Articles / Small Family Farms Are Not The Answer

Small Family Farms Are Not The Answer

Published September 15, 2020

As most of you are aware (hopefully not too painfully), I sent out a survey recently to get a better sense of who you are, what you’re interested in, and how to make this a more engaging newsletter. (A HUGE thank you to everyone who took the time to fill it out; I’m really grateful.)

Anyway, one of the things that I learned from the survey is that the majority of you shop fairly regularly at farmers markets, which is so wonderful to hear. Even without knowing that, I probably still would have written today’s newsletter in some form, but now I think it might be particularly interesting and worthwhile. I wanted to call attention to an article by Chris Newman that we ran in Heated. Chris runs a small family farm in Virginia, so, naturally, his story is titled “Small Family Farms Aren’t The Answer.” Chris writes about the economics of participating in farmers markets, and how the cultural value that those markets hold can obscure the struggle of small farmers not just to compete, but to live sustainable lives. Here’s how he puts it:

The cultural power of farmers markets is a symptom of what’s fundamentally wrong with sustainable/regenerative agriculture: veneration of the small family farm. It’s the sacred cow of American cultural identity dating back at least to Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a nation of yeoman farmers.

America’s oldest farmers — Indigenous people — generally regarded the soil as a commons and worked it cooperatively. Many Indigenous nations, along with a number of religious and ethnic communities, continue the practice to this day. But the notion of the private farm, be it a pair of greenhouses or tens of thousands of acres, is what came to dominate American farming, and it’s taken particular hold among the farm-to-table cohort.