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.
- The film Farming While Black documents the organic and regenerative Soul Fire Farm.
- Mid-size rooftop gardens and farms are featured in the documentary film Brooklyn Farmer, who found a thriving market selling to upscale restaurants.
- 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.
- The founders of Modern Elders established a residential ranching community.
- Author Wendell Berry wrote extensively of his small Kentucky farm, and the community life that surrounded them.
- Find help or apply to work as a farm or ranch hand: Canadians with Young Agrarians and worldwide with Wwoof. Both sites have interactive maps. HelpX and workaway.net also have work exchanges on organic farms, small hobby farms, and ecovillages.
- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program funded by the USDA provides grants to organizations for education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers
- George Monbiot’s Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet
- Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm) a U.S.-based nonprofit
- The Land Institute in Kansas
- Traditional Native American Farmers Association (TNAFA)
- Kiss the Ground, a California-based nonprofit
- Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania
- Regenerative Farm Consulting in Canada
- Regenerative agriculture consulting outside the U.S. and Canada
- Permies.com has a wealth of resources and forums about small farms and ranches.