Schierwagon emphasizes benefits of small-scale farming in local economies
Riverton – The popularity of small-scale farming operations may be no surprise when Wyomingites consider the growing demand for local, fresh produce, according to one member of Fremont County’s Master Gardeners.
Fremont County Master Gardeners President Ernie Schierwagon addressed attendees of the Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days, held in Riverton Feb. 6-7.
He focused on the benefits of small-scale farming, as well as the laws surrounding the practices.
Defining small scale
“Nailing down who and what is a small-scale farmer can be really difficult,” said Shierwagon. “For example, a guy with a 100-acre farm is small in comparison to someone farming 1,000 acres but is large in comparison to someone with a backyard garden on a single acre.”
He explained, it can be much easier to define small-scale farmers as those who don’t make a living selling their products.
“In many of the small-scale farming operations I’ve dealt with, the person has a job in town to provide a majority of their income and other benefits such as insurance.”
“I’ve always considered myself a gardener,” Shierwagon said. “But with the rising popularity of selling locally produced, small-scale produce, maybe I am a farmer.”
“Since the post-World War II era, farming has become increasingly large scale,” Shierwagon explained. “We seem to be backpedaling on that as the demand for locally grown products grows.”
“People are really looking for products that are less processed overall and spend less time in transit,” he said. “The local, small farmers have the benefit of selling their products within a day or two of harvest.”
Shierwagon commented one of the biggest advantages of small-scale farming is keeping money within the local economy. When consumers shop at larger grocery store chains, the producers could be from anywhere in the world.
“When people purchase products from these local producers, it keeps the money in the local economy,” he said. “We have the benefit of knowing exactly where the money spent is going.”
For producers, small-scale farming is significantly less expensive to start, requires very little equipment and is far less regulated than traditional, large-scale farming.
“For starters, the equipment most small-scale farms would need is smaller in general and can be purchased used and with decent quality,” according to Shierwagon.
Shierwagon noted producers could even use a two-wheel tractor as opposed to a much larger, more expensive machine.
Most small-scale farm activities fall under the 2015 Food Freedom Act in Wyoming. The most lenient in the country, this act removed much of the licensure required for selling food products such as raw milk and eggs.
The intent of the law, as stated in the bill, is to allow more flexibility for farmers, ranchers and producers to sell their products to local consumers.
The goals are to provide consumers in Wyoming “unimpeded access to local foods from known sources,” reads the Act.
The law, however, does restrict the sale of meat products, excluding poultry. Only raw, unprocessed fruits and vegetables may be sold to commercial operations, such as restaurants.
“A good example of this law is someone could sell their homemade jam in a farmers’ market to an individual but not to a restaurant to be sold again,” said Shierwagon. “A producer, however, could sell their raw vegetables to a local restaurant to use with no issue.”
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.