For many, the countryside of Sonoma County epitomizes a certain rustic chic, a nostalgic adventure through a bygone era conjuring up lopsided barns, rusted pitchforks, and apples overflowing from splintered boxes. While this quaint image of a simpler life may help lure tourists, agriculture is, in fact, an industry in the throes of rapid technological transformation.
From satellite-guided tractors to digital blockchain software systems, farmers are incorporating the latest tools to improve efficiency, save labor, and sell products. But, as Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture said recently, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” having lost faith that family farms can compete.
Amid a mad rush for scaled-up mechanization, it’s hard to blame him. The innovations coming from trusted tractor companies and Silicon Valley startups alike, have disproportionately catered to the needs of industrial-scale operations, hastening the long and disastrous trend towards consolidation.
But careful now: This approach risks buying into two dangerous myths. First, that technology is synonymous with environmentally-exploitive corporate agriculture. And second, as exemplified by so much of Sonoma County’s romanticized agri-tourism, that smaller-scale farmers are old-fashioned. We know this isn’t the case. And nor can it be if there’s any hope for an alternative to Big Ag in the 21st century. Small farms must innovate.
On December 8 and 9, the Small Farm Tech Expo is coming to Sonoma County. Showcasing what’s possible for small-acre and sustainable agriculture, this inaugural event will feature live demos of cost-effective hand tools, workshops on sales software, small-scale tractor exhibits, and discussions about new soil-sensing technologies that can help farmers better understand and steward their land.
Technology is no silver bullet. And the challenges facing family farms won’t be fixed by tools alone. Nor will they repair our food and agricultural system. But if used thoughtfully, they can certainly help.
Plus, they’ll be showing off a flame weeder. And who doesn’t want to see that in action?
The Small Farm Tech Expo happens on December 8 & 9 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm: 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville
More info at farmersguild.org/smallfarmtechexpo
Save the Date
Holidays Along Farm Trails
November 14 – Jan 1
Saturday, November 16
Shady Oak Barrelhouse, Santa Rosa
Sunday, December 1
Petaluma Veterans Hall, Petaluma
Holiday Art Fest
Saturday, November 9
Hermann Sons Hall, Petaluma
West County Crafts Faire
Saturday & Sunday, November 23 & 24
Grange Nº.306, Sebastopol
40th Annual Holiday Arts & Crafts Faire
Friday & Saturday, November 29 & 30
Rohnert Park Community Services
Holiday Artisan Craft Boutique
Sunday, December 15
Hotel Petaluma, Petaluma