I wonder how many readers out there are contemplating an early retirement, complete with half-formed dreams of moving out to the countryside? You know, escaping the cell phone networks and email boxes to work the land and grow food in some sort of idyllic, slow-moving, rural setting.
Boy, have I got news for you.
Farming hasn’t been a matter of working the land in simplicity for several decades of course, but now more than ever, things are changing. The Internet has already revolutionized the way we shop for books and the way we receive medical advice; now it is set to overturn how we do business with farmers.
For instance, you no longer have to live in the country to farm. An online company called Omlet in the UK sells “hen kits” to wanna-be “urban farmers” who want fresh eggs. A hen kit includes an organically raised, vaccinated hen, as well as a totally modern-looking hen house called an Eglu. Indeed, the houses are *so* designer, they could easily be renamed iCluck.
Then there’s Kuh Leasing, a Swiss company that allows you to lease a kuh, er, cow for a season. No bull — your bovine buddy vacations in the Swiss Alps over the summer; you get all the Swiss cheese produced from her milk — anywhere from between 60−120 kilograms of cheese per year.
Personally, I thought this was an awful lot of cheese for one person to eat in a year until I mentioned it to a friend, who has never met a cheese he didn’t like. He’s waiting impatiently for me to finish writing this and get off the computer, credit card in hand, udderly entranced by the idea.
Meanwhile, all you oenophiles out there can quit graping about being ignored in this revolution. The Internet can also bring you wine — direct from the vine. One service allows you to make your own wine from grapes sourced from California vineyards. Vine Share allows you to rent an entire row of vines in France or Italy. Adopt-A-Vine allows you to be charitable and, well, adopt a vine, presumably saving it from a hard life on the streets. Or something.
Of course, no gourmet kitchen is complete without a decent supply of olive oil, and the Internet can supply that too. A company called Nudo allows you to adopt your own olive tree online. Not only do you get the oil produced from the tree, you also a booklet describing the tree and the grove it lives in. In some dinner party circles, this can provide some serious street cred:
EMMA: This insalata caprese is just marvellous! I simply must have the recipe!
YOU: Ah, the secret is the olive oil dressing. Made from pendolino olives, you know, from my little patch in Le Marche.
EMMA: Le Marche… Italy?
YOU: Oh yes, the Il Sogno grove did very well this year.
EMMA: You mean this is your own personal olive oil?
YOU: Of course! We have it flown in twice a year.
EMMA: But… but… you work in the mailroom!
YOU: Well, one does what one must for amusement during the day, darling.
All kidding aside, these ideas are revolutionary because they change farm economics. By marketing direct to consumers, farmers bypass the middlemen in the food production and distribution completely. They get steady incomes and more security knowing their year’s production is already purchased. Consumers can know more about the source of their food and make choices accordingly.
And as more and more producers switch to this kind of business model, you and I will have more choices. Indeed, I’ve heard that we’ll soon be able to buy whole sides of beef online; the only thing holding producers back is the speed of the Internet.
Downloading a decent portion of prime rib can clog up even a broadband connection, you know.