DIY vs Commercial Farming

Gardening is a 7 billion dollar industry in the US with about half of that accounting for the cultivation of stuff someone would like to eat. If this produce is then sold, is it still just “gardening”?

We know a lot about the purchase of seed, fertilizer, soil mixes, starter plants, tools, and such, but unlike large-scale corporate farming, we know very little about various distributions of produce that have always existed downstream of garden supply sales. I don’t mean the ridiculously huge zucchinis that get left on neighbors’ porches every summer because what else are you going to do with them. For every ton of baseball bat sized squashes grown each year, approximately 4 loaves of zucchini bread are actually baked. The rest becomes compost.

I am referring to people who maintain a booth at a farmers’ market or even in front of their homes selling fruit, vegetables, and herbs that are grown on a small plot out back or in a community garden. And now we should include micro and leafy greens grown hydroponically in a grow room. Even when these sales are more formal than cash or barter transactions, they are not clearly represented in major industry surveys.

Sometimes a thing becomes something else simply by changing its name. If Joe grows fantastic Nardello peppers on a ¼ acre of his back yard and eats them all himself, you would be right to say that he is an avid gardener and enjoys eating what he grows. But if he sells all his Nardello peppers at a local weekend market, he becomes Farmer Joe, or more accurately, Micro-Farmer Joe. The peppers don’t care who eats them; nor do the garden supply companies as they are pretty much only care about the potential for another ¼ acre of land being used to consume their products.

The ones who do care that Gardener Joe became Micro-Farmer Joe are local chefs and foodies who are ecstatic that they now have a source of fresh Nardello peppers that are otherwise not available at their local grocery stores. And when everyone gets bored with Nardello peppers and begins clamoring for Corno di Toro peppers, Micro-Farmer Joe picks up on this trend shift and starts growing Corno di Toro peppers, JUST LIKE BIG-TIME COMMERCIAL FARMERS.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, New York City requires anyone producing and then selling any kind of food products to have one or more types of license or permit to do so legally, even if you just want to sell your terrace grown tomatoes at a vegetable stand on the corner. Local Law 2018/046, enacted in January aims to simplify licensing for gardeners-turned-micro-farmers and we have every reason to believe it will be an effective program. Several other cities in the US have already established ordinances that specifically encourage micro-farming by streamlining land-use regulations, processing requirements, and sales permits.

And unlike large-scale commercial farmers, it is very easy for Micro-Farmer Joe to go back to being Gardener Joe and just grow what he, and maybe some of his friends and neighbors, will eat without money ever being involved (except maybe a bet on who can grow the ugliest gourd). That would be too bad for the more creative chefs in town who love having a regular supply of fresh and unusual ingredients. But then another micro-farmer will pick up their business.

This is the beauty of distributed agriculture. The production of much of the produce we buy, or would buy if it was available, can scale very differently than staple crops like wheat and corn. A great example is with herbs: a micro-farmer can justify offering loose herbs or small bundles of a greater variety than larger operations which have to ship bigger bundles or expensively packaged herbs to cover production costs that are only suited to high volume operations. I hate having to buy mint either by the fistful or in a couple of overpriced tiny plastic packs when I just want enough to make a few mojitos. A micro-farmer growing several different herbs and harvesting them with little or no support labor can more easily afford to customize quantities and not worry about how they will ship.

At first glance, micro-farming can look like little more than a new label on an old practice, but hydroponics, advanced greenhouse equipment, and serious urban agriculture efforts dramatically expanded its potential and continue to change how many of us buy produce – or grow our own food.

Ponix MicroAg pPods™ will provide an ideal intermediate environment for both gardeners and micro-farmers. We get consistently positive responses from people who want pPods for growing herbs on balconies in New York, starting plants before the end of winter everywhere from Boston to Peoria to Sacramento, establishing more mature plants for micro-farms in Atlanta, growing micro-greens on a deck in Seattle, or keeping a favorite patio plant safe through frosty winter nights in North Carolina. We are excited about providing a versatile option for growing all kinds of plants for multiple purposes and look forward to what Micro-Farmer Joe grows in his pPods!