20 years ago a friend bought me a book “small is still beautiful” by Joseph Pearce which is a fresh look at the concepts of EF Schumacher and his book “small is beautiful ” written 25 years before. This after I had been loudly (and very eloquently, I’m sure) ranting about the evils of globalization and capitalism at a dinner party.
It’s a daunting and haunting read (especially if you read it now) and cemented my belief that when systems become too big something dies. People, I believe, need to feel a connection to their world and the bigger something gets the more removed people feel and the more disengaged they become. Be it politics, education, policing and the justice system or where their food comes from. I think if people have a sense of autonomy over their lives they are engaged, fulfilled and happy humans. I also believe there is a knock on effect of feeling a greater sense of responsibility to their communities and environment. The longer the supply chain the more people can pretend that a. bad things aren’t happening or b. it’s got nothing to do with them.
When we were looking to strike out on our own farming I had various scenarios thrust at me. It seemed we would need to outlay a great deal to get us into the game. It also seemed to me that as soon as the banks got involved you’re put on a merry go round that is then very hard to get off. You are given to the Ag department of the bank where they have requirements for you to show them your fert and spray forecasts so they can plug you into their programs and get out your projected yields and therefore cash flow (I won’t say profit margins). I know people who have gone to the bank but when they present an organic or regenerative proposal the banks won’t look at it as the business doesn’t fit into any of their modeling.
Once you get onto this treadmill it’s hard to step off, the pace of conventional farming is fast as it’s a generally adhered to rule that if you don’t do it quickly you can’t make any money.
It also seems to be an accepted norm that you can’t make any money unless you have economies of scale. Everything needs to be bigger and faster. But I always came back to this feeling that the bigger the farm and the debt the more unwieldy it became, much harder to maneuver and you’re almost carried along by the current of the systems you supply into. I don’t like those systems, they leave a bad taste in my mouth and I believe they are why our environment is in the state it’s in. The other consideration is that small thing called climate change, we’re constantly being told we have too many animals on the planet burping and farting.
Slowly, I began to build my business model around these questions:
- What if we started the business so small so we don’t need to borrow any money?
- What risks would we take if we’re only answerable to ourselves?
- What if its small size was its superpower, allowing us to change or alter our direction quickly as we learnt?
- What if everything was slower, gentler and when you slaughtered the animal you got more out of it?
- What if we sell directly to people and set our own prices freeing us from the volatility of the global market?
- What if we took something considered a byproduct and turned it into something premium with our care and growing method?
- What if our environmental impact was positive?
It quickly became apparent to me that what I wanted to do would be laughed off the table (by being laughed off the table when spoke of what i wanted to do)
“a nice idea but not business minded” I was a “bleeding heart” a ”greenie’ a’ ‘bloody hippie” and these things, apparently don’t blend well with business or farming.
Yes I wanted to treat the animals respectfully and not harm the environment in the process (tree hugger) but fundamentally I saw a viable, profitable business offering a small, local market a quality product. Selling direct to customers, cutting out the supply chain and being able to set your own prices instead of having “the market” dictate them to you, seemed much more business savvy to me than the uncontrollable (by the primary producer at least) rollercoaster which seems to be the alternative.
And so a Complete Cow was quietly born into existence. 12 calves hand reared by me in my “spare” time and quietly grazed on snippets of land. With a goal to provide an income for our family while supplying a local community of people that we build around us giving them food security and a connection to their food and us as much business security as you can muster in this day and age farming.
Small IS beautiful and it’s our superpower