Small Farms and Ranches

Small Farms & Ranches

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. While many are interested in ways to set up a new small farm or ranch, there may be a greater need to help sustain those currently operating. Some of the featured consultants listed below can help soon-retiring farmers to profitably transition the care of their land to younger caretakers, whether or not they want to stay on their land for their retirement years. 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 it more feasible through collective ownership of the land or the farming business.

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Ways to save small farms and ranches

  1. Side-businesses. Very few small farms can stay afloat on their earnings alone. For generations, small farms across the U.S. and Canada have had to have at least one family member employed off the farm in order to afford to keep farming. Some side-businesses that farmers have found they can run alongside their farming include the following: beekeeping, farm tours with petting, short-term bed-and-breakfast lodging, farm-to-table restaurant or deli, hosting weddings or other events during the less busy seasons (with event planners managing the logistics and setup),
  2. Sustainability measures. Although many farmers and ranchers may bristle at the political and subculture differences that define the ecovillage movement, some small farms have found it helpful to adopt some practices to create more sustainability, such as water catchment that used to be practiced in traditional farms. See also the ecovillage groups page.
  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 some customers prefer it. Raw milk can be obtained by participating in a cow share, which is part ownership in a cow. Other examples of successful specialty products that are increasing in demand are beekeeping for local raw honey and selling duck eggs, which are tolerated by some people with egg allergies.
  5. Farm shares and P2P loans. Understandably, most farmers do not want to co-own their land or farm operations, but it sometimes becomes 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, which some non-profit agencies are set up to help complete 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. Members should receive a contract that outlines their responsibilities, such as volunteer work and or financial contribution, and the benefits one receives in return, including the provision of food and shelter during a natural disaster that causes a food shortage.

Examples

  • 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.

Consultants

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

Resources