5 Ways To Support Small Farmers Every Day

Ditch the big chain stores. Support your local food economy to support farmers most in need.

May 2, 2017
A sign saying 'Buy Local' at a farmers market stand

Around April 15th of every year, people fill out their tax forms and maybe hand over a chunk of their earnings to the IRS and their local and state governments. It's a fact of life no one can avoid.

But have you ever thought about the percentage of that tax money that ends up going to farmers? The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has calculated that 77 percent of farm subsidies paid between 1995 and 2014 flowed to the largest 10 percent of subsidy recipients. In other words much of what went to farmers went to the wealthiest and most commerical farmers with the biggest operations. That's $46 billion for 30,000 very large farm operations. The bottom 80 percent of subsidy recipients annually collect less than $10,000, according to EWG. The little guy is struggling.


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While you may never be able to opt out of taxes, you can opt out of supporting big agriculture operations, and do tons to support small farmers in your day-to-day life, says Derek Denckla, chair of the New York City chapter of Slow Money, a national nonprofit committed to increasing investment in local food systems. "The majority of people invest in the stock market, but we want people to invest in their local food system."

Shopping at your farmer's market is a great place to start—but it's far from your only option. "You can think of investing in a variety of different ways," he says, and you don't need thousands of dollars and a stockbroker to start. 

Related: The Coming Agricultural Crisis—And 8 Things You Can Do About It Right Now

Man shopping at farmers market stand
Hero Images/Getty


Shop Locally 

Even if you don't have any extra money lying around, you can invest some of your weekly food budget in a local food business, be that a farmer's market, a locally owned bakery, or a butcher shop that sells regionally raised meats. This kind of "conscientious consumerism" is even as simple as asking your favorite restaurant or grocery store if they use local ingredients.

Join A CSA 

If you have a bit more cash on hand (like, say, an IRS refund), invest it in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. These are investments in their own way, Denckla says, because you're buying shares in a farmer's harvest similar to the way a stockbroker buys shares in a company, only you profit in fresh veggies rather than money (and after all, you can't eat money!). Of course, it can come with similar risks: If some disaster wipes out a farmer's crop, you're still out the money. But the farmer at least has some financial support to rebuild his or her farm for the next season.

Related: A New Twist On CSA Brings Affordable Organic Produce Where It's Most Needed

Bank At A Credit Union 

Big banks lend money to big companies, but small banks and credit unions are more likely to keep their loans close to home. "Move your money into a local credit union, and that allows those lending institutions that are aligned to your values to loan funds to businesses that you care about," Denckla says. You might find a credit union that lends only to food and farming businesses, and some even provide no-interest loans to people who'd like to join a CSA but don't have the $200 to $500 it can cost to buy a share.


Give Local Business A Leg Up

Thanks to sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com, it's easier than ever to invest in local businesses and nonprofits looking to get off the ground or expand their operations. And there's no minimum investment, so you can help out as much as your credit-union account will allow.

Be An "Angel Investor"

This might be an option only for the 5 percent, says Denckla, but "if you have $1,000 to spare, you have the minimum amount to place in funds that have a more direct impact on things you care about." For instance, one small nonprofit called Equity Trust invests in farmland preservation and allows lenders to pick the repayment interest rate, so you can get some return on your investment. Another national group, RSF Social Finance, offers a variety of investment funds that support food and agriculture operations that benefit people locally and regionally. You can find other social-investing opportunities at SlowMoney.org.