The importance of being..an earnest smallholder

Somewhere between a full time farmer with lots of land and a backyard poultry keeper lies the mysterious breed known as “Smallholders”. We are part of the team behind the Scottish Smallholder Festival, and when the team were trying to write the business plan for the event, we defined a smallholder as:

typically having less than 50 acres of land, farming non-mainstream breeds of livestock or farming commercial breeds on a smaller scale. They will be outputting products that are for consumption by family, sold direct to consumer or in niche outlets, and not employing additional workers beyond their immediate family”

I have yet to think of a better definition. But just why is smallholding important? Here is my view:

  • They are an important link to heritage in two ways – firstly they are often breeding native and rare breeds and planting varieties that are traditional to their location. Secondly, they are keeping alive a long tradition of small homesteads with their own production. 30 years ago, most rural localities would have a number of houses growing their own food, breeding or keeping livestock, and selling surplus produce to friends and neighbours.
  • Smallholders generally treat the land differently. Most rely on natural fertilizer, and certainly most will be non-intensive. In the world of maximum production a smallholding can often be the only challenge to the hegemony of crop after crop. Parkhill is a bit of an island in a sea of arable farming.
  • Most importantly, I believe that smallholders help to create a functioning food market. The maxim of ‘one size fits all’, and ‘lowest price wins’ does not apply in the food and drink market. There is space for many different price points and many different product features to meet the very different needs and wants of the consumer. In fact, niches are what makes the market work because without them differentiation would be impossible.

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