ground were answered. More than ever, it was made obvious to me that a good farmer must be a good businessman (or woman) as much as a caretaker of the land and livestock. “All farmers are managers of change,” said one of the speakers. Whether they manage the change in public taste from conventional to organic to local to seasonal foods, or the natural change from seed to seedling to plant to produce, farmers do not work in a static environment. A slow one, perhaps, but not one that stands still. And in order to make a living, they have to be acutely aware of costs, funding sources and risk. I’ll be writing more on this subject soon.