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Small farms keep disappearing. Why does this matter for our future?

written by

Michelle Sroka

posted on

August 30, 2023

Did you know farmers have an inside joke about August? It’s the time of year 100% of us think about quitting. 

Some of this is tongue-in-cheek - lighthearted grumbling about “why are we out here again?” while hauling water, feed, and moving animals in high heat and humidity. 

But it also encompasses serious burnout, financial problems, and mental stress - which all reach their peak in August, and for some farms can be impossible to overcome. 

Every summer, we manage to get by, thanks to support from friends and customers. But we’re the exception, not the rule. 

Despite growing awareness about regenerative agriculture practices, and the impact of food on our climate, small farmers disappear every year. 

Did you know: 

  • Only 1.3% of the population are farmers? 
  • We’ve lost nearly 270,000 small farms since 1992? 
  • Small farmers like us supply only ¼ of our country’s food production? 
  • North Carolina ranks 2nd in the country for most potential farmland lost by 2040, with over one million acres at stake? 

Why Small Farms Matter 

Why does this matter?

It matters first of all because we need food to survive. We especially need healthy, nutrient-dense food to thrive. And as the number of farms - and farmers - shrink, so do our options for securing our food sources. 

But it also matters because small farming in particular offers an alternative - one that’s healthier for people, communities, wildlife, and the land. 

In the United States, a small farm is classified in two ways: it sells at least $1,000 of product in revenue each year, and it has a gross income of less than $350,000. 

These farms (which include us!) follow a different agricultural model, one that we think offers greater benefits and long-term solutions. 

In North Carolina in particular, the stakes are dire because most farmland (and open suburban land) tends to be developed. 

Continuous development brings in a lot of revenue for the state and certain companies, but it works against the land - by paving over the soil, ripping up food and homes for pollinators and wildlife, and removing our grasslands, which create carbon sinks to help manage heat. 

Losing farmland - and farmers who know how to manage it responsibly - means that we all lose. We lose more species, soil health, and long-term options to heal our planet. 

We can’t speak for all small farms. But here’s why we think a small farm like ours offers. 

Greater Diversity 

We specialize in multiple areas - different breeds of livestock (including heritage breeds), dairy, honey, and eggs. 

We also promote ecological diversity on our farm. In addition to managing pastures and woodlands, we also facilitate the re-growth of prairie grasslands and swamplands to provide a safe haven for small wildlife and pollinators. 

This diversity offers you more options outside of the grocery store, but it also provides the greatest return to our land. Many different animals and practices, working together, meet the different needs of the soil - creating more nourishment, higher-quality food, and more resilient land. 

Animal Welfare 

We prioritize animal welfare over profit. 

It’s not that we don’t need to make a living - we believe farmers should earn a living wage. However, we also believe in valuing what’s right over what’s most profitable. On our farm, you’ll find our animals outside, in non-confined spaces. 

We also raise animals seasonally to promote their welfare - and to create rest and re-growth on our land. In the long run, this is a healthier option for animals and their forage. 

Customer-Focused Food

When you go to the grocery store, your options are limited. Want something else? Want it raised a different way? You’ll need to go somewhere else. 

Want to know if the label means what it says? Good luck finding someone to ask. 

We put our customers first by producing foods that you can trust. You can ask us. You can see how it’s grown for yourself. You can find out 100% of the ingredients in it. And you can develop a relationship with the person who grew it. 

Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue the conversation about why small farms matter, focusing specifically on farms and rising temperatures. 

But I’d love to know – why do small farms matter to you? What differences do you see now that you source from one, and know your farmer?

Share your comments below. And if you want to know more, check our sources and further reading.

Sources

Food for Thought (further readings)

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

By Dan Barber

Want to know the difference that small farms can make? Barber investigates the attitudes that small farmers can bring to re-imagining food production, and how that can transform our agricultural system. 

Farm (and other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm 

By Sarah K. Mock 

Want to know why small farmers are disappearing - and a deep dive into why it matters? Check out this book, which consider how we’ve got here, and how we might find a different future. 




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