At a panel I moderated yesterday for Woman Chefs and Restaurateurs, Jim Crawford, an organic vegetable farmer in south-central Pennsylvania, made an interesting point.
He said growing crops organically did not add to cost on the farm -- what added to cost was location, since smaller eastern farmers have four disadvantages compared with produce farmers on the West Coast.
- First, economies of scale. Since eastern farmers operate on a smaller scale they cannot match the cost advantages of larger operations.
- Secondly, labor costs. His costs are higher than on the West Coast, where labor is often outsourced to crews of migrant workers.
- Third, seasonality. Since the growing season is shorter, he can't get as much productivity out of his land as a California operation producing 10 months or more a year.
- Fourth, weather. He marveled that one strawberry farmer in California told him it hardly if ever rained during the growing season. A couple of heavy rain storms on Jim's strawberries fields and they might be lost to plant disease.
That said, he noted that Tuscarora Organic Growers -- the farm co-op he helped start 20 years ago and which now has over 30-farm members -- was making strides in extending production into the winter months, especially with greens. It's doing nearly $3 million in sales in the mid-Atlantic region.
- Samuel Fromartz