Friday, March 18, 2016

A Niche is Enough

each one of these misses the mark

I’m here to tell you that when you tell people you’re a farmer…they have certain expectations. They see something specific in their mind’s eye.

And, most of the time…we’re not it.

Google "farm equipment"
Some of this stuff is this size of our HOUSE

Our operation is too small, our equipment too old, and our ways of doing things a little too “old school”.

our tractor has been described as "cute and little"

And, NOBODY seems to believe us that you can make a living at the Farmers’ Market.

Because that’s just a niche…

“Real” farmers do it differently. Maybe kind of like this…

Don’t get me wrong. It’s totally cool. Awesome. Amazing. And, yes, I would like to harvest carrots like that. BUT…

We live on twelve acres of hill.

Rocky hill.

Equipment like that was made for large, flat fields. Something the Valley, or at least our part, is sorely lacking. That’s one reason that the big farm equipment manufacturers all migrated to the Midwest years ago.

And, we gave up growing carrots years ago.

But, carrots and other crops MUST be grown in huge quantities to meet the needs of the eaters in this country and around the world. Somebody needs to do it. It just won't be us.

We will never feed the world…we will never be a big operation. And, in some folks’ eyes we will never be REAL farmers.

But, that’s okay.

potato planter

potato planter
Our little hilly farm suits us. We make it work. Our Farmers’ Market business suits us. We make that work, too.

But, you cannot imagine how many times I’ve heard “well, that’s just a niche market!”

Often this is said in a disparaging tone in a way to imply that what we do doesn’t count...or that we aren’t REAL farmers since we don’t have massive equipment and a huge amount of land. And the suggestion has been made that our only reason for survival is exorbitant prices.

That used to really bother me. Ok, it still does. It sounds so derisive and judgmental. And the comment about prices is just wrong.

But, the fact is people are just judgmental and that makes for divisive opinions. (I include myself in this statement)

However, we faced the single hardest thing we have ever faced in our lives, and in spite of the hurt and heartache, and unforeseen obstacles, we owned the situation and made a success of things.

For 19 years now.

No, we will never be a BIG operation, but that’s okay.

                        A niche is enough.

The word niche can mean

 the position or function of an organism in a community of plants and animals.
…a place or position suitable or appropriate for a person or thing.”


This is the place, and the method and the market that works for us. It’s suitable and appropriate.

While the above definition might not necessarily support me on this one, the whole niche market discussion makes me think of a log cabin with chinking between the logs. While you can create a log home without chinking, without filling all those crevices and cracks…it certainly is nicer for having those little spaces filled on a cold, windy night.

The food system in this country is not unlike that log cabin example. While the big farms and corporations supply the foundation of the food supply, there are still a few gaps that can be filled. And, while it is possible to get along without the products of the small farmers filling the niches...they do provide some tasty fare.

all grown on the hill

So, if the products put forth by the niche markets are so wonderful, then shouldn’t they look to expand and grow and make those products available to everyone?  Isn’t it everyone’s goal to get bigger and better and take over more of the market share?

You need to go back to read the definition of NICHE. “The position or function of an organism in a community…A place or position suitable or appropriate for a person or thing.” To function in a community, each has his/her own place and role to fill. There are a lot of places, and a lot of roles to fill, not one of them exactly the same. And, that’s good. Limited quantities and seasonal availability make certain products special. By trying to replicate the products on a large scale, you lose the unique qualities that made them desirable in the first place.

It would never be our intention to replace or even repair the current system, but to complement it…and fill in the gaps.

We’re in our place. Our suitable place.

We will never be big or impressive. We will never command attention or accolades. We don’t think we have all the answers or that our way is the only way.  It would be wrong to suggest that everyone (or anyone) should want to emulate us.

But,we’re in our place. Our suitable place.


                                      Our niche is enough!

autumn Market morning


1 comment:

  1. Very well said Barbara - and many congratulations on saying it. Long may you prosper. You are both happy and fulfilled - the only two things that really matter.