Why farmers markets and federal programs that support them are vital to our ranch
In 2008 my dad gave his children a choice: take up the family ranching business or risk losing the Winters-Wall Ranch, located outside of Brady, Texas. Our family has been ranching the land since 1875, a year before McCulloch County was organized, and we weren’t going to be the generation that walked away from the land. So my husband George and I threw our hats in the ring.
Our ranch’s longevity is due in large part to a belief that in order to make it in agriculture, you can’t stop innovating. When we took over the ranch, George and I began an active breeding program to cross the ranch’s stock of Angus cattle, with prized full-blood Wagyu and are working to convert our herd to 100% Wagyu. We also decided to take the ranch in a new direction by selling our beef directly to consumers at farmers markets in addition to marketing live animals rather than relying entirely on commercial cattle markets.
Much of the farm bill debate in this part of the country has rightly been focused on low commodity prices and the impact that these prices are having on communities that rely on strong cotton, wheat, and corn markets. However, Congress shouldn’t neglect the 167,000 farmers and ranchers who market their products directly to consumers. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this market now stands at $8.7 billion and has helped many family operations weather (or even grow) in the current agricultural recession.
We started selling our beef at farmers markets in 2011. In 2015, Texas Farmers Markets, which runs two farmers markets in Austin, was awarded a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to help grow the market for foods produced in Central Texas. Both markets also accept Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits.
The next year our revenue was up 34% and we saw continued growth in 2017. The ability to market our beef directly to consumers through farmers markets is critical to our business and has allowed us to achieve a higher net income and have more control over the financial and operational status of the Ranch. Without the consumer base created by farmers markets, we would still be dependent on the highly variable commodities markets and reliant on an ever-growing number middle-men.
Farmers markets have given us the freedom to produce high-quality food offered at a fair price and hang onto our family ranch for another generation. It’s imperative that Congress maintain and expand support for programs like the Farmers Market Promotion Program which have a proven track record growing markets for local farmers and ranchers.