Serious Cheese: Why Are Farms So Big?
On Tuesdays, Jamie Forrest (CurdNerds.com) drops by for some Serious Cheese talk.
The answer, according to a recent study from the University of Minnesota, lies in the slim ratio between agricultural revenues and today's cost of living. The authors of the study found that it takes $74,804 in annual revenues to support a Minnesotan farm family of 3.4 people. This amounts to a herd of 127 dairy cows (where each cow earns a little less than $600 a year on average).
By comparison, Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont has only 37 cows. And ten years ago the average U.S. farm had only 80 cows on it. Simply put, the cost of living has far outpaced the price of food in the last 20 years or so.
But what does this all mean for cheese freaks like you and me?
Small farms can do what large farms can't—allow their animals to graze on fresh grass, produce clean raw (unpasteurized) milk, and monitor more closely the small batches of cheese they produce. All of these practices are crucial in creating better-tasting cheeses, as well as being better for the cows and the environment.
It is unlikely that this trend will reverse any time soon; the cost of living continues to increase even in this recessionary economy while agricultural profits continue to grow slower than inflation as industrial processes continue their march toward efficiency. I can imagine a time when the world's population will be so great that demand for food will cause prices to skyrocket. But in that case you also have to assume that the cost of living will increase just as quickly.
Let's just hope that small-scale cheesemakers like Jasper Hill continue to buck trends and produce some of the greatest cheeses in the world.