Green Living: Small farmers wear a lot of hats

Mon Sep 15, 2008 12:35pm EDT
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By Nick Rosen

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Matt Gerald starts work at 4:30 a.m. on days when he has a farmer's market. Other days he sleeps in until as late as oooh...5:30 a.m.

Gerald runs a small organic flower farm in Bar Harbor in the U.S. state of Maine with just one full-time assistant. He sells some 17,000 lilies and 9,000 tulips a year, and also manages two of Maine's 77 farmer's markets.

The East Coast State has a disproportionately high percentage of the 4,385 farmer's markets (USDA, 2006) in total in the United States.

Farmers like Gerald tend to sell nearly 20 percent of their goods through farmer's markets, said Davis Taylor, Professor of Economics at Maine's College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. But not many of them also manage farmer's markets as an additional income stream.

"I usually work until about five in the evening, setting aside about one hour a day for yoga practice or contemplation," said Gerald who is currently building himself an eco-home in the little spare time he has left.

"The first 10 years of farming I strove to grow more and more with as much diversity as possible. The second 10 years I've tried to streamline the operation as much as possible, sticking to crops I know well. I'm learning to grow less more efficiently. My annual gross has decreased and I have fatter pockets in the fall."

Gerald has "a pretty good business," Taylor said. "For small organic farmers cut flowers is likely the most profitable revenue producer."

Like many farmers, Gerald has to wear so many hats he gets confused sometimes - planner, buyer, planter, grower, marketer, vendor. But it has its compensations.   Continued...

<p>Workers at an organic farm at Dezevci, eastern Croatia, May 27, 2008. REUTERS/Nikola Solic</p>