by Russ Kremer, President, Missouri Farmers Union
Over the last century, America watched its marketplace change from local to
national. Big box stores pushed mom & pop shops aside. Unique local
restaurants fell victim to snazzy corporate chains. Bright lights and catchy
advertising promise convenience and consistency, often at the expense of
nutrition and taste. Bigger became better.
But not so quietly any more, a consumer movement is gaining momentum, and
society is showing trends of coming full circle, back to local markets. More and
more baby boomers -- and their children -- are seeking self-sufficiency and
individualism. That can be as simple as starting a victory garden in the back
yard, or raising chickens that taste like grandma served at Sunday dinner. More
and more folks are retiring to the country, and they're hungering for
information about producing and marketing on a local scale.
Even before America's economic downturn, there was a growing emphasis on a
new sustainable economy that focused on locally based products. Think farmers
Remember the fad of boutique breweries and wineries? Big corporate brands did
their best to swallow up the little fish. Now, there are too many. While sales
of big national brands like Bud and Miller grew by less than two percent in
2007, market share for America's more than 1400 craft brewers grew more than
17%. Today, according to one estimate, one in 15 beers purchased in supermarkets
is a boutique brew. A decade ago, less than 50 wineries dotted Missouri's
landscape. Today, the Missouri Grape & Wine Board lists 84 wineries.
More and more, consumers are breaking the corporate mold, in search of better
quality, better taste, better nutrition. Big city restaurants search for rural
suppliers who produce a healthier brand of meat. It's even happening in the
corporate world, as chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill seek suppliers who raise
hogs and chickens in a more humane environment. The result? Less antibiotics,
better taste, and climbing profits.
As more and more people get back to their roots, they're searching for
"how-to" information. In the past, University Extension provided much of that
information to millions of rural folks. Generations of farm families grew up
raising livestock and crops in 4-H and FFA. Along the way, they learned
leadership, and the importance of sustainable agriculture.
The economic downturn has forced Missouri to look at cutting back services.
The decisions are gutwrenching. But one caution: Now more than ever we need a
strong University Extension program, to assist local production and the growing
An old business rule of thumb says that in tough times, advertise more. In
the same vein, as more and more people return to their roots, and learn lost
arts of self-sufficiency, Missouri will benefit from the 114-county extension
service that provides the knowhow and the "how to."