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Many Small Farmers Predict Bankruptcy by the End of the Year

As peak harvest season approaches, about a third of small farmers expect that their short-chain food business will not survive to continue production in 2021.
May 27, 2020, 9am PDT | Lee Flannery
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U.S. Department of Agriculture

In an interview with chef and restaurant co-owner Dan Barber, Karen Stabiner examines the state and fate of small farmers, and what consumers can do to support them and reshape U.S. food culture. According to a recent survey of 240 farmers conducted by Barber and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, between 30% and 40% of farmers predict that a potential 50% decrease in sales at restaurants and farmers' markets, and bankruptcy by the end of 2020. 

Alternative means for selling produce like boxes and delivery, while successful in the short-term, won't be a solution in the summer during peak harvest. Farmers can't sustain the volume and pay for the cost of labor, reports Stabiner. If farmers' fears of bankruptcy are realized, many will not recover. "If they’re right, the virus will take out much of a generation and leave the market ripe for takeover by larger operations," writes Stabiner. 

"This is a moment for standing up and digging in for what we want, and not allowing big food to take the market back," Barber says. Right now, that includes calling in all forces to help with the summer harvest, including out of work restaurant employees. Barber's vision includes a redefinition of the 'farm to table' framework where farmers and restaurants work together to prepare the harvest on a local scale. 

Barber reminds consumers to vote with their dollars by supporting local farmers and restaurants that enable this vision of a redefined food culture and find innovative ways to get farmers' food on the table. 

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