Small, Sustainable Farms: What Does It Take?

The Rise of the Family Farm

used farming equipment

It has been noted that there are currently as many as five million fewer farms in our country, when compared to the 1930’s. Sure, industrial agriculture and factory farming has pushed the family farm out in many cases, buying up land or businesses and taking over like a large-scale corporation on a mergers and acquisitions binge. But in the urban areas, given the dramatic uptick in farmers markets all over the country, it would seem that the family farm is making a comeback.

This appears to be a difficult thing to get to the bottom of. Farm Aid notes that every week, another 300+ farmers leave their land. They also offer statistics that say there are around 2,000,000 farms in the country, of which only slightly more than 560,000 can be classified as family farms. The numbers themselves tell an alarming story: the aging population of farmers (apparently only 6% are younger than 35), the lack of new farmers going into business, etc.

So what can a small, family-owned farm do to stay competitive and remain sustainable in the current climate?

Steps Towards Sustainability in the Family Farm

It takes a great deal of equipment to tend to a farm, from tractors to green houses to machines to fertilize and water the crops. And much of that equipment has seen rapid evolution in the last couple of decades, with prices on the rise to match the implementation of serious technology.

But there’s a ton of farm equipment out there. If you look for the silver lining in the stats, one has to imagine that when 300+ small farms go out of business, somewhere out there must be hundreds of used tractors for sale. Why not consider purchasing farm equipment at a discount, opting for re-using existing tractors and machinery over purchasing new, expensive gear?

What about staying local? If you’re operating a farm that’s located nearby an urban center, then consider the growing farmers markets craze as a serious opportunity worth taking advantage of. Research the proximity and whether or not a space is available in the farmers market nearest the farm. Consider how to work into the business model, a weekly trip or two or three to the farmers markets as a means of integrating the farm into the community, and bringing produce to market, directly supplying consumers who are interested in eating and buying locally.

And then there’s the restaurant partnerships. Though marketing might not be the strongest suit, consider it a necessity before you start out. What kind of relationships can be built with local restaurants, especially those who market themselves as being sustainable, and all about local growers and produce? Create ties to the community, and work towards directly supplying restaurants and markets with fresh, local, high quality organic produce.

Just a few thoughts. If you run a family farm, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Links to Family Farm Information Around the Internet

Understanding the Family Farm Bill: Who Is the Average Family Farmer from Simple Good & Tasty.

Sustainable Table does a run-down of the issues associated with the contemporary farm.

Farming Demographics from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

From Real Truth, The Disappearing Family Farm: How Does It Affect You?

From the U. S. Department of Agriculture: Family & Small Farms Information.

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