Richard writes about the need to make all work creative, but he’s generally talking about the manufacturing or service industries. However, America’s declining agricultural sector is making a comeback in many areas, largely because of the creative class on both the producing and consuming ends.
In many cities, close-in farms are switching to organic methods and raising a wider variety of crops to sell at farmer’s markets, co-ops, or natural food stores. Some large producers are profitably making this switch but much of the growth is small family farms, many run by immigrants. As consumers’ preferences move beyond just organic to buying local, the smaller close-in farms start to have an advantage. And even in recessionary times, growers selling at farmer’s markets can price competitively.
The creative class component on the consumer end is obvious, the demographics for both Whole Foods and farmer’s markets lean toward creatives. Both “exotic” (bok choy) and “heritage” (beefsteak tomatoes) produce are popular with creatives, although the heritage also has an attraction to the farmer’s market bargain shoppers who remember their parents’ gardens.
On the other side of the equation, producers are also increasingly creative in their approach. I got to thinking about this the other day when a friend had a piece on a NY Times blog about his brandy business, which was launched partly to market the pears from his family orchards.
In this story he mentions the growth of local cheeses, wines, and other products which have taken underperforming crops and made them profitable products. Another friend who used to have a Bonsai business outside Boston would come to Oregon to buy nursery stock. There are undoubtedly thousands of examples, each one showing creative thinking in this oldest of industries.
One often mentioned but little analyzed aspect of Obama’s budget is the cuts to agricultural subsidies for farms with annual sales of over $500,000. Like the tax breaks for the rich, these benefit only the top 5 percent of farms and have contributed to the growth of agribusiness and squeezing out of family farms. While the political future of this proposal is uncertain, it might cause “rent-seeking” corporations to leave farming and open the field for the little guys, who are agriculture’s creative entrepreneurs.