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Small Farms Making a Big Comeback

Small Farms Making a Big Comeback

The human population is booming, and we are being told that in order to feed everyone, we must turn to large, international, commercial farms that can churn out enormous amounts of food 12 months out of the year. This has resulted in a large portion of the foods we eat being imported from vast distances, and the widespread use of genetically modified seeds that increase yields while decreasing necessary space and water use.

This push for agricultural industrialization has also resulted in the decline of the regional family farm, as corporations attempt to buy up the land and lease it back to the families who have lived and worked there all their lives.

There are over 285,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms). There are only about 960,000 persons claiming farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation. The number of farms in the U.S. stands at about two million (EPA).

Despite the presence of Big Agriculture in the White House, many people in America are realizing that they do have options when it comes to the food they eat, and many are taking on the responsibility themselves.

According to a recent article by the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent farm census shows that while the nation’s largest farms keep getting larger, a growing number of small farms also are sprouting across the nation.

February’s census report found that the number of farms under 50 acres soared nearly 15 percent between 2002 and 2007 to about 853,000 nationwide. Farms under 10 acres grew even more, with their numbers rising about 30 percent to 232,000.

These are becoming known as hobby farms, and are typically intended to grow food only for the family that maintains them. Unfortunately, the census did not require these small farmers to report the reason they started their growing operation.

Supporters of the Slow Food movement might take these new statistics as a sign that it is possible for people to change the way they eat, procure and think about food. Hobby farms are living proof that Americans are indeed willing to reconnect with the traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food.

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Image Credit: transitionculture.org

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14 comments

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1:13AM PDT on Oct 14, 2009

Lynda T., many small, family farms fall into the government's "hobby farm" classification, even if they are the primary source of income for the owners. The way they figure it, if you're growing all of your own food plus selling another $49,000.00 worth of your produce, that's just a hobby.

6:35AM PDT on Oct 11, 2009

If you want to know what's in your food, grow it, or as much of it as you can. Use small seed companies who focus on seed saving and heirloom varieties. Some of the larger seed companies are (sadly) now subsidiaries of big ag conglomerates. i personallly find that scary.

If you want to help the planet, grow your own food or buy as much as you can locally. You can feel okay about driving your car to work knowing that you didn't drive your lettuce 2000 miles.

If you want to be healthy, work hard in your garden. I am 67 and healthy as a horse from growing and eating my own food. Read the books by Helen and Scott Nearing!

11:31AM PDT on Oct 10, 2009

My wife and I have been farming a garden for 19 yrs. We have now went to raised beds in the UP of MI. We can raise about everything we need for the year. We raise our own pigs, cow, chicken for eggs and eating, turkeys. We now have 5 other neighbors who we raise chickens for and they also have gardens. We rarely eat out and pay close attention to everything we have to purchase. My wife only buys products that are only grown in USA when possible, Canada allows a products from Mexico and even in USA you have to be careful as they will say
"A Product of USA" which doesnt mean it was grown here.

12:52PM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

I think this was written about me; but, I've lived here for 17 years. I must admit, my interest in organic methods have increased. I'm now trying to let God do most of the work! There was a time when I was in charge, & knew how to make a garden to feed the family. I knew how to raise, & slaughter the meat we would eat. Not so much anymore, do I think I know what I'm doing. I think I've changed an awareness of how things work. If I put an unknown poison on a plant, to kill a bug that's eating the plant, that I want to eat, & I kill the bug, & what will it do to me? What about the soil? Now, I plant marigolds, nasturtiums, Castor beans, mints, most anything imaginable for predaceous varmints. I try to keep a balance of wide diversity going on in the garden. & I also mow tooooo much. With a Bad Boy ZTR. With a 24 acre "hobby farm", & toooo many empty rent houses, I deserve to be pampered with my most dreaded job-mowing.

11:37AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

Hobby farming is wonderful but what this country needs is to bring back the family farm. The industrial farm is not working. When animals are crammed into a pen to trample over each other and are filled with antiboitics this is not good for anyone. So many small farmers have had their land taken from them as well as their legacys and their heritage and they need to get it back. A small farmer will take care of the land and his animals and we will have more protection for all of our food products puls allowing farm jobs for many people in rural areas. Hobby farming is great for people in Urban areas and help provide for many Food Banks in the area. It helps teach urban children the value of the land and how wonderful it is to grow their own food and where food actually comes from - not the grocery store.

9:04AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

Jim: thank you for the correction. I took the figures from the EPA's website, which should apparently be updated :)

8:31AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

You stated that US population is 285M. In fact, it was over 304M according to the Census Bureau in mid 2008, and some sources claim that it's now over 307M.

You might want to correct that and verify your other data so people don't reject your thesis based on a factual error. I agree with you otherwise.

7:47AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

Re: the opening statement
It's not completely wrong it just needs clarification. Unless a GM plant is specifically designed to increase yield the likelihood is that it will actually decrease yield. GM can develop crops that use less water, be resistant to insects or fungus etc. However, it is incredibly difficult to develop GM crops that do everything better than a conventionally developed crop. That is, maybe they can withstand Roundup being sprayed on them but they actually produce less than a variety that dies when Roundup is sprayed on them.

These GM products are developed with a specific goal in mind which is to increase the yield of profits. Profits for the GM company, for sure, and ideally for the farmer but primarily for the company.

What is true is that these GM businesses are less than open about what their new crops are capable of and incapable of both positively and negatively. No surprise there considering they want to sell their product.

6:19AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

Am I too pessimistic saying that the big companies will continue to be lobbying the governments. In Europe we can notice that the fields growing genetically manipulated plants continue to increase. Nobody knows exactly where this will lead to or what the consequence could be for tomorrow. The bee population is already threatened.

5:54AM PDT on Oct 9, 2009

I think if anything it shows attitudes towards agriculture are maybe changing which is great, smaller organic looks to be the more sustainable way to go

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