by Marion Nestle
Feb 8 2009

Some good news at last: small farms!

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.”

  • Excellent. I wonder at what point a fabulous garden is considered a farm? Not that I’m anywhere close. I’m lucky if I have a window box with something growing and a cat not eating it.

  • Gary Wilcox

    Family farms are inefficient. I know. I was raised on one. Agribusiness is pursuing the organic/sustainable segment efficiently. Most people are unaware that Kellogg, Kraft, Heintz, Coca-Cola, M&M Mars, General Mills, etc. are active players. They’re doing a good job. Walmart is a player. Don’t let the stigma of agribusiness foster an unrealistic pursuit of a dream of being fed by family farms. Alice Waters and a handful of restauranteurs are to be commended for their efforts, but to support the idea that our government should play a role in this family farm effort is folly.

    On a different front…why are 59% of all restaurants being excluded from menu labeling requirements? These less than 15 unit chains (6%) and independents, 53% of all restaurants, are being given a pass. Are they not contributing to the obesity crisis? Or is it just large chains that are doing the damage?

  • To Michelle Regarding when is a big garden a farm? Probably when they start selling any produce… then you have to start listening to the laws and following rules, getting permits and paying fees. We spend close to $2,500 yearly just in fees, licenses and associations we are required to join to be certified ‘organic’.
    Strange though that 40% of US farms make less than $2,500 in sales yearly. I suspect there are a lot more ‘cash-sales’ going on unreported. Let’s abolish the IRS, and bring in the ‘Fair Tax’, make things less complex.

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