To what no doubt was great shock to the Department of Agriculture, the number of small farms in America went up from 2002 to 2007. This is great news for local, sustainable agriculture and let’s hope for lots more of the same. But most of these farms are not yet self-supporting, and their owners have day (or night) jobs to stay afloat. According to Andrew Martin in today’s New York Times, 40% of U.S. farms (900,000 of 2.2 million) earn less than $2,500 a year in sales. Agribusiness predominates: 5% of farms (125,000) account for 75% of production. But what a great sign this is of good things to come. Let’s hope the USDA wises up and puts some support behind this welcome trend.
All this comes from the USDA’s 2007 Census on Agriculture. Check out the nifty slide show link on that page for a quick overview of the facts and figures.
Update February 10: Here’s Verlyn Klinkenborg’s New York Times editorial on the topic. He points out that as new small farms (9 acres or less) come into existence, medium-size farms are the ones to get engulfed and devoured by agribusiness. The new diversity in crops and farmers “is a genuine source of hope for American agriculture.”