Small Farms and Ranches

photo by Christine Booth

For the past century the trend in North America and globally has been to move away from small farms and ranches and into cities. Those who want to retain their self-sufficient way of life struggle against policies and strong market forces that favor big agribusiness. For decades, constant stress has led to a current severe mental health crisis among farmers. Farming and ranching families need and deserve our help. There is a huge need to help sustain those currently operating. We’ve listed below some ways to help.

Many are interested in ways to set up a new small farm or ranch, and many farmers prefer to sell to those who want to farm, instead of selling off to real estate developers. Some of the featured consultants listed below can help soon-retiring farmers to profitably transition the care of their land to younger caretakers, possibly with the option that the sellers stay on their land for their retirement years. As another option, farming families can invite in seasonal or long-term workers to form an IC. Incoming members can learn from farmers as they gradually take on more tasks. Long-term work contracts might include gaining a share in profits or a lifetime housing lease. Those seeking to establish new farms may find purchase more feasible through collective ownership of the land or the farming business.


Ways to save small farms and ranches

1. Side businesses

Very few small farms can stay afloat on their earnings alone. For generations, almost all small farms across the U.S. and Canada have had at least one family member employed off the farm in order to afford to keep farming. Some operate side businesses. These include the following: farm tours with petting, short-term bed-and-breakfast lodging, farm-to-table restaurant or deli, or hosting weddings or other events during the less busy seasons (with event planners managing the logistics and setup).

2. Conserving resources

Many farmers and ranchers may bristle at the political and subculture differences that define the ecovillage movement. Yet some small farms have found it helpful to adopt permaculture practices for sustainability, such as water catchment. Many of these used to be practiced on traditional farms. The ecovillage page has many resources that may .

3. Organic farming

As weather patterns change and aquifers face depletion, new challenges have threatened farmers, including diseases and pests that have adapted to and are no longer controlled by agrochemicals. The Rhodale Institute’s longitudinal studies have shown that organic farming is economically viable, even superior to chemical-based agribusiness in years of water shortage. Organic (even if not certified) local community supported agriculture (CSA) has been one way small farms have found to make a local profit.

4. Specialty products

In many states and provinces it is illegal to sell raw milk, though many customers prefer it. Raw milk can be obtained by participating in a cow share, which is part ownership in a cow. Another examples of a successful specialty product  increasing in demand is  local raw honey, and beekeeping doesn’t take extra space. Duck eggs, which are tolerated by some people with egg allergies, could be added, especially if you need to control snails and slugs.

5. Farm shares and peer-to-peer loans

Understandably, most farmers do not want to co-own their land or farm operations. Yet sometimes co-ownership is a realistic option when the alternative is potentially losing the farm to the bank or failing to qualify for a loan. People interested in self-sufficiency and food security might buy in as an investment, counting on the contributions of others who live and work on site. See the financing options listed at the groups page. Specific to farming are farming-focused real estate investment trusts (REIT) and Slow Money loans.

6. Conservation easements

Small agricultural producers must meet a certain acreage threshold to stay in a lower tax bracket, but tax is still a substantial burden, constantly threatening the survival of some farms. Larger farms and ranches may find it feasible to complete the legal work needed for a conservation easement. Some non-profit agencies are set up to help complete conservation easements for those that meet a size requirement. This legislation eases the tax burden and keeps the land from ever being sold for other types of development.

7. Emergency preparedness plans

Farms are a natural hub for establishing a mutual aid agreement that includes emergency preparedness. Members should receive a contract that outlines their responsibilities, such as volunteer work and or financial contribution. The benefits one receives in return can include the provision of food and shelter during a natural disaster or supply-chain disruption that causes a food shortage. See the Resources section for details.


  • Farming While Black is a documentary film about the organic and regenerative Soul Fire Farm.
  • Brooklyn Farmer is a documentary film about mid-size rooftop gardens and farms that found a thriving market selling to upscale restaurants, available free with public library subscription to Kanopy.
  • The Biggest Little Farm is a heart-warming and encouraging film about a young idealistic group creating a thriving and profitable organic farm after purchasing a worn-out orchard.
  • A residential ranching community was founded by the Modern Elders Academy.
  • Wendell Berry wrote extensively of his small Kentucky farm, and the community life that surrounded them.

Consultants for Small Farms and Ranches

See the consultants page to sign up if you have experience with cooperatively-owned agricultural work and want to consult groups interested in establishing one.

Members Interested in Small Farms and Ranches


Grants for farms in the U.S.: This list is organized by state. These grants or scholarships can be applied for by individuals. You do not need to have non-profit status or be under the umbrella of a government agency. We are working on further refining the list by topic. See more grants and grant writing information, see the Financing link in the footer.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: funded by the USDA, this program provides grants to organizations for education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers

Emergency timeshare contract: Intentional communities adjacent to but not within a metropolitan area can offer disaster relief and temporary shelter as a contracted prepaid service. Many disaster victims will likely seek and be given refuge freely, but sometimes supplies and spaces run out. A contract for a prepaid service ensures that you have the resources to prepare for such a scenario.

Read more about the need for small-scale farming and ranching.

Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet: by George Monbiot