In New York, Corporate Farms are Failing, Family Farms are Thriving

It turns out that the Covid-19 food distribution disruptions in New York state are hammering large mono-culture farms, while family farms are thriving.

Once again, we see that financializing and corporatizing productive businesses ends up producing narrow and brittle business that cannot function during any significant disruption:

One Wednesday in early March, Abra Morawiec realized something seismic was happening at her farm stand. The month had been pretty quiet at the Feisty Acres table in the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. But that day, at the very start of social distancing, she had sold out of everything by 2 p.m.

“I had to go home three hours early,” Ms. Morawiec said. After wondering whether her small farm on the North Fork of Long Island would survive the pandemic, this was good news.

But the boom for Feisty Acres has coincided with a virtual collapse at large-scale operations like Crescent Duck Farm, also based on Long Island. In operation for more than a century, Crescent produces a million ducks a year — about 4 percent of the industry total — and was the supplier of choice for fine-dining restaurants in New York, including Jean-Georges and the River Cafe. Those restaurants are closed now, and Crescent has been forced to lay off 80 percent of its workers.

When the lockdown came to the metropolitan area, the earth shifted under New York’s farm-to-table supply chain. All farms are reckoning with the disappearance of the restaurant market and the logistics of getting food directly to consumers. But the agricultural landscape has completely reversed.

Farms with a single crop meant for use in restaurants, like microgreens or edible flowers, face disaster, while those with diverse offerings (and especially root vegetables) have become bulwarks of the social order. After decades of struggle to prove they are sustainable businesses, small farms seem to be flourishing, while factory farms, in many cases, find themselves too big to pivot.

Our corporate just in time economy is never going to support us when things go pear shaped.

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