The National Small Farm Conference holds a convention for small farm holders and academia to discuss the unique challenges facing small farmers every three or four years. This year the convention is taking place in Virginia Beach, VA from the 20th-22nd of September this year.
What’s a Small Farm?
The USDA defines a small farm as any farm who makes less than $350k/year. Fortunately, more and more, we’re beginning to recognize the vital role that small farmers play in not just our economy, but also in promoting biodiversity, flexibility of our food supply, and as a provider of jobs to local economies.
Small farms in the US have been falling in number for decades as more and more of our food supply is placed in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals and corporations who each control a larger percentage of land than ever before. While only 11% of US farms make more than 350k USD per year, they account for 78% of the food production in the United States.
20 Years In The Making
National Small Farm Conference started in Nashville, TN in 1996 and is held every three or four years across the country for U.S. and international stakeholders from academia, non-governmental and governmental organizations, foundations, and grassroots farming communities whose goal is to support economic growth and quality of life for small farmers and ranchers.
Less Room For Error
One of the challenges facing small farmers is that they are usually operating with less room for error; smaller operating margins and savings mean that many small farmers are forced to take “town jobs”, seek other sources of income, and are at greater year-to-year risk of crop failures.
Rapidly Aging Population
Another serious challenge facing the small farmer in the US is the rapidly aging population. The average age of the small farmer is 58 and only 6% of U.S. farmers are under the age of 35.
Among the factors limiting new younger farmers starting out is lack of access to the capital necessary and higher debt loads for young farmers who started off by going to college.
Why Worry About Small Farms
When so much of our food is produced from large commercial operations, some people wonder why anyone would worry about what the small guys are doing.
“Small farmers are usually more efficient, producing more food per acre than commercial operations. They also support the sustainability of rural and farm economies, as well as protect and enhance natural resources,” Denis Ebodaghe, conference co-chair and national program leader for USDA NIFA’s Small Farm Program, says.
Small, yet efficient farms are able to experiment with new growing techniques and tend to be at the forefront of market opportunities like the organic movement or the newer “farm to fork” or “farm to table” movement.