How Can We Ensure a Future for Small Family Farms?
There was a time not that long ago when a majority of the American landscape was comprised of small family farms. At one the time it is was affordable for a young coupe just starting out to either purchase a farm or purchase property and start a farm. Those days are gone. With rising property values, a young couple would require a substantial down payment in order to get into farming. The cost of land is several hundred times more than it was 50 or 60 years ago.
If younger generations are going to get into farming, it has to be affordable. It’s unrealistic for a young couple to accumulate a lot of debt thinking they're going to make a living farming. Not only have land prices skyrocketed, but all of the other inputs including buildings and machinery have increased significantly in recent years. How is a young person allowed the opportunity to earn a living farming? In order to succeed, they need to be patient as well as creative. Perhaps they are able to earn enough income from another occupation to invest in a farm or work with an existing farm to invest in it over time.
The future of small family farms is dependent on the resiliency of the next generation of farmers and the communities that support them. A young couple deciding to start up a farm requires a community that will purchase their products at a price and quantity that will enable them to earn a living. As long as the mega grocery stores offer food at a more attractive price, farms will continue to find it difficult to compete with them. When it comes down to it, it’s really up to you and me. Would we rather have rural communities devoid of small farms because it’s cheaper and more convenient to shop at the major grocery chains or do we want resilient rural communities where farmers can earn a living selling from their farm, at farmers’ markets, CSAs or other market opportunities that pay them enough to earn a decent living?