Fresh & Local
Want to Make More Than a Banker?
Column #37, Published June 1st, 2012

There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.

I mentioned this before, but when Terry and I decided to farm full time, my mother-in-law was sure we had taken leave of our senses. But she keeps sending me articles that she cuts out of newspapers and magazines. Definitely mixed messages. A while ago, she sent me the cover story from an issue of Time magazine titled, “Want to Make More Than a Banker? Become a Farmer!” I was really shocked. I didn’t realize that Time magazine was still being published.

The title of the article was intriguing. The article itself was not. Some investment advisor that I have never heard of, is predicting that farm incomes will rise dramatically in the next few decades – faster than most other industries and even Wall Street. At a time when the overall economy is limping along at an anemic 1.9%, net farm income jumped 27% in 2010, and is expected to jump another 20% in 2011.

If you are a reporter for Time, apparently the only farming you know about is mid-west grain farming. The rest of the article was antidotal stories from Grand Island, Nebraska. Locally grown food did not even get a mention in the article.

Yes, corn farmers are doing well right now because of the ethanol mandate. But that is only part of the story. Time magazine hyped their cover headline and then missed the rest of the story.

If farmers are making more money than bankers, perhaps it is because so many banks are losing money. JPMorgan Chase just lost $2 billion trading credit derivatives. And you have likely heard about the financial debacle that Bank of America’s purchase of Countrywide Mortgage has turned into. Compared to these banks, farming looks pretty attractive.

But the rest of the story that Time missed is the revolution in locally grown agriculture. As I wrote two weeks ago, acreage is no longer the key. Intensity is the key, and if you can get big yields from small acreages, then a large acreage is no longer a requirement. Intensity now opens the door to a new world of possibilities.

I believe the record for intensive locally grown agriculture was set by a guy named Michael Norton and his Kona Kai Farms in Berkeley, California who in his best year, 1990, grossed $238,000 growing baby salad greens for restaurants off of four tenths of an acre. That is intensive agriculture.

If you are interested in just how Michael did it, someone has put a ten minute video out on YouTube. Just search for the words “Michael Norton Berkeley.”

The downside of Michael Norton is his other business. He was accused of selling over 3 million pounds of fake Hawaiian Kona coffee. He ultimately pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion and was sentenced to 30 months in jail. He is not mentioned very much anymore even though his Kona Kai Farms achievement was remarkable.

Time magazine hyped the title of their article, but it is true that farm incomes are rising even during this stalled economic recovery. It is also true that there is now a world of possibilities in agriculture that did not exist even five years ago.

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at