Sheltowee Outpost

The Overlooked Entrepreneur

The Overlooked Entrepreneur

Jul 21 2014

I have defined entrepreneur, (one who assumes the risk), but let's really look at what an entrepreneur is.  "Entrepreneur" has become a widely used term in pop culture.  And it generally refers to that young kid that came up with an internet idea and hit it big.  And I mean no disrespect to that culture.  They are doing amazing things and driving amazing technological innovations.  Unfortunately community leaders have come to expect that this is what an "entrepreneur" is and when they develop programs and try to create a culture for entrepreneurism, it is this class of entrepreneur they have in mind.

I am going to tell you about the most important class of entrepreneurs that we have.  Can you tell me what the one absolutely essential profession is in the world?  Not the oldest profession, but the most important.  Give up.  It is the farmer.  And the farmer epitomizes the entrepreneur.  Having grown up in farming country in rural Kentucky and rural Michigan, and coming from a heritage of small farmers, I have a tremendous respect and admiration for the family farmer.  The fact of the matter is, is that none of us eat, if the community of farmers do not do their jobs. 

When you think of the word "entrepreneur", does the farmer come to mind?  Probably not, and I think this is a problem.  I think that the American family farmer is so over looked and undervalued, that it is shameful.  Today we think that our meat comes naturally in cellophane and plastic wrap.  We absolutely forget about the individuals that raise and care for the animals that produce our meat.  In my opinion this is an unrecognized and underutilized asset.  Farmers assume a risk each year.  They are dependent upon the weather and upon the commodity prices.  If it doesn't rain, they lose money.  If it rains too much they lose money.  And if the  weather is just perfect across the country (or across the world), the prices go down because of the abundance of their crops. 

So we have identified this resource now.  How is it that we leverage that asset?  Farmers are usually good at farming.  They are decent at business, and often times horrible at marketing.  They have neither the time nor the interest in marketing their products.  And often times the ones that identify that this is an issue are bureaucrats or individuals who do not have the necessary skills to help them.  This is not to say that there are not great programs that have helped farmers that have been sponsored by local and state governments, but I think that more needs to be done.  There needs to be a coordination between true business people (people who just know how to make money) and people who know how to grow things.  Below are some of the key areas that I think could really leverage the power of the family farmer.

  1. Better communication- an organization that is purely focused on the "business of farming".  With the technology that is available today, a central portal should be available that provides the information that farmers need.  Who is buying what?  What different purchasing groups would like to be able to purchase? This needs a regional scope, but a national presence.  Each market should have a portal that helps identify the opportunities for selling their products.
  2. Education- This goes along with the communication.  But we need to be sure that the agricultural community understands the resources and tools that are available.  The technology that is being applied to agriculture is doing amazing things.  We need to make sure that the agricultural community is aware of what technology is available.
  3. Recognition by local governments of the importance of the farmer- It is my experience that local economic development groups often overlook family farmers.  There are several reasons for this, including the fierce independence of the American farmer.  It is hard to unite them and be able to position them as a true asset to the community.  It is much easier to chase big companies that can post up big numbers of jobs, than to try to heard a group of cats and demonstrate economic impact. 

 

These are fairly broad strokes, but I absolutely believe that by joining farmers together, and providing the recognition they truly deserve, they can become a much more powerful influence on local economic development.  If this is an area in which you are interested, then please contact me to discuss how we can work together to implement this vision.

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