Why We Need Small Farms

By Jaime Jones 08/09
    Most of us come from a long line of organic farmers. My mother grew up on a farm as did many of our parents and grandparents. This is simply the way most people made a living prior to the industrial revolution. In the mid 1930's there were 6.8 million farms in the U.S. Then two things happened to dramatically change the face of agriculture in America. Agricultural chemicals were introduced and tractors took the place of horses. At this point farms began getting bigger  and farmers began getting fewer. This  trend continued until only recently.
      According to the agricultural census of 2007, the number of farms in America increased by 50,000 to about 2.2 million since the last census in 2002. That's about 10,000 new farms per year over a five year period. Many of these are young, sustainable, organic farmers who have chosen to get their hands in soil rather than punch a keyboard.
      This is good news. A greater number of farms means better food security. They say for financial security you need to diversify your investments. The same is true for food security. It's better to have a greater number of small, independent, diversified farms rather than a limited number of large industrial sized mono-crop operations.
       Today most food is grown by large scale growers who depend on agribusiness corporations to supply them with agricultural chemicals and hybridized or genetically modified seed. In the past open pollinated seeds were planted and the farmer would often save a portion of his crop as seed for planting the next year. The main danger with hybrid and GM  seeds, even beyond the well documented health risks of GM crops, is that they will not reproduce the same seed that was originally planted, if any seed at all. In the case of a catastrophic event such as war, economic collapse or natural disaster, seed producers could go out of business. Without seeds to plant there would be  massive famine and starvation, adding to what ever problems caused seed companies to fail. This is a dismal scenario, but with a vast network of small farms, growing a great diversity of open pollinated fruits and vegetables, we would have true food security.       
       The industrial economic model we've been working under for the past 150 years is clearly not working for us anymore here in the U.S. This might be a good time to think about returning to an argarian based society as our American founding fathers envisioned. Small sustainable farms provide jobs, a high quality of life, a clean environment and a good work ethic. They instill a sense of freedom and independence in the work force. The organic agrarian lifestyle is a tried and true system that has been proven to work over the past 8,000 years. Industrial ag has been around only a few decades and look at the mess it's gotten us into already.
         Contrary to what agribiz would have us believe small farms are more efficient. A farmer whose livelihood depends on his ability to coax as much as he can from the soil, will in the long run always do better and get more enjoyment and satisfaction doing it.
         It's time for us to get back to our agrarian roots.