AmericanFarm.com

The small farm renaissance (Editorial)

Small farms, it hs been said, embody the spirit of America. Perhaps.
Author Jack Ikerd writes that “small farms have been ridiculed and dismissed as inconsequential, but now the seeds of a rural renaissance are being planted ... by family-scale farms.
“Discover anew the complexity and beauty that is the small farm and learn of the many benefits small farms give to individuals, the environment, the economy and society.”
The “rural renaissance” may be an over-statement but across the country — and particularly here on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic, where there are huge metropolitan areas spilling into suburbs — small farms are popping up in places where they can be made to fit.
What precisely is a small farm?
A 1997 study by the U.S. Small Farms Commission defined small farms as those with less than $250,000 in gross receipts yearly on which day-to-day labor and management are provided by the farmer and/or the farm family that owns the production, or owns or leases the productive assets.
In 2000, such farms accounted for about 90 percent of the more than 2.1 million U.S. farms, but only about 40 percent of U.S. farm production.
The U.S. Census Bureau uses that $250,000 baseline to tell us that in 2008 in a of 304 farms, total sales reported by survey respondents were $8.23 million for 40 different agricultural commodities or services.
The largest commodity reported was small fruits, representing 16.8 percent of total sales, followed closely by cattle, field-grown vegetables and other specialty crops.
According to the Census of Agriculture for 2007, total sales by small farms in Florida alone — again defined as having annual sales of less than $250,000 — were estimated at $765.2 million.
But the “rural renaissance” is being constructed not by farms that meet the U.S. Census Bureau standard but by farming operations appearing on land measured in acres — like 10 or seven and even one.
A Rutgers University professor has purchased seven acres in Hunterdon County, N.J. on which he intends to raise Jersey cattle, surely for their milk.
A family in Maryland is producing lavendar, tree fruit and honey, among other products, on a tidbit of land in northern Queen Anne’s County, Md.
And in towns and small cities across the Mid-Atlantic homeowers are fashioning large productive gardens and (would you believe?) growing chickens.
A municipality in Maryland ruled recently that homeowners were welcome to keep a small flock of chickens in the backyard but that the flock could not include a rooster.
In a less hostile community, the neighbors on the south side of town are welcomed each morning by a rooster crowing in a nearby backyard.
“I look forward to it,” said one neighbor. “It takes me back to my youth.”
It is that rediscovery that empowers the “buy-local, eat-fresh” movement, the popularity of community supported agriculture ventures, the phenomenal growth of farmers’ markets and the growing efforts by Extension services to offer workshops on what has become known as “homesteading.”
Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
Now more and more Americans are happily giving it a try.